Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

How will the elections to the Polish Sejm affect Ukrainian-Polish relations?

Poland's ruling conservative party "Law and Justice" won a landslide victory on October parliamentary elections. 44.4% voted for the political power of former Prime Minister and gray cardinal of Polish politics, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. "Law and Justice" will be able to re-form a one-party government. The main opponent of the Polish conservatives, the social democratic party "Civic platform" of former Foreign Minister, Grzegorz Schetyna received 26.8%. Only 6.8% of poles voted for the party "Confederation" of Janusz Corwin-Mikke, who stands for rapprochement with Russia and declared persona non grata in Ukraine for visiting the Crimea. The victory of the party "Law and Justice" suggests that the Polish society is fully satisfied with the state course of the government of Mateusz Morawiecki, who is in difficult relations with the European Commission and stands for rapprochement with the United States. The impact of the results of the parliamentary elections in Poland on Ukrainian-Polish relations is ambiguous. On the one hand, Polish conservatives support the territorial integrity of our country and support the continuation of the West's policy of deterring Russian aggression. On the other hand, relations between our countries are overshadowed by historical disputes that have been overstaffed in recent years.

However, being in power in Poland, the party "Law and Justice" does not meet the interests of Brussels. Polish conservatives are positioned as moderate eurosceptics and stands for reducing the intervention of the European Commission in member states' internal affairs. Poland is undermining the European unity that operates without regard to the EU standards in certain areas. It is in the interests of Berlin and Paris for Warsaw to be their junior assistant within the "Weimar Triangle", and not to be a self-sufficient center of power in the European Union, able to consolidate the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which do not agree with the European Commission in everything.

The tectonic rift of pan-European unity reinforces the drift of the party "Law and Justice" to the American shores. U.S. President, Donald Trump is betting on Polish conservatives as America's partner in Central and Eastern Europe. Trump, Kaczynski and Morawiecki are skeptical about the migration of Muslims to their countries. The ruling party in Poland is not in the best relations with Germany - the  leader in strengthening European integration. In response to Merkel's criticism of the "violation of democracy", the Polish authorities demand to pay reparations for the German occupation of Poland during the World War II, despite the fantastic nature of this claim. In the context of difficult USA-European relations, Poland continues to be one of the few supporters of the Trump administration in Central and Eastern Europe under the conservatives, to use relations with the USA as a cover in the confrontation with the European Commission.

What are the conclusions for Ukraine? Poland under the rule of the party "Law and Justice" is the most active conductor of politics in Eastern Europe. Poland regularly supports the extension of anti-Russian sanctions, stands for cooperation between Ukraine and NATO in the field of defense, lobbies for the provision of lethal weapons by the European Union to the Ukrainian army. Polish conservatives, unlike politicians from other European countries, realistically perceive the threat from Russia and understand that the lifting or easing of sanctions will not make Russia more compliant about the withdrawal of armed groups from Donbas and the return of Crimea to Ukraine.

But despite mutual interests in the security and economic fields, relations between Ukraine and Poland are overshadowed by historical contradictions, that have been inflated in the interests of individual political forces.  And while the situation remains uncertain. In August, President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Warsaw at the invitation of the Polish President and together with Prime Minister, Morawiecki they discussed cooperation prospects and problematic issues. The victory of the party "Law and Justice" means that the trail of historical contradictions can further damage the climate of Polish-Ukrainian relations for another four years. Warsaw is waiting for Kyiv to atone for Poroshenko's sins. In September, Ukraine allowed Poland to continue exhuming the remains of poles in Ukraine. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Vadym Pristayko said that now we are waiting for similar steps from Poland. As an option, the abolition of controversial amendments to the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) under Polish legislation, the restoration of Ukrainian monuments.

Whether Poland will agree to do so is a moot point, because it will outrage the Polish far-right. In such a situation, Ukraine is hardly ready to go beyond the permission for exhumation. Zelensky is trying to avoid confrontation with the Ukrainian far-right, among which there are many combatants in Eastern Ukraine, with whom Poroshenko does not stop flirting being in opposition. Ukrainian-Polish relations are a clear example of how the transformation of historical events into a tool of political propaganda can lead to negative consequences for both countries.[1]

Another undisguised threat is the victory of Janusz Corwin-Mikke. In this election, a far-right bloc of the "Confederation"  was formed around his party, which far exceeded the forecasts of all pre-election polls. Some Kukiz’15 deputies also get into the Parliament. They were unable to repeat the old triumph, so they went to the polls in a bloc with the "Polish People's Party", which is also not friendly to Ukraine. Therefore, "Putin's friends" will have more than 40 deputies in total in the new Sejm.

Even if "Law and Justice" does not need to form a coalition with one of these political forces (namely, these parties are most often mentioned as a hypothetical coalition partner of "Law and Justice", if they lack mandates), these deputies can actively use the parliamentary rostrum to promote anti-European and anti-Ukrainian theses, trying to "bite" part of the electorate from the "Law and Justice" In particular, it is likely to be the initiative to establish barriers against Ukrainian exports (its growth worries Polish farmers), or the emergence of new "historical ultimatums" to Ukraine. As the last cadence of the Sejm showed, such overtly populist slogans can be attractive to part of the "Law and Justice" electorate. Therefore, in order not to lose popularity, the party in power had to "radicalize" itself, which caused numerous problems both inside the country and in relations with other countries.

Elections showed that Poland remains though difficult, but the partner of Ukraine. Fortunately, the election race did not bring any "Ukrainian" scandal, and during the campaign Ukrainian topics, including speculation on the problems of "refugees" from Ukraine were not among the top topics. This is a definite plus: the ice in relations between our countries is gradually being broken. However, the large-scale representation in the Sejm of forces friendly to Russia is a matter of concern. Therefore, now it is necessary to look for ways to prevent new crises, building relations with both the party in power and the pro-European opposition. And often these relations official Kyiv will have to build "from scratch". We would like to believe that without repeating the mistakes of past years.[2]

Consequently, there were enough forecasts, both favorable and non-favorable, regarding the future relations of Ukraine and Poland. However, the cadence of the newly elected Polish Parliament will show how relations between the two countries will actually develop.