The past ten days saw Kiev sue Poland at the WTO, Zelensky suggesting that his country’s western neighbor is doing Russia’s bidding, Warsaw’s efforts to extradite a Ukrainian “hero” from Canada for suspected war crimes, and Poland concluding that Kiev was responsible for last November’s incident that killed two Poles. Suffice to say, the cumulative effort of all this is that average Poles’ perceptions of Ukraine will probably worsen right before the national elections on 15 October.
Rzeczpospolita reported earlier this week that Polish investigators concluded that a wayward Ukrainian S-300 air defense missile was responsible for last November’s Przewodow incident that killed two Poles, which Kiev falsely blamed on Russia at the time. For a very brief moment, there was a real possibility of World War III breaking out, but thankfully Polish and US officials quickly rubbished that regime’s claim. Zelensky still insisted that the Kremlin attacked NATO territory, but now Poland knows that it was Kiev.
The timing of this disclosure wasn’t coincidental since it follows the deterioration of Polish–Ukrainian relations since mid-September. Warsaw unilaterally retained its ban on Ukrainian agricultural imports upon the expiry of the European Commission’s temporary deal from earlier this spring, which provoked Zelensky into suggesting during his UNGA speech that Poland was doing Russia’s bidding. Poland then announced that it won’t send modern arms to Ukraine and its officials condemned that regime too.
Although they also reaffirmed their support for Kiev’s role in waging NATO’s proxy war on Russia, the illusory trust that hitherto characterized their bilateral relations over the last 19 month was indisputably shattered. Even prior to this fast-moving sequence of events, Zelensky’s senior advisor Mikhail Podolyak predicted in early August that these two’s ties will return to their historically competitive nature upon the end of that conflict. Little did he know that they’d slide back to that point just six weeks later.
This latest development comes on the heels of another related scandal in their relations after Zelensky enthusiastically cheered a Ukrainian Nazi who was honored as a “hero” last Friday at the Canadian Parliament. It was soon discovered that he volunteered for a division that genocided Poles, which prompted the Polish Education Minister to seek that likely war criminal’s extradition. Considering the present state of Polish-Ukrainian relations, this move represents yet another deterioration of their ties.
The past ten days thus saw Kiev sue Poland at the WTO, Zelensky suggesting that his country’s western neighbor is doing Russia’s bidding, Warsaw’s efforts to extradite a Ukrainian “hero” from Canada for suspected war crimes, and Poland concluding that Kiev was responsible for last November’s incident that killed two Poles. Suffice to say, the cumulative effort of all this is that average Poles’ perceptions of Ukraine will probably worsen right before the national elections on 15 October.
About those, the ruling “Law & Justice” (PiS) party is struggling to fend off strong challenges from the “Civic Platform” (PO) opposition and the anti-establishment Confederation party. It therefore decided to make national security central to its re-election platform, which adds context to why Poland is finally standing up to Ukraine. Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak’s recent remarks on the grain dispute can correspondingly be interpreted as imbuing a relevant security dimension into this agricultural issue.
This approach serves PiS’ electoral interests vis-à-vis those two previously mentioned parties since it’s aimed at reaffirming the incumbent’s national security credentials in response to PO’s accusations of hypocrisy together with trying to woo some of Confederation’s anti-Ukrainian supporters to its side. The end goal is to remain ahead of PO and contain Confederation’s rise so that the latter has less leverage over PiS in the scenario that those two agree to form a coalition government after the coming polls.
These electoral motivations and associated developments set the backdrop for properly understanding the timing of Poland’s disclosure that Kiev was responsible for last November’s incident that killed two Poles. This latest move is meant to maximally inflame popular resentment against the Ukrainian regime, though importantly not the Ukrainian people, which is intended to help PiS win re-election by the widest margin possible.
The ruling party knows that it’ll likely prove impossible to fully contain this nationalist sentiment, which is why there are reasons to suspect that there might be ulterior motives behind its latest cultivation. It could very well be the case that they want popular support after the elections, provided that they win of course and irrespective of whether they have to form a coalition government with Confederation, for pursuing the best possible trade and investment terms with Ukraine.
To that end, they could press for this in lieu of restitution from bankrupt Ukraine for its accidental killing of those two Poles last November, absent which PiS might threaten to escalate their ongoing trade war. Poland’s trump card is that it controls almost all third parties’ access to that country via its road and rail routes, which no other EU state can match in terms of quality or quantity, thus leading to the scenario of it possibly obstructing their trade and investment ties with Ukraine too until this dispute is resolved.
This would mostly be relevant with respect to Germany, which is making a major power play in Ukraine at Poland’s expense as was earlier explained in this analysis here. With that newfound geostrategic challenge in mind, Poland might seriously countenance this scenario in order to keep Germany in check at the same time as securing its envisaged “sphere of influence” in Western Ukraine. Kiev’s officially proven role in the Przewodow incident provides the perfect pretext for achieving these two objectives.
Even if PiS eschews exploiting this opportunity for whatever reason, perhaps due to American pressure in the event that Washington becomes worried about the Polish-Ukrainian dispute spiraling out of control, then that party will still probably score some political points through its latest disclosure. The fact of the matter is that average Poles now know that Zelensky’s regime has the blood of their two compatriots on its hands despite its denials, and they’re unlikely to forgive him for trying to cover it up.