Deshchyt­sia: Rus­sia can­not break Ukraine-Poland ties

Kyiv Post - - Busi­ness - BY BRIAN BON­NER BON­[email protected]­POST.COM

Ukraine is mov­ing to Poland — quite lit­er­ally.

And no­body knows this bet­ter than An­drii Deshchyt­sia, Ukraine’s am­bas­sador in Warsaw since Oc­to­ber 2014, shortly af­ter his four-month ten­ure as Ukraine’s for­eign min­is­ter dur­ing the most tu­mul­tuous year.

Some 1 mil­lion Ukraini­ans are work­ing legally in Poland, a na­tion of 38 mil­lion peo­ple that is only about half of Ukraine’s size ge­o­graph­i­cally.

And many more Ukraini­ans are likely to visit their west­ern neigh­bor once the Euro­pean Union re­moves the visa re­quire­ments on Ukraini­ans for short stays of 90 days or less. As any­one who sees the large morn­ing crowds out­side the Pol­ish Em­bassy in Kyiv knows, Poland is the place where many Ukraini­ans want to be.

It’s no sur­prise.

While Rus­sia wages a crip­pling three-year war on Ukraine, killing 10,000 peo­ple and seiz­ing Crimea and parts of the Don­bas, Poland has been one of Ukraine’s best friends in the West. It is also a role model, shed­ding its communist legacy and join­ing both the EU and NATO, be­sides build­ing a pros­per­ous econ­omy that Ukraine can only envy.

“Poland is very much aware of what is go­ing on in Ukraine,” Deshchytis­a told the Kyiv Post in an April 25 in­ter­view. “Poland is very ac­tive in the EU and NATO and ad­vo­cat­ing strength­en­ing sanc­tions against Rus­sia. Poland per­fectly un­der­stands that if Rus­sia de­cides to go far­ther, the next tar­get could be Poland.”

While Rus­sia has not lived up to the Minsk peace agree­ments, which call for the Krem­lin to with­draw sol­diers and fi­nanc­ing from the east­ern Don­bas and re­turn bor­der con­trol to Ukraine, Deshchyt­sia said “it’s the only op­tion we have at this mo­ment.”

The cur­rent peace talks are tak­ing place in the Nor­mandy 4 for­mat — in­volv­ing Rus­sia, Ukraine, Germany and France. Some have ad­vo­cated en­larg­ing the group of na­tions at the bar­gain­ing table to in­clude Poland and the United States.

“Ev­ery­one un­der­stands we have to give a chance for the po­lit­i­cal-di­plo­matic mea­sures to avoid futher ca­su­al­ties and deaths,” Deshchyt­sia said. “It will take time un­til Rus­sia re­al­izes that sanc­tions are work­ing…It could be quite a long process. But it’s bet­ter to have this di­plo­matic-po­lit­i­cal ap­proach than to have real warfare in east­ern Ukraine.”

Rus­sia pro­vokes con­flict

Many in both na­tions sus­pect Rus­sia of try­ing to pro­voke con­flict be­tween Ukraine and Poland. Deshchyt­sia is no ex­cep­tion.

“It looks like some­one is try­ing to pro­voke Ukraine and Poland to start fight­ing each other,” Deshchyt­sia said, and the ev­i­dence so far points to Rus­sia as the “most in­ter­ested” party in stok­ing Ukrainian-Pol­ish ten­sions.

There’s been a spate of ugly in­ci­dents this year, in­clud­ing the destruc­tion of Ukrainian graves and mon­u­ments in Poland and of Pol­ish ones in Ukraine.

The ug­li­ness took a danger­ous turn at 12:08 a.m. on March 29, when some­one fired an anti-tank grenade launcher that dam­aged the roof of the Pol­ish con­sulate in the far north­west­ern Ukrainian city of Lutsk. All Pol­ish con­sulates in Ukraine were shut down for sev­eral days un­til Ukraine could en­sure bet­ter se­cu­rity of di­plo­matic premises.

Also on March 29, a group of 100 peo­ple were paid to block the Lviv-Rava-Ruska high­way for sev­eral hours. “Fake pro-Pol­ish demon­stra­tions” have also been staged in Lviv by pro­test­ers who com­plained of al­leged dis­crim­i­na­tion by Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties against Poland, the am­bas­sador said.

One sus­pect iden­ti­fied by the Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of Ukraine, or SBU, is Mykola Dul­skyi, wanted in Ukraine for at­tempted homi­cide and hid­ing in Rus­sia, ac­cord­ing to the law en­force­ment agency.

Deshyt­sia said that news of the van­dal­ism and other in­ci­dents most of­ten breaks first on YouTube and me­dia out­lets op­er­at­ing in Rus­sian­con­trolled ar­eas of Ukraine, rather than through lo­cal of­fi­cials, more ev­i­dence of the Krem­lin’s in­volve­ment.

“Of course, the re­ac­tion of Ukrainian and Pol­ish au­thor­i­ties was very fast,” Deshchyt­sia said of the at­tacks on the Lutsk con­sulate and other di­plo­matic premises. “The Ukrainian pres­i­dent and for­eign min­is­ter re­acted im­me­di­ately, pro­vid­ing more se­cu­rity of­fi­cers around Pol­ish and for­eign di­plo­matic mis­sions in Ukraine.”

As a con­fi­dence-build­ing step, Deshchyt­sia said that Ukrainian and Pol­ish law en­forcers are con­duct­ing joint in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the in­ci­dents.

His­tor­i­cal ten­sions

Of course, there are his­tor­i­cal rea­sons for anti-Ukrainian sen­ti­ment in Poland and anti-Pol­ish sen­ti­ment in Ukraine.

The Pol­ish–Ukrainian War of 1918 and 1919 was fought over con­trol of west­ern Ukraine af­ter the col­lapse of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Em­pire with the end of World War I. Ukraine’s hopes for na­tional in­de­pen­dence were crushed, with the loss of 25,000 peo­ple on both sides in the fight­ing. Poland an­nexed the ter­ri­tory but lost it to the Soviet Union at the start of World War II.

Dur­ing World War II, the Volyn mas­sacres of thou­sands of Pol­ish civil­ians, blamed on Ukrainian forces

loyal to Stepan Ban­dera’s Ukrainian In­sur­gent Army, deep­ened the eth­nic an­i­mos­ity, which lingers to­day. Poland calls it geno­cide. Ukraini­ans, in turn, ac­cuse Poland of bru­tal sub­ju­ga­tion of them.

Jaroslaw Kaczyn­ski, head of Poland’s rul­ing Law and Jus­tice Party, is quoted in a Feb. 7 in­ter­view with the Pol­ish weekly Do Rzceczy as telling Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko that Ukraine wouldn’t “make it to Europe” if it con­tin­ues to glo­rify Ban­dera, revered by many Ukraini­ans as a na­tion­al­ist hero.

But Deshchyt­sia said that nei­ther side wants to ex­ac­er­bate his­tor­i­cal ten­sions and that mu­tual for­give­ness and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts are ac­tively un­der way.

“Both sides did not put it aside. It’s not a pri­or­ity of the po­lit­i­cal agenda at this mo­ment,” Deshchyt­sia said. “It was true a year ago; when the is­sue of Volyn was high on the po­lit­i­cal agenda of both coun­tries, es­pe­cially here in Poland. We have a lot of things to do. We have a lot of com­mon in­ter­ests.”

Ukraini­ans ‘melt­ing in’

Deshchyt­sia said the pres­ence of 1 mil­lion Ukrainian work­ers in Poland is strongly felt — and mostly ac­cepted — in Pol­ish so­ci­ety.

“It’s a new devel­op­ment in Ukrainian-Pol­ish re­la­tions. The num­ber of Ukraini­ans ar­riv­ing to Poland is grow­ing. You can no­tice on the streets, in the cafes, in su­per­mar­kets that there are Ukraini­ans work­ing here. You also see that Ukraini­ans are open­ing cafes, restau­rants. They are in­vest­ing in the Pol­ish econ­omy.”

But the largest share of Ukraini­ans work­ing in Poland are work­ing in two sec­tors — build­ing con­struc­tion and agri­cul­tural — while there are also many hi-tech work­ers, he said. He es­ti­mated ad­di­tion­ally that 50,000 Ukrainian stu­dents are in Poland.

The Ukrainian ex­pa­tri­ates “are very well ed­u­cated, they are very well-re­ceived,” Deshchyt­sia said. “Gen­er­ally Poles are sat­is­fied with Ukraini­ans who are work­ing, liv­ing, study­ing in Poland. They are well-re­ceived in the sense that they are easy to com­mu­ni­cate with and have sim­i­lar tra­di­tions. Some­times those from west­ern Ukraine have the same his­tory, the same roots.”

He said Ukrainian ex­pa­tri­ates are try­ing to start busi­nesses, es­tab­lish cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions and form or­ga­ni­za­tions to ad­vo­cate their rights.

He said that “most of the Ukraini­ans are not in com­pe­ti­tion with the Poles (for jobs). They’re tak­ing the va­cant places.” Ukraini­ans “are melt­ing in” and “do not cre­ate prob­lems for Pol­ish peo­ple.”

He also said that many Ukraini­ans pre­fer Poland be­cause they are able to re­turn home more fre­quently and more cheaply than other la­bor mi­grants in West­ern Europe.

Bor­der wait

“One of the big­gest prob­lems is the bor­der be­tween Ukraine and Poland. Bor­der cross­ings cre­ate huge queues some­times — you have to spend 6 or 8 or 10 hours to cross the bor­der,” he said.

While the num­ber of bor­der cross­ings have tripled in the last three years, the num­ber of road check­points re­mains the same — 8. He said that dis­uc­s­sions are un­der way to in­crease that num­ber as well as build bet­ter rail­way lines and es­tab­lish more di­rect flight con­nec­tions be­tween the two na­tions.

“There is also an un­der­stand­ing that we can use a credit by the Pol­ish gov­ernemnt — 100 mil­lion eu­ros, given last year, to im­prove the ex­ist­ing” bor­der cross­ings, he said.

Pol­ish in­vest­ment

Deshchyt­sia said that Pol­ish in­vestors in Ukraine are re­main­ing and “not with­draw­ing as­sets.” In­vestors cite Rus­sia’s war and un­cer­tainty over the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in east­ern Ukraine as bar­ri­ers to great­est in­vest­ment.

“Pol­ish in­vestors are still wait­ing, he said, but don’t find cor­rup­tion in Ukraine to be as se­ri­ous of a prob­lem as it used to be. “They ac­knowl­edged there are a lot of signs of good changes in the econ­omy and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and with fight­ing cor­rup­tion.”

He steered clear of any dis­cus­sion of crit­i­cism that democ­racy is re­treat­ing in Poland since the right-wing Law and Jus­tice Party re­turned to power, say­ing it’s “up to the Pol­ish peo­ple to de­cide” their po­lit­i­cal leadership.

What’s ahead?

One clear sign of the healthy bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship is the fre­quency of meet­ings be­tween po­lit­i­cal and other lead­ers in the two na­tions.

The two pres­i­dents, Poland’s An­drzej Duda and Poroshenko, meet at least twice yearly. The for­eign min­is­ters hold fre­quent meet­ings. Other min­is­te­rial-level meet­ings also take place on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Many other pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor ini­tia­tives are also un­der way in var­i­ous ar­eas.

In May, Andriy Paru­biy, the speaker of the Ukrainian par­lia­ment, will visit Poland.

“Re­la­tions be­tween Poland and Ukraine are very dy­namic and of strate­gic im­por­tance to both na­tions,” Deshchyt­sia said.

Or, as his coun­ter­part Pol­ish Am­bas­sador Jan Pieklo put it in a Feb. 28 in­ter­view with Ukraine’s Day news­pa­per: “Should all Ukraini­ans leave Poland now, our own and the Ukrainian econ­omy would have big prob­lems…This can’t be changed to­day. We have a com­mon eco­nomic space that proves highly ef­fec­tive.”

The re­built Royal Palace (R) and the Mar­ket Place in the Old Town sec­tion of Warsaw, Poland on Oct. 2, 2015. (AFP)

An­drii Deshchyt­sia, Ukraine’s am­bas­sador to Poland

Am­bas­sador Poland to Ukraine Jan Pieklo. (UNIAN)

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