It is not authentic or ‘natural,’ as some claim; on the contrary, it defies logic, history, and popular sentiment (and resentments). If the situation worsens and the sovereignty of both countries is actually merged, even to a small degree, catastrophe will be the inevitable result. Not just for Poland and the remnants of Ukraine after the war, but for the entire Eastern European region.
The current stage of confrontation between Russia and what the Russians refer to as the ‘Collective West,’ which manifests itself in the form of war on Ukrainian territory, has triggered a sharp activation of those states historically hostile to Russia. That was, of course, to be expected. Among the anti-Russian vanguards are the neophytes — the Baltic governments, the Bulgarian government, and the Romanian government — while the most zealous hawk of all is the Polish one.
The Polish elite, as it emerged after 1918, had some unfulfilled imperial ambitions in its past. For example, prior Polish governments sought to colonize Madagascar and expel Poland’s entire Jewish population there. The Russians now argue that there is some kind of continuation of what was preserved from the interbellum period (even through the Polish People’s Republic), and that with the war in Ukraine, the Polish elite see a ‘window of opportunity’ for a significant expansion of its sphere of influence to formerly Polish territories.
Of course, because members of the Polish elite do not confide in me, I am unable to investigate their reasoning (if there actually is any, which I strongly doubt). However, I believe this claim is greatly exaggerated and I have explained my position many times. The Polish government is clearly motivated by hostility toward Russia, but not by genuine colonial ambitions. Jarosław Kaczyński, the petty dictator of Poland’s internal political process, is well aware of his maneuvering room. He is completely reliant on Washington, and he is well aware that he can go out of his way to disregard Americans only very, very rarely, as he did with the licensing of the American TV station TVN in Poland. In such a critical situation, he would be overthrown if he did anything that was not coordinated with them. Americans (as well as the EU), particularly after Biden took office, were dissatisfied with Kaczyński, who has a strong and visible affection for Trump. They also saw that he is untrustworthy due to the numerous intrigues he has created in order to carry out a kind of internal coup d’etat in Poland in order to secure a permanent and decisive position in the Polish establishment for himself and his acolytes.
Despite having the majority of voters on their side and a massive media empire that has merged with the state — institutions which Kaczyński’s party almost completely controls — this man and his gang were unable to carry out their internal putsch to the extent that they desired. They are simply clumsy, with no understanding of real domestic politics let alone international politics. To infer that those people have imperial ambitions is to read far too much into some sentences or claims made by high-ranking Polish politicians. It’s also absurd to claim that the Polish right-wing has a mythology other than the ideology that emerged after 1989, which, I admit, is a dangerous mixture of Catholic clerical dictatorship with fascistic traits. It was always anti-Russian, anti-Soviet, and of course anti-communist, but the question of ‘returning Vilnius’ or ‘reconquering Lviv’ has always been only a window dressing to the Polish right’s ideology, and nobody took it seriously, with the exception of some totally fringe hard-line nationalists.
It must be made clear that if the Poles do decide to ‘share’ their country’s sovereignty with Ukraine, it will only be after the Americans order them to do so or give them the go-ahead. It is possible that Kaczyński, in his growing zeal and persuasion for more violence and chaos in Poland, is pushing for some Polish soldiers to be killed in the war so that he can unleash the police, secret services, and the entire repressive apparatus of the state against his enemies and thus secure another decade or so of his reign. This is highly likely, and I have explained numerous times why Kaczyński and his party are so eager to see social unrest explode in Poland.
Poland moved to the forefront in the fight against Russia, providing maximum assistance to Ukraine and risking becoming casus belli in the confrontation between Russia and NATO, first, in order to create another wave of huge emotional disbalancing in the Polish public and inflict social unrest, but also in order to convince the Americans that he’s willing to sacrifice everything in order to help out with Washington’s imperialist rampage in the region.
Ukraine’s actions in relation to Poland are also generally unreasonable. Zelensky’s declarations of granting special status to Polish citizens in Ukraine, as well as Morawicki’s (Polish PM) and Duda’s (Polish president) fantasies of ‘no real border’ between the two countries, are nothing more than a dangerous and naive exercise in stretching both states’ sovereignty. What border and special status on what territories are we even talking about? In the best-case scenario, some sort of ‘Democratic Republic of Ukraine’ will be established on what the Russians do not capture. This landlocked rump state could potentially become a protectorate of Poland if the Americans decide so; I emphasize the Americans, not the Polish who are allegedly driven by colonial myths.
At this point, it is clear to me that Russia will never leave the territories of Ukraine that it considers ‘liberated.’ However, the fate of Ukraine’s west is unknown. There was clearly a lot of talk roughly two weeks ago about the remnants of Ukraine being completely subordinated to Western countries via Poland, but aside from bombastic statements, not much has happened. We’ve so far only heard about joint custom control.
Zelensky’s idea of a bill granting Polish citizens the same rights on Ukrainian territory as Ukrainians is a completely insane concept, and if it is actually passed in the Verhovna Rada, it will be denounced as betrayal by the nationalists and Nazis there. And, regardless of one’s political beliefs, this would be tantamount to betrayal and capitulation. Some claim that Zelensky’s bill is merely a response to the rights granted to Ukrainian refugees in Poland, but this is not the case. Ukrainian refugees have not received, and are unlikely to receive, voting rights or the right to be elected; they will not be able to hold public office in Poland, be judges, or do anything else except work legally or be entitled to some social security (most likely only partially). At the start of the war, Kaczyński clearly flirted with the idea of granting Ukrainians voting rights, which is why he rushed to extend child-support-social-welfare to them. But either the Americans said ‘No!’ to this idea, or the opposition within his own party was too strong. In one way or another, Ukrainians in Poland will always be second-class citizens, as have all migrants. Poland is almost entirely white, Polish, and Catholic; this is how it emerged from WWII, for better or for worse. It is unrealistic to expect a few million people to be accepted as equals overnight. In addition, many Ukrainians who are currently in Poland may return home once the war is over. We don’t know, but it’s certainly not out of the question.
I’m not sure if the same could be said for the Poles who would go to Ukraine to become judges, police officers, or civil servants if the bill Zelensky proposed ever appears and is processed through the Kiyv legislative machine. Furthermore, I believe that this special status concept jeopardizes the ‘normal status’ of Ukrainian citizens in their own country. Ukrainians may become second-class citizens if Zelensky’s bill is enacted, compared to Polish citizens who will be ‘special.’ One can easily imagine a Polish police officer arresting anyone on Ukrainian territory and transporting them to Poland, where Ukrainian legislation will no longer have legal force. Will the Polish language be made the second state language in Ukraine under these circumstances? Those are just two very complicated potential outcomes of enacting those ideas, floated by Zelensky and Morawiecki, of some kind of ‘civil union’ between the states they represent. If what they were saying two weeks ago is taken seriously, they are both playing with fire.
And now for some historical background information.
As I previously stated, I do not believe that Poland’s alleged eternal dream is to reconquer what Polish historiography refers to as the Eastern Borderlands, with the exception of a few fanatical organizations or individuals who may hold such a dream but who have had no influence on Polish politics since 1944. Nonetheless, I believe that the Polish elite has always been hampered by their desire to build an empire. I’ve lived in Poland for nearly 30 years, and talk of ‘taking a superpower course’ has always been prevalent on the Polish right, with a significant growth in recent years. Especially since Trump proposed the so-called Intermarium initiative, in which Poland was supposed to be the leader of this bloc of countries to form a sanitary belt between the ‘civilized West’ and ‘Russian barbaria.’
So, the Polish elite has always wanted to become some kind of empire, even if it was just a small one; just so that the powers-that-be could perceive themselves as such. But it just will not work out in that way. They’ve realized that they can’t succeed on their own, being too frail. As a result, they have centered Poland on powerful allies whom the authorities in Warsaw may hope to exploit, while ultimately it is Poland being used and abused. Of course, the Polish society pays the full price.
The long-standing habit of rampaging while walking in toadies has become so ingrained in the Polish elite’s mind that they can no longer imagine any kind of independent rule (this is a problem in many Eastern European countries by the way). Remember the fall of the Soviet Union — after all, it cannot be said that the Soviet Union caused Poland unimaginable suffering. On the contrary, life in Poland was relatively good — although not as good as in Bulgaria and far from the quality of life in Yugoslavia. And their accession to the Eastern bloc after WWII was almost unavoidable due to the political and military realities of the time.
But, instead, Russia, which voluntarily granted Poland all of its current liberties (after all, Poland did not achieve them on its own; they were bestowed upon it), was chosen as the personification of universal evil by Polish politicians. At the same time, because the Polish leadership realized that no matter how weak Russia was, they would be unable to deal with it on their own, a new ‘suzerain’ — the United States of America — was quickly chosen. This happened almost immediately after capitalism was restored in 1989.
You can get Poland out from under the empire, but you can’t get Poland to stop being subservient to empires. This is the situation.
Of course, history is littered with failed countries with unfulfilled imperial ambitions. The Polish case is not the worst, but it is sad nonetheless. Because, in modern times, the only viable historical link between Poland and Ukraine is the bloody massacre carried out in the 1940s in the territory of Volhynia in Western Ukraine. And this crime against humanity was enthusiastically carried out by supporters of Stepan Bandera, the man who is now widely regarded as a national hero in post-Maidan Ukraine. Unimaginable atrocities were committed against the civilian population including the elderly, women, and children. Torture, mass rape, and murder. Not only of Poles, but also Jews and people of other ethnicities.
Ukrainian units such as the infamous Azov, but also many other gangs such as Aydar, Tornado, C14 and others, are ideological descendants of those who slaughtered the civilian Polish population in Volhynia. Ukrainian nationalists have the official backing of the Ukrainian government. Streets are renamed after Nazi criminals, and even the Tornado battalion’s neo-Nazis, convicted of atrocities unbearable even for the powers-that-be favorable to them, were released from prisons to fight Russia and the eastern regions of Ukraine.
And it is with President Zelensky, who — whether by choice or coercion (most likely the latter) — condones the spread of neo-Nazism in Ukraine, that Polish President Andrzej Duda honors Bandera followers, whom he kissed and hugged when he visited Kiyv and spoke in the Ukrainian parliament. It’s rather amazing that nobody in Poland said anything about it, not even the most fervent nationalists.
This prompts me to ask a psychological question: to what extent has Poles’ self-esteem declined in recent decades to the point where they accept this? The Polish public appears to be ready to despise Russia for the fictitious ‘occupation’ of their country by the USSR. But they are also willing to become allies of those who cut, burned, and raped their forefathers. This is strange given how sensitive the Poles are about their history.
Now, let us return from the world of historical facts to the Polish-Ukrainian La-la land and the fantasies of special statuses, civil unions, and so on. Consider for a moment the Western concept of defeating Russia and its army retreating beyond Russian borders prior to 2014. In this case what would Poland gain from a union with Ukraine? The only result would be that all the reactionary forces, armed and ready to fight, will concentrate on the Polish who will try to entertain their special status. And extending or merging its sovereignty with the defeated rump Ukraine, with all those reactionary forces even more frustrated and the region’s economy completely destroyed, is a recipe for total failure on all fronts and political and social implosion all across the region that could easily spiral out of control. And this is extremely dangerous because, as much as Kaczyński enjoys playing the petty dictator, he is neither a politician nor a leader. If Jaruzelski or someone like him were in charge in Poland, I would be much less afraid, but the people in charge now have no idea what they are doing or the consequences of their actions. They act based on emotion and they obviously believe their own propaganda.
How stable can an alliance between two natural enemies be, based solely on hatred in Russia and towards Russians? To what extent is hatred a solid and long-lasting foundation for state-nation relations?
The answer is obvious: such a union’s demise is unavoidable.
The union of Poland and Ukraine can only exist as long as the US keeps it together. However, politics is fickle; today, Russia and the West face serious problems, but the newly emerging Eastern powers, such as Russia and China, will eventually triumph. Even if this does not happen, Washington and Moscow may be able to reach an agreement in a few years. Who can say? Then, my greatest fear is that the strange union of Poland and Ukraine that we are witnessing now will result in an explosion of violence that will make the events in Bosnia in the early 1990s look like a walk in the park.