Bumps and Ruts on Ukraine's «Polish Road» to Europe
Dmitry MININ | 07.07.2014 | FEATURED STORY

Bumps and Ruts on Ukraine's «Polish Road» to Europe

Since the time of the Orange Revolution, Polish leaders, especially the Kaczynski brothers, have been perhaps the most zealous supporters of those powers who in the end have now come to power in Kiev. Poland depicted itself to Ukrainians as a guiding star to Europe, and many of them saw Poland as an ideal model for reorganizing their own country. The pages of the past, which in Poland and Ukraine's relations with Russia are represented in Kiev and Warsaw exclusively as one big apple of discord, are presented in Ukrainian-Polish relations as evidence of a traditional alliance of two nations. The massacre of Poles in Volynia during the war and other evidence to the contrary look like mere unfortunate episodes which are unable to mar the idyllic picture of closeness between the Poles and the Ukrainians.

But after the signing of the association agreement between Ukraine and the EU, the moment of truth has arrived. It turns out, for example, that not everything in Poland's European integration experience is so simple or suitable for Kiev, and that there is a lot of self-interest in Warsaw's position with regard to its «historical ally». And Poland's real weight in European and world politics is very far from sufficient to seriously help Ukraine resolve its myriad problems.

Poland was the apple of the West's eye for the important role it played in the collapse of the socialist community in Eastern Europe. Now times have changed; Western countries no longer need or are able to continue giving handouts to Ukraine, which needs much more assistance without there being any guarantee that it will go in the proper direction. In 1991 the IMF forgave Poland half of its $48 billion debt (in prices of that time). Over the 10 years of its membership in the European Union, Poland has received 101.3 billion euros in aid as part of programs directed at raising the standard of living and the competitiveness of Poland's economy. In the current seven-year budget for 2014-2020, 105.8 billion euros have been allocated for this. Poland remains the largest recipient of European aid among the 28 countries of the EU. Polish politicians have promised Ukraine many times that in association with the European Union it will develop according to the Polish model. However, it has always emphasized that Ukrainians should not count on receiving as much aid as the Poles have received and are now receiving. The European Union cannot handle yet another such aid recipient. The creator of the Polish «economic miracle», former Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, is openly pushing Ukraine toward a completely different path, pointing out its «excessive» (this is with a destitute population) social expenditures. In his opinion, Ukraine must raise the retirement age and eliminate subsidies on energy resources, including gas, and do so as quickly as possible.

But then why entice someone with false hopes, especially since the state of the Polish economy is not as bright as one might like, even after receiving such huge inflows?

Currently Poland's foreign debt comes to $365 billion (71% of the GDP). The GDP per capita and average salaries (around 1000 euros per month, while prices are at European levels) in Poland still lag behind those in the countries of old Europe, including Greece and Portugal. Unemployment remains at 13 percent, and this figure does not take into consideration the millions of Poles who are forced to work in richer countries. Not only has Poland not developed cutting-edge technologies; it has actually lost many of them, as well as national industrial leaders. It mostly produces a «Chinese» range of products, mass-produced consumer goods at a middle technological level. Poland is competitive with Asian manufacturers as long as it maintains low salaries, and thus it is in an «East Asian trap»: as soon as it raises salaries, sales will drop, but without raising the standard of living, it cannot develop further. Of the three main shipyards which were once the flagships of Polish shipbuilding (in Gdynia, Szczecin and Gdansk), by the decision of the European Commission only the Gdansk shipyard (owned by Sergei Taruta's Industrial Union of Donbass) is currently functioning. But even there, out of the 17,000 employees who once worked there only 2,000 remain, and those work in fields other than shipbuilding. Poland's place as the «privileged servant» of developed capitalist countries is preordained, and there is no reason for Poles to expect this status to be elevated. (1) Based on the capacity of its economy, within the framework of the EU Ukraine is most likely to become Poland's rival, including in the line for aid from Brussels, and it is easy to predict that at some point in time the Poles will stop helping Kiev and start putting spokes in its wheels.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has already stated that Warsaw cannot be Kiev's main funder. According to him, Poland must realistically assess its capabilities with regard to financial assistance to Ukraine, and it is important that international organizations, first and foremost the International Monetary Fund, participate actively in this. Kiev must prepare well to receive assistance from the West, and the main goal of the new Ukrainian government is to reform the economy and state finances. «Otherwise we could end up sharing a border with a bankrupt country, and that is the worst possible scenario,» emphasized Tusk. (2)

Warsaw's main motives for supporting Kiev are of a geopolitical nature rather than an economic one, and they have nothing to do with charity. The idea that a significant part of modern Ukraine was once part of Poland and that in the next round of history it could still be «reunited with the motherland» lives on in the Polish consciousness. Comments to the effect that «after waiting for a suitable period, the Poles could create a federation with Ukraine» are frequently encountered in the Polish media. Publicly expressing such ideas on the official level is not considered proper, but the entire educational system and state and religious ideology of Poland is based on the view that the «Kresy Wschodnie» were Polish and were taken away from the Poles unfairly. All Polish politicians are raised on this ideology, and they cannot and will not give up the idea that in time «historical justice» will be restored with regard to the ownership of these lands. In Europe, especially in Poland's neighbors, such projects and lines of reasoning have not found support; in America, on the other hand, where Warsaw is seen as an important tool for its European policy, they are enthusiastically cultivated and even taken further. 

For example, George Friedman, president of the large private intelligence information company Stratfor, known for his close ties with the leadership of U.S. government agencies in the same field, in his comments and works consistently expounds the scenario of the creation of a «Fourth Rzeczpospolita» which would incorporate all the European post-Soviet republics and together with a reborn «Greater Turkey», also allied with America, would dominate Eurasia. His treatise The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, for example, is permeated with such ideas: «In due course, the Polish bloc will outstrip Central and Western Europe's power, and will achieve precisely what Germany had once dreamed of. It will assimilate and develop the western portion of the former Russian Empire». (3) In one of his recent articles, George Friedman addresses the issue of creating a new «Little Entente» along the axis of Washington - Warsaw - Bucharest. One may take an ironic attitude toward such projects, but it is not difficult to notice that to a great extent they echo the official forecasts of America's National Intelligence Council, which unites officials from relevant organs and «independent» intellectuals like Friedman in its ranks. Only the horizon of these forecasts is narrower - «The World in 2015», «The World in 2025» - and the aims are set out less openly. 

At the same time, in Poland itself concerns that the country's policy on Ukraine is not independent and that Poland could be faced with serious problems are growing. In response to the increased ambitions of some Polish politicians with regard to the possible creation of a Greater Poland, publicist Stanislaw Stremidlowski writes: «In all fairness, Warsaw ought to erect a monument to Soviet Generalissimus Joseph Stalin, who gave Ukraine the element which had destroyed the statehood of the Second Republic - Galicia. It is not difficult to imagine what a headache it would now be giving the single-nationality Third Republic.» In his opinion, the partnership between Warsaw and Washington is dangerous in that «if Ukraine is 'Afghanized', Warsaw could be turned into a Pakistan, a support base from which special operations in the eastern zone will be carried out». (4)

Despite all its historical claims and arrogance, Poland remembers well that Stepan Bandera began his thorny path by organizing terrorist attacks against Polish ministers, and during the war his followers exterminated tens of thousands of Poles in Ukraine. If today's Ukraine, with the deplorable state of its economy,  is «hung» on Poland, it could become an unbearable burden for the latter which will not only prevent it from rebuilding its «past grandeur», but will set Warsaw far back. The nationalists of the two countries will never come to an agreement; there are heaps of historical grievances and mutual accusations between them which have only been temporarily overshadowed by their joint resistance to the «Muscovite peril». 

The understanding that obediently following in the wake of U.S. policy, including on the issue of Ukraine, will lead to undesirable consequences for Poland is also making its way into its government leadership. This can be seen from the publication of audio recordings of the revelations of Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who is considered to be absolutely pro-American. If even he says that Washington, which «only spoils the Poles' relations with its neighbors, the Germans and the Russians» by using Poland as a cheap whore, and in a perverted way at that, then it is clear that Warsaw is beginning to tire of the role foisted upon it in the Ukrainian crisis. Clumsy attempts to blame everything on «the most recent provocations from the Kremlin» (5) cannot conceal the fact that the White House, in pushing Kiev toward «war to the bitter end», does not meet with full approval even from its most loyal European allies and is losing its influence over the real course of events.

This is confirmed by the fact that the main negotiations on the Ukraine issue are taking place in the format of Ukraine – Russia  – France – Germany. Poland is not present, as it is considered the mouthpiece of a «non-European» position. This is a lesson for Kiev as well. Attempts to integrate into Europe and at the same time build policy with an eye to the U.S. and its «long arm» represented by some Eastern European countries will not work.

(3) George Friedman, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century  (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 161-162.