“If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care, and so on. The only thing lacking … is freedom.” The words of Dwight D. Eisenhower. And if your country has escaped the prison-like embrace of Soviet Communism you might well be inclined to favour a form of security that ensures your liberty is not threatened in the future. Thus, in the view of Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, Polish and regional security depends on good ties between Poland and Ukraine.
Tusk was speaking as an EU-Ukraine summit came to a close in Brussels on Monday, and he said that a rift between the countries would serve only Russia. Inevitably, in this neck of the woods, the ties between Poland and Ukraine have become somewhat strained over their shared history, with both countries holding separate commemorations of the anniversaries of WWII atrocities last weekend.
Polish President Andrzej Duda took part in observances in Ukraine on Sunday marking the 75th anniversary of the Volhynia Massacre, during which, according to Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, between March 1943 and the end of 1944 some 100,000 Poles were killed by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in what was then Nazi German-occupied Poland. On the same day, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko visited the eastern Polish village of Sahryń, where hundreds of Ukrainians were killed by soldiers of Poland’s underground Home Army in 1944, public broadcaster Polish Radio’s IAR news agency reported.
In summing up the EU-Ukraine in remarks addressed to Ukraine, Tusk said: “I can see clearly that you will not be defeated by an external enemy. You are too strong. You can only be defeated by yourselves”. He urged Ukraine to “keep your unity at any cost, and to avoid like the plague internal conflicts”. And in remarks addressed to Europe, he said that “only united can we overcome the challenges of modern times”. He urged Poland and Ukraine to find a new approach in building relations.
Tusk said the friendship between the European Union and Ukraine was “strong and deepening”. During the summit the European Union finalised the ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which will boost Ukraine’s political and economic integration with the bloc. He noted that the trade part of the deal, implemented provisionally, had already seen trade grow by 25 percent, and that Ukrainians have been allowed to travel to the European Union visa-free since last month. For good measure, Tusk also condemned Russian aggression, the annexation of Crimea, and called for the “immediate release of all illegally detained Ukrainian citizens in Russia and on the Crimea peninsula”.
Following Donald Tusk’s remarks, Krzysztof Szczerski, chief of staff to President Duda, said on Monday, as quoted by Poland’s PAP news agency, said that presidents Duda and Poroshenko will meet in Brussels during the NATO summit this week, on the initiative of Ukraine. He added that the planned presidential talks showed that dialogue between Poland and Ukraine “is intense and sustained and does not require external impulses.”
All of which makes eminent sense. Looking at the relative economic growth of Poland and Ukraine since the former joined the EU, it quite clear that Ukraine’s longer term economic interests lie in closer ties with EU. Ukrainians have already moved to Poland in large numbers to meet Poland’s growing demand for labour at all levels and one might therefore assume that it’s only a matter of time before they are free to work in the EU too. Which seems a more logical way of dealing with western Europe’s labour shortages than expecting immigrants from across the Mediterranean, many of whom lack the necessary skills, to do so.
Be that as it may, closer ties would be another message to brother Putin that the seeds of division which he seeks to sow are falling on ever stonier ground. Putin respects action, not pious tweets. NATO showing commitment to the security of its eastern flank by enhanced military presence, and Poland and Ukraine reaching a new common understanding in the context of Ukraine’s closer ties to the EU, are actions which should help to deliver a message to the Kremlin that enough is enough.