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Polish-Ukrainian Political Relations from 1991 to February 24, 2022

The article was written by the Scientific Group on International Relations, based at the Catholic University of Lublin.

Between 1991 and 24 February 2022, political relations between Poland and Ukraine were characterized by both periods of rapprochement and tensions. Both sides made efforts to build dialogue and cooperation, but there were also disputes and conflicts, especially over historical and territorial issues. Despite these difficulties, both countries have continued their efforts to develop economic, cultural, political and military cooperation, aiming to build a stable and partnership-like relationship. 

Over the course of almost 22 years, Poland and Ukraine have pursued numerous initiatives to bring bilateral cooperation closer, including the signing of economic cooperation agreements and agreements on security and joint infrastructure projects. 

Despite existing differences and conflicts, both Poland and Ukraine have systematically emphasized the development of cooperation based on partnership, which has been evident in regular meetings at the highest level and active cultural and scientific exchanges between citizens of both countries. Nevertheless, challenges such as internal conflicts in Ukraine or the changing geopolitical situation in the region sometimes led to tensions between Poland and Ukraine.

The origins of political relations between Poland and Ukraine

It is a well-known fact that Ukraine regained its independence on 24 August 1991. This event is considered one of the most significant in the country’s history. Political relations between Poland and Ukraine from the moment of Ukraine’s independence and up to 24 February 2022 were a period of dynamic change and efforts towards rapprochement, and cooperation. After independence, Ukraine turned its gaze to Western countries, including Poland, in search of new partners and support. It is known that Poland was one of the first countries to recognize Ukraine’s independence [1].

It is worth mentioning that Poland, having a common historical and geopolitical experience with Ukraine, has shown readiness to support Ukraine on its path to independence and the development of a democratic state. Cooperation between Poland and Ukraine has focused primarily on building relations based on the principles of good neighborliness, mutual respect and common economic, political and cultural interests. Both sides made efforts to sign bilateral agreements, develop diplomatic contacts and support integration initiatives such as the Eastern Partnership and the Lublin Triangle. 

The signing of the Treaty on Good Neighborhood and Friendly Cooperation in 1992 was considered the beginning of political relations between Poland and Ukraine. Later in 1994, a Declaration on the Principles of Mutual Relations was signed, which emphasized the strategic importance of the countries to each other. In May 1997, the leaders of Poland and Ukraine affixed their signatures to a document known as the Joint Statement on Consent and Reconciliation. This important document commemorated the victims of the historical conflicts between Poland and Ukraine, while expressing the will to build better relations and rapprochement between the two peoples.  Generally speaking, in the 1990s, the focus of bilateral relations was mainly on economic, trade and historical issues, but the above-mentioned aspects could not exist without cooperation at the political level in the first place. It should be emphasized that both countries managed to achieve reconciliation based on the formula ‘remember the past, but think of the future’. Due to the fact that both Warsaw and Kiev focused on issues unrelated to history, for a time it even seemed that this approach would have a future, which proved to be the case in the following years. It is worth acknowledging that Ukraine was first engaged in reforms and building an independent state, while Poland was preparing its program to join NATO and the EU was already pursuing a western policy direction [2].

It is impossible to ignore the fact that, despite some periods of tension and differences in political approaches existing so far, relations between Poland and Ukraine remain an important element of the foreign policy of both countries, oriented towards building stability, security and prosperity in the region of Central and Eastern Europe. 

Factors behind this change may have been: Poland’s desire to verify Ukraine as an already independent state and the desire to strengthen economic and political cooperation in the context of integration with the European Union, and NATO. In addition, changes in the international political situation, including growing tensions in relations with Russia and destabilization in the eastern areas of Ukraine, influenced the formation of Polish policy towards Ukraine. In addition, the development of democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine and its drive for reform dovetailed with the changes observed in its western neighbor. 

It should be noticed that the Ukrainians residing permanently in Poland also had a significant impact, as their actions aroused sympathy for the nation as a whole. In particular, actions were taken in areas related to the rights of the Ukrainian minority in Poland and support for Ukraine in the context of political crises, as reflected already in 2004 and 2014 during the annexation of Crimea and eastern areas of Ukraine and after the outbreak of full-scale war on 24 February 2022. 

It is therefore not easy to find clear indicators, but there is an aspect that can serve as a measure of the attitude of Poles towards Ukrainians and the attitude of Polish leaders towards Ukraine. In the period up to the mid-2000s, general support for Ukrainian affairs and Ukrainian politics was observed, which was linked to Ukraine’s aspirations for integration into Europe. However, in the second half of the decade, some withdrawal and the emergence of resentment towards Ukraine can be observed, resulting from differences in the perception of Ukrainian-Polish relations and individual national identities. Russia’s foreign policy, especially the sphere of influence in which Ukraine was located at the time, played an important role. Although it is worth noting that Russia’s sphere of influence has been significantly reduced since the start of full-scale war in 2022.

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine 2004-2005: Polish support or EU assistance?

In 2005, during the 2004 Orange Revolution, Polish-Ukrainian political relations were shaped by both Poland’s individual support and the shared vision of the European Union (EU). Poland provided significant support for democratic aspirations in Ukraine, becoming actively involved in international mediation to resolve the political crisis that took place from 22 November 2004 to 23 January 2005. The revolution led to the victory of Viktor Yushchenko and was actively supported by Poland, which saw it as an opportunity for democratic change in Ukraine and bringing the country closer to the European Union [3].

However, the main objective was to draw Ukraine into European structures, both politically and economically. The vision of the EU as a partner and ally for Ukraine coincided with Polish strategic interests, which is why Poland supported the democratic transition and reforms in Ukraine as a path to rapprochement with the EU. This synergy of interests meant that Poland played an important role in promoting Ukraine’s European integration and supporting its aspirations for democratization and modernization. As a result, Polish-Ukrainian political relations during the Orange Revolution were both supportive of Poland and the realization of a shared vision of the European Union [3].

The Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who was present in 2004, and the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma maintained both good personal and official relations. It is impossible not to mention that the result of this revolution was a rapprochement between Ukraine and Poland, which was presented as Ukraine’s most important strategic neighbor promoting the latter in the international arena. Poland’s image in Ukraine since 2004 was created as the main advocate of Ukrainian interests in the EU. Political cooperation took place at the highest level between the countries, resulting in the signing of more bilateral agreements. It is noteworthy that by actively engaging with Ukraine in the international arena, Poland confirmed its commitment to building stability and prosperity in the region and promoting democratic values and human rights.

Euromaidan 2014: improving Polish-Ukrainian relations

As it did during the Orange Revolution, during the events in the Maidan in 2014, Poland continued its commitment to Ukraine’s quest for democracy and European standards, which coincided with its own political and strategic interests. At the same time, the shared vision of the European Union as a partner for Ukraine was an important element in Poland’s policy towards this neighbor to the east. 

In all probability, it can be emphasized that since Ukraine’s independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Poland has always supported its pro-European aspirations. The same was true for Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU, which was signed during the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013. In November 2012, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, on the occasion of the announcement of this event, expressed Poland’s commitment to support Ukraine’s European path. At the time, the position of the Polish authorities reflected the expectations of both the policy of the EU member state and the leader of the ruling party in Poland [4].

This engagement was in line with Poland’s political and strategic interests, as the stability and democratization of Ukraine was considered crucial for security and stability in the Central and Eastern European region. A shared vision of the European Union as a partner for Ukraine was an important element in Poland’s policy towards this neighbor to the east, as Ukraine’s integration into the EU benefited both Ukraine and Poland, including by strengthening economic, political and security cooperation. Therefore, Poland has actively supported Ukraine in its pursuit of democracy, the rule of law and European standards, in the hope of building a stable and representative Ukraine that is integral to the stability of the region. 

In 2013, on 3 December, a resolution on the situation in Ukraine was issued, indicating that the Polish authorities are concerned about the aggravation of the political and social situation in Ukraine following the unilateral suspension by the authorities of the negotiations of the Association Agreement with the European Union. In this resolution, Poland stressed the need to continue dialogue and Ukraine’s aspirations for rapprochement with the EU as a key element in the modernization and democratization of the country. This meant confirming Poland’s commitment to supporting Ukraine’s European path and striving to strengthen its ties with the West [5].

During Euromaidan, Poland took a number of concrete steps to support democratic aspirations in Ukraine and promote stability and political dialogue, including active engagement in international mediation to resolve the political crisis in Ukraine. High-ranking diplomats were sent to Kiev to establish contacts and negotiations with key players on the political scene. 

In addition to this, it is worth noting that Poland provided humanitarian support to Ukraine during the Euromaidan period through various activities. This aid was primarily aimed at supporting protesters and those affected by clashes with the militia. Specifically, Poland provided medical aid, food, clothing and other essential items to the protest camps. In addition, Polish NGOs and volunteers were involved in supporting the demonstrators by providing on-the-spot assistance. This form of assistance was not only aimed at mitigating the effects of the clashes and providing basic needs, but at the same time also expressed solidarity with the protesting Ukrainians and support for their aspirations for democratic change.

As part of specific humanitarian aid to Euromaidan, Poland provided, among other things, bandages, medicines, medical equipment and food to the tent city. This support was aimed at providing basic healthcare for the injured and meeting the food needs of the protesters. In addition, Polish organizations and volunteers distributed these resources and provided medical assistance on the ground, which was a direct and concrete form of support for the protesters.

It should be mentioned that one of the key politicians who represented Poland and participated in the mediation and negotiations in Kiev during this time was the Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski. Radosław Sikorski played an active role in the political dialogue and tried to find a solution to the political crisis in Ukraine through negotiations with key players on the political scene, including representatives of the government and the opposition. His presence was an expression of Poland’s commitment to stability and democratic change in Ukraine and to promoting dialogue and reconciliation at a difficult time for the country [6].

The Crimean crisis and Russia’s 2014 aggression and the Polish government’s response

The Crimean crisis, triggered by Russia’s 2014 aggression, is taken as a turning point in international relations and the security architecture in Eastern Europe. Poland, being a neighbor of Ukraine and having a direct interest in maintaining stability in the region, was one of the key players in responding to these events. The Polish government immediately condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law and the inviolability of Ukraine’s borders. Poland has been committed to supporting Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression through a variety of political, diplomatic and economic measures. However, it is worth noting that the positions of Poland’s main politicians on the Crimean crisis have varied and should be divided into two main trends: compliance with European policy and Poland’s security priority.

On 3 March 2014, an extraordinary meeting of the National Security Council was held, convened by President Bronislaw Komorowski and attended by the leaders of all major parliamentary parties. The main conclusions of this meeting were as follows: reaffirming Poland’s role in condemning Russia’s illegal actions, obtaining full security guarantees from the United States and NATO, requesting the convening of an extraordinary North Atlantic Council, and pointing out the need for the EU to introduce real sanctions against Russia. It is noteworthy that during the Crimean crisis, the parliamentary groups showed unanimity by adopting without objection the Resolution of the Polish Sejm on Solidarity with Ukraine on 5 March 2014. At this crucial moment for the situation in Ukraine, parliamentarians again showed support and solidarity towards the Ukrainian people [7].

In addition, the Polish government’s response included active support for Ukraine in the international arena, including within the European Union and NATO. Poland supported sanctions against Russia, aiming to isolate Russia internationally as sanctions for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity. These sanctions covered various areas: economy, security and defence sector, politics, technology sector, etc. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of these sanctions was limited due to the developed Russian-Chinese relations and Russia’s efforts to establish cooperation with new allies, including Iran and North Korea. In addition, Poland has provided support to Ukraine through humanitarian aid, support for economic and institutional reforms and the provision of technical and training support to the Ukrainian armed forces [8]. 

When implementing sanctions, it is very important to effectively enforce penalties for non-compliance, but at the same time, it is important to keep in mind the protection of the interests of third countries that may be harmed by restrictive measures. Many experts believe that international sanctions often do not have the desired effect and may even cause a number of undesirable effects, the most important of which are social. It is therefore important to take precautions when implementing them and to regularly assess their effectiveness and possibly modify them to minimize negative consequences.

Attention should be paid to Russia’s direct forms of pressure as a more powerful state. Such forms of pressure do not always lead to constructive change or do not always fully comply with international law. In the case of some sanctions, states with greater influence may use their position to impose conditions or force certain actions on sanctioned states. This is a controversial phenomenon and needs to be monitored in order to prevent abuse and ensure compliance with the principles of international law.

Thus, the response of the Polish government to the Crimean crisis in 2014 was firm and in solidarity with Ukraine and with the principles of international law and state sovereignty. Besides, it was a kind of expression of Poland’s determination to act to preserve stability and security in the Central and Eastern European region [9].

Analysis of the political influence of Polish-Ukrainian relations on the geopolitics of the region and on the relations of both countries with other countries and international organizations

The geopolitical importance of the region is significant, as Poland and Ukraine occupy a strategic position in Central and Eastern Europe, making their political relations an important element in shaping the geopolitical situation in the entire region. Cooperation and stability between the two countries is key to maintaining security and balance in the region. One of the key areas of cooperation is security. Poland and Ukraine are cooperating within the framework of the NATO partnership aimed at enhancing security in the region. They also jointly organize military exercises and conduct activities to strengthen defense capabilities [10].

Political relations are linked to economic relations, so it is worth noting that in the economic field, both countries aim to strengthen trade cooperation and investment. They jointly implement infrastructure projects, which fosters economic integration in the region. On political issues, Poland and Ukraine support each other’s aspirations for democracy, the rule of law and integration into Europe. Both countries also cooperate within the framework of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership, aiming to strengthen ties with the EU and promote stability and development in the region [11].

The impact of Polish-Ukrainian relations on relations with neighbors includes various aspects. Firstly, strong and stable relations between Poland and Ukraine can foster improved relations with other neighbors, especially in the context of joint regional, trade or infrastructure projects. At the same time, tensions and conflicts between Poland and Ukraine have a negative impact on relations with neighbors. They have also raised concerns about security and stability in the region, which results in an exacerbation of relations with other countries, especially those that are linked to Ukraine or Poland through strategic or ethnic interests.

It should be added that in the context of cooperation with the European Union, strong Polish-Ukrainian relations have the potential to support Ukraine’s aspirations for EU membership. Through the exchange of experience, institutional support and the promotion of democratic and economic reforms, Poland acts as a mentor for Ukraine in the European integration process. The reforms cover institutional, electoral, decentralization and economic scopes. Working together on reforms and meeting membership criteria also strengthens relations between Poland and the EU, reinforcing Poland’s position as an important partner in the EU.

The topic of international security is also worth mentioning. Polish-Ukrainian relations are important for international security, especially in the context of the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s aggression since 2014. Security cooperation, including joint military exercises and support under NATO initiatives, etc., contributes to strengthening the stability and defense of the region. Related to this is another theme related to the influence of Polish-Ukrainian relations on NATO and EU eastern policy [12]. Since Poland’s accession to NATO and EU structures, Poland has been considered an active participant in the eastern policy of the aforementioned organizations, therefore strong Polish-Ukrainian relations influence the shaping of the eastern policy of these institutions, including through the promotion of support for Ukraine, energy security initiatives and infrastructure and economic projects.


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Veronika Myronenko
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