On July 23, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Saint Petersburg. The two leaders addressed the latest situation in Ukraine, the Wagner issue and the strained relations between Belarus and Poland.
We asked Alexey Dzermant, political scientist and the Director of the Center for Research and Development of Continental Integration of North Eurasia, Minsk, about the details of the meeting, its outcomes and the current situation in Belorussian-Polish relations.
What did president Lukashenko and Putin address in their last meeting and is there any decisive consequence of the meeting?
In my opinion, the main topic of the meeting was security, particularly the security of the Union State and Belarus in the face of our Western neighbour Poland.
Poland’s plan for Western Ukraine
Lukashenko emphasized that the plans of the Polish elites and government to occupy Western Ukraine are not acceptable for Belarus. Having Poland as a neighbor from three different directions (south, north, and west) is seen as a significant threat by Belarus. It’s no secret that Poland has been hostile towards Belarus. Lukashenko said to Putin “We don’t support any idea such as dividing Ukraine between Russia and Poland”.
Secondly Lukashenko made a joke, but I think it is not simply a joke. He said that Wagner soldiers want to visit Poland like tourists. This message was directed at the Polish and Western elites, subtly warning them that if necessary, Belarus would not hesitate to employ the Wagner group. Wagner is an effective power. And Lukashenko clearly told Putin that this power is under Belarus’s control.
Is annexation or occupation of Western Ukraine a realistic option in the eyes of Polish elites or government? Do they really intent to do that?
It is not planned like a brutal annexation or occupation. No, they don’t want to give such an appearance of an aggressor to Ukrainian people and Western elites. Just the opposite. They want to do that in a soft form with the agreement between Polish and Ukrainian governments. The aim is to portray it as a mutual agreement rather than a forceful annexation.
The form of such a plan aside, Poland wants to control the sources and territory in Western Ukraine. To Poland, Ukraine holds a place like the lands of their dreams. Their historical memory and ideological narratives have a strong orientation towards Ukraine. In that context, Ukraine is perceived as a kind of colony for Poland.
For centuries, Polish Catholic elites fought against Ukrainians Cossacks who were Orthodox. These were brutal wars. In short, Poland has always seen Ukraine and also Belarus as parts of their empire (Rzeczpospolita). They want to revive this empire.
“The close ally” of Ukraine
Do Polish elites or government have such an expectation that Ukrainian elites or government would give a green light to such a plan? Or are they already some negotiations taking place?
We don’t know exactly the character and details of those negotiations, but we know that some negotiations exist between Zelenskiy and Duda and between other representatives.
We know that some Polish administrators can now freely engage in some activities in Ukraine to ensure equal citizenship for Polish as Ukrainians in the Ukrainian territory. This is another indicator of “soft expansion” I mentioned. I don’t think all Ukrainians are happy with this, but I am convinced that Polish politicians are telling Ukrainians “Look, the situation on the battle ground is not good for you. Your only close ally is Poland. That’s why you should listen to us and take some steps.” So Polish elites are using the miserable conditions that Ukrainians are in to expand their power in Ukrainian territory.
And what would be the gain of Ukraine in that case? Military support?
Yes, military and financial support. Ukrainian government and elites don’t believe any eternal Western help and therefore they are turning their face to Poland. Unlike the West, Ukraine is not a secondary and external question for Poland. It is one of the main components of Poland policy and regional positioning.
Three major orientations in Polish politics
Poland has strong ties to NATO. You also referred to the histrorical dimension of the question. Do you see foresee any possibility that Poland will be acting more independently from NATO?
There are some political forces in Poland to make it more independent from the US and NATO, but unfortunately they don’t have majority in the parliament and government.
The first force is the quite conservative, pro-American and anti-Russian: the government of Andrzej Duda, Mateusz Morawiecki and Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
The second are the liberals oriented towards Berlin and the EU. Donald Tusk is here.
The third one is also conservative, but they are not pro-American, rather pragmatic for a more independent Poland. Here is the Confederation party. They have only 10-12 percent support of the voters.
As sum, the strongest two forces are pro-Western, EU, NATO and anti-Russia and anti-Belarus with the first one rather pro-American and the second rather pro-EU.
The future of the Union State
What is your opinion on the future of the Union State of Belarus and Russia? It moves towards a more institutionalized form?
The economical and the military ground of the Union State became stronger. I think it’s quite good for our economy because we use Russian market to make the sanctions ineffective. It is also very good for security. In this sphere, the relations between Russia and Belarus is very close. Russian tactical nuclear weapons on our territory are a great contribution to Belarus’ security. Thanks to that we don’t have any concerns about the Polish army and other NATO armies on our Western borders.
So I can say that the Union State has a good perspective for future. It can evolve into a more institutional structure. But now our main task is to develop the cooperation in practical fields, especially the economy. Belarus managed to avoid possible negative impacts of Western sanctions.
I cannot describe what kind of an institutional form the Union State will gain in future, but at least now it has a solid base.
“Polish military forces shot thousands of refugees”
Thank you very much Dear Alexey. Is there any other point you would like to point out?
Regarding Poland remains the question of migrants from the Middle East. This question is not widely known in Western media and in Turkish media I think.
Since the relations between Poland and Belarus deteriorated with the attempted coup d’état in Belarus supported by Poland, Belarus decided not to help the European Union and Poland control their borders. Thousands of refugees are trying to go to Poland. What is important to know here is that thousands of them were shot by the Polish military forces on Polish border. Nobody in Western Europe and the European Union don’t want to investigate these crimes. We shouldn’t overlook and forget this and maybe in future we need an international court to investigate these crimes.