Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
A year after the disputed presidential election in Belarus crystalised opposition to the Alexander Lukashenko regime, the crisis on Poland’s eastern border shows no sign of resolution. This week Poland and the Baltic States again accused Belarus of attempting to use migrants as weapons by sending them over the border into the EU. Underlining the seriousness of the issue the Prime Ministers of the four countries issued a joint statement, and both Prime Minister Morawiecki and Defence Minister Błaszczak paid high-profile visits to Poland’s border with Belarus promising to tighten border security. The crisis over Belarus does not exist in a geopolitical vacuum with the Lukashenko regime strongly supported by Russia. Poland once again this week reinforced its wider political message of solidarity with Ukraine in its ongoing confrontation with Russia. President Duda offered strong support over the question of Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula during a visit marking the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Poland moves to reinforce security on its border with Belarus as the Lukashenko regime is accused of weaponising migrants
• President Duda attends the ‘Crimean Platform’ summit meeting in Kiev as Ukraine marks 30 years of independence
• the Ambassador of the ousted Afghan government thanks Poland for its support with humanitarian evacuations from the country, and
• Ireland secures a rare sporting victory over Poland in men’s hockey for a third-place finish in Gniezno.
Poland and the Baltic States have this week reinforced their claims that the Alexander Lukashenko regime in Belarus is deliberately sending migrants over the country’s border into the EU in retaliation for the sanctions imposed on the country. Poland’s Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak visited the country’s border with Belarus on Monday where he announced that ‘This week, work will begin on the construction of a fence on the Polish-Belarusian border; it will be made of barbed wire and will be 2.5 meters high’.
Błaszczak said that Poland would increase the number of troops on the border to 2,000. He commented that ‘We are dealing with a hybrid war, and an attack on Poland. This is an attempt to create a migration crisis’. The same day Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki as well as the prime ministers of Estonia, Lativa, and Lithuania issued a joint statement claiming the migrant issue on the EU’s external frontier with Belarus ‘has been planned and systemically organized by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko’.
The heads of government claimed that Belarus is ‘using immigrants to destabilise neighbouring countries’ which they said ‘constitutes a clear breach of international law and qualifies as a hybrid attack’ against Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, ‘and thus against the entire European Union’. The leaders added that ‘It is unacceptable that people who have arrived in Belarus are being unlawfully directed to the EU external border, to be later prevented from returning to their countries of residence’. Poland has offered humanitarian assistance to migrants stranded at the border.
On Tuesday Morawiecki visited the border in north eastern Poland himself. He held a press conference in Kuźnica, where he met with officials from the army, police and border guard. Morawiecki claimed that ‘The Lukashenko regime has chosen the Polish-Belarusian border to carry out a provocation that involves pushing Iraqis towards the Polish border – people who are intended to be an instrument in Lukashenko’s foreign policy’.
Duda Pledges to Ukraine: ‘You Can Count on Our Support’
President Andrzej Duda was this week on a three-day visit to Ukraine from Sunday to Tuesday, coinciding with his attendance at celebrations on Tuesday marking the 30th anniversary of the country’s independence in 1991. While relations between Poles and Ukrainians haven’t historically always been the best, today the two countries are closely aligned politically in opposition to what they both regard as Russia’s desire for hegemony in the region.
Four Polish air force F-16 fighter jets took part in a military parade in Kiev on Tuesday, as part of an extensive international military presence in the parade which included U.S. and Canadian troops. President Duda joined Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the reviewing stand. The previous day he took part in the inaugural summit meeting of leaders comprising the so-called Crimean Platform, a new gathering established by Ukraine in an effort to maintain international focus on Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula and other encroachments against Ukrainian sovereignty.
In poignant remarks at the summit Duda said that ‘We in Poland know full well how it feels to lose your property, lose your dignity, to have others try and strip you of your own national identity, telling you it is not your country anymore’. He added that ‘This is why I am standing here before you today to spell it out to our Ukrainian brothers: Polish people understand your situation, your feelings, your suffering, you can count on our support’. The head of the Polish President’s International Policy Bureau, Jakub Kumoch, described Duda’s visit to Ukraine as ‘an important element in the process of building regional and international endorsement for the territorial integrity of Ukraine’.
Żaryn: Russian Foreign Ministry ‘Promoting Lies’ About Poland
Bilateral relations between Poland and Russia continue to be mired in bitter exchanges. Last Friday Stanisław Żaryn, a spokesperson for the Minister-Coordinator of Special Services, accused Russia’s Foreign Ministry of engaging in anti-Western rhetoric and ‘promoting lies’ about Poland and other Western countries. The remarks came a day after a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, claimed that Moscow finds U.S. plans for increasing its military presence in Poland troubling, telling a press conference that infrastructure is being put in place to allow a rapid build-up of the U.S. military deployment in Poland to 20,000 troops, in addition to making other claims. Żaryn said that ‘The words of the spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry provide yet another indication that Moscow’s diplomats are deeply involved in information warfare against the West’.
Poland Ends Evacuation Effort from Afghanistan
The Ambassador to Poland of the now deposed Afghan government has thanked the authorities for their help in with the evacuation of people from the country. Tahir Qadiry said that ‘I would like to express my sincere gratitude’. His own family is among those who’ve been brought to Warszawa. He told Polish Radio that ‘History will remember your goodwill gesture at this critical time that Afghanistan is going through’.
Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Marcin Przydacz said that the last two planes out of Afghanistan bound for Poland on Wednesday would mark the end of the evacuation effort. He said that ‘After an analysis of security reports we decided that we cannot put the lives of our diplomats and troops at risk any longer’.
Polish authorities have airlifted over 800 people out of the country since the Taliban took control of Kabul. Last week Poland deployed 100 troops to the Afghan capital to help secure the evacuation effort. Those who’ve been granted refuge in Poland include people who had worked with the Polish military contingent and diplomatic mission in the country. It’s estimated that a total of over 70,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan as part of the international effort.
Government Targets Modest 2022 Budget Deficit
On Tuesday the Polish government formally adopted the draft budget for next year which envisages a deficit for 2022 of just 30bn złotych. Government expenditure is forecast at 505.6bn złotych including provision for the government’s planned new social programs and additional expenditure on health. Revenue is targeted to come in at 475.6bn złotych. Finance Minister Tadeusz Kościnski told reporters that ‘The draft 2022 budget approved today is a response to the needs of the Polish economy, which is getting back on the path of growth after the pandemic crisis’. He added that ‘We assume that the gross domestic product will grow 4.9 percent this year in real terms, followed by 4.6 percent growth in 2022’.
New Film About Life of Famous Auschwitz Survivor
This Friday an interesting new movie entitled Mistrz in Polish with the tagline ‘walczył i dawał nadzieję’ opens in cinemas across Poland, getting a long-delayed release. Entitled ‘The Champion of Auschwitz’ in English it’s based on the true story of boxer Tadeusz Pietrzykowski. One of Poland’s top bantamweight fighters, at the age of 23 he was among the first mass transport of prisoners to arrive at the Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in June 1940, where he had to fight for the entertainment of the Nazis to survive. Pietrzykowski survived the war and lived until 1991.
Men’s Hockey Win for Ireland Over Poland
Ireland has secured a rare sporting victory over Poland. Last Saturday the men’s hockey team defeated hosts Poland 4-2 to secure a third-place finish in the men’s EuroHockey Championship II, which was played in Gniezno, a city that lies about 50 kilometres east of Poznań, in west-central Poland.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.