Polish Foreign Minister, Radosław Sikorski, has recently said that the situation on the Ukrainian front is dramatic. If we fail to work together, Russia is going subdue Ukraine and then come for Poland. Given the precarious position both countries are in, we can’t afford a collapse of Polish-Ukrainian relations.

In fact, the Polish-Ukrainian grain crisis is deepening. President Zelensky stated on Feb. 19 that the events on the Polish-Ukrainian border “cannot be treated as something normal or routine.”

He added: “Only 5 percent of our agricultural export crosses the Polish border. So, in reality the problem is not the grain but rather the politics. Near Kupiansk, not far from the Russian border, where the Russian artillery is striking day and night, the news from the Polish border looks like mockery.”

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Nothing happens in a vacuum, and one can’t view these protests without understanding the geopolitical and historical context.   

What’s the situation now?

Polish farmers in Dorohusk, southeastern Poland, continue to protest against the European Union’s farming policies, particularly those that permit the sale of Ukrainian agricultural products across the EU.

The village of Dorohusk is just four kilometers from the Ukrainian border. The situation on the border is tense. Some angry Polish farmers even ransacked a truck carrying Ukrainian grain across the border and dumped the cargo.

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On Feb. 20, a countrywide farmer protest in Poland took place in a hundred locations against the influx of Ukrainian agricultural products. Every border crossing with Ukraine was blocked.

Serhiy Derkacz, Ukraine's Minister of Infrastructure told Euronews: “Blocking the border is indeed a problem, which leads to other economic and social problems in Ukraine. It is therefore very important to keep the border open, especially at a time when Russia is continuing its war in Ukraine.”

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Polish Agriculture Minister, Czesław Siekierski, hopes that the quota levels for some agricultural goods could be agreed upon at the end of March. He pointed out that the solution would have to come from the European Commission.

What is the Polish government doing about the crisis?

There is agreement across the Polish political spectrum that Polish farmers must be supported. Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, said that there will be more controls on the border with Ukraine but that they would not harm Ukraine in its war with Russia.

Far-right Confederation lawmakers and activists are using the farmer protests to garner political capital. Confederation activist Marta Czech and Confederation lawmaker Krzystof Mulawa have called for a parliamentary investigation into who is behind the “uncontrolled influx” of Ukrainian food into Poland.

Polish mini-civil war

With the Law and Justice (PiS) party no longer in power after the Oct. 15 elections in Poland, the Opposition-turned-government has started the post-PiS cleanup process. While cleanup is a strong word, that’s exactly how the current government sees it. Poland has internal issues and doesn’t need a crisis with Ukraine.

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Banderite language

Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy recently said that Ukrainian grain was “dumped by Polish, but de facto pro-Russian provocateurs.” In response, Polish Sejm Vice Speaker, Piotr Zgorzelski, said that Sadovy was resorting to “Banderite language.”

This, of course, is a reference to Stepan Bandera (1909-1959) – a nationalist leader and hero for a growing number of Ukrainians – who for many Poles remains the embodiment of a heartless enemy. Clearly, there’s still a dramatic disconnect in how Poles and Ukrainians view the same historical figure. The saying, “One’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter’’ encapsulates that sentiment perfectly.

What does Bandera have to do with farmer protests? Welcome to the mysterious meanderings of the Polish soul.

Poles and Ukrainians know Russian mind games

Poles sympathize with Ukrainians, but our troubled history weighs heavily on our relations. While Ukrainians tend to be surprised, even annoyed, by Polish sensitivity to the 1943 ethnic cleansing in Volhynia in northwestern Ukraine, as Ukrainians and Poles slaughtered each other with World War II raging around them. The Poles accuse the Ukrainians of genocide, while the Ukrainians respond that they were defending their land against Polish colonialism.

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It’s vital for Ukrainians to understand that it’s impossible to ignore Volhynia and similar historical issues in our mutual relations. But also for Poles to understand why Ukrainians resented Polish domination for so long.

Vladimir Putin knows this and has sought to reopen old wounds. It was no accident when, during his so-called interview with Tucker Carlson, the Russian president referred obliquely to what had occurred during the Second World War in order to sow discord between Poles and Ukrainians.

The Russian threat looms large

Putin said that he is never going to invade Poland unless Poland attacks first. In other words, it’s likely he is considering attacking Poland. The excuse is going to be the proverbial Russian excuse: “Russia is merely defending itself against the evil Poles. Russia never attacks anyone.’’

Unfortunately for the Russian leader, we Poles are acutely aware of Russia’s historical track record. Three hundred years of exploitation, enslavement and extermination. Not exactly friendship material.

Jacek Siewiera, the Head of Poland’s National Security Bureau, warns that NATO countries have three years to prepare for a confrontation with Russia. He doesn’t use the phrase potential or likely confrontation. He is sure the confrontation will happen.

Siewiera doesn’t rule out any scenario when it comes to Russia. Even the use of nuclear weapons is on the table. He differs in his assessment from Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine chief of military intelligence, who categorically dismisses the Russian nuclear threat.

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Only time will tell who’s right.

Russia is likely going to try to test Poland even sooner than Siewiera says. With the power vacuum in the US, the most dangerous period spans between November 2024 and February 2025.

Cossacks and hussars win and fall together

When Ukrainians and Poles fight, Russia divides us and rules over us. It has happened many times in our history. Two things happen to citizens of countries conquered by Russia. Either they fight against the Russian occupation, and likely die, or they become slaves.

If Russia wins in Ukraine, Poland will be attacked by Russian-Ukrainian forces, and then the Polish farmers will be running for their lives, rather than worrying about Ukrainian grain.

As President Zelensky said – we need to put things into perspective.

Putin wants to turn Ukrainians and Poles into Russians and exterminate any resistance to russification. When you know that’s the maniac’s endgame, suddenly none of the other issues seem that important.

But how to get this message across to Poland’s aggrieved farmers and at the same time stop the dismay of their beleaguered Ukrainian neighbors?

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The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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