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Ukraine and Poland: strategic partners, neighbours and friends

Interview with Dmytro Solomchuk, a Ukrainian deputy with the ruling party Servant of the People. Interviewer: Oleksandr Gnydiuk.

August 20, 2021 - Dmytro Solomchuk Oleksandr Gnydiuk - Interviews

Dmytro Solomchuk. Source: Private

OLEKSANDR GNYDIUK: Ukraine is now in the process of integrating with the European Union. What role does Poland play in this process?

DMYTRO SOLOMCHUK: President Zelenskyy and the Servant of the People party clearly define European integration as one of the main goals of our country’s foreign policy. Our vision is clear to all in that Ukraine is a European country that is focused on emulating the best European democracies and economies. We are actively working on reforms and trying to achieve over a short period of time what our predecessors failed to do over the last 30 years. We want to make Ukraine successful and economically competitive. We want the country to enjoy social guarantees and high living standards all in compliance with the necessary criteria for EU membership.

 I appreciate Poland’s assistance regarding Ukraine’s aspirations for European integration. A good relationship with regional strategic partners is essential if the country is to move towards its goals. Poland has closely followed Ukraine’s rapprochement with the EU and we appreciate any talks of further cooperation. The common benefits of friendship between the two countries are much stronger than any possible disagreements. This will be especially true when Ukraine becomes a full member of the EU. In such circumstances, I think our political positions will become even closer and economic cooperation will reach new heights.

Poland remains one of Ukraine’s top three trading partners and as of 2020 the volume of bilateral trade in goods amounted to 7.36 billion US dollars. What steps should Ukraine take to become one of Poland’s top ten trading partners?

Poland is a key economic partner of Ukraine and already ranks second among all countries in terms of bilateral trade. I am convinced that the dynamics of our economic relations will grow systematically and Ukraine will rise in the list of strategic economic partners. It will not only be in the top ten soon but even in the top five. Such a scenario is inevitable, as Ukraine is a reliable neighbour of Poland and we are successfully reorienting our economy to European markets following Russian aggression.

In my opinion, we need to have more active dialogue at the business level in order to increase trade. Platforms such as the Eastern European Economic Forum in Karpacz should help to stimulate the development of effective contacts between both countries’ business circles. Economic growth lies not only in national programmes but also in projects at the regional level. In my native Rivne region in particular we are actively developing a map of the region’s investment attractiveness. Polish capital can safely enter the country under state guarantees regarding investments. This will only help to promote the development of the Ukrainian economy and return high profits.

Now Poland is already one of the top ten countries in terms of foreign direct investment in the Ukrainian economy. I hope that our joint work will allow Poland to become one of the top three in two to three years.

It is expected that Ukraine will sign an industrial visa-free regime with the EU this year. Will this be a breath of fresh air” for trade and economic relations between Ukraine and Poland?

Definitely, yes. Industrial visa-free travel will prove crucial for the development of the Ukrainian economy. It will also make it easier for quality Ukrainian products to enter European markets. Under such circumstances, we will be able to circumvent all technical and bureaucratic obstacles, as well as any restrictions in bilateral trade. Moreover, I think that visa-free travel will only encourage Ukraine and Poland to implement various joint production projects. This is especially true in the agricultural sector. The joint production of high value-added goods for resale in the EU would raise our relationship to a new level.

As an agrarian, I believe that the agro-industry has the potential to become part of the economic foundation driving our cooperation. United against the backdrop of the Russian threat, Ukraine and Poland have shown that we can work together for stability in the region and ‘protect’ Europe. Now we need to show our unity on agricultural policy in order to ‘feed’ Europe together.

Ukraine and Poland, along with other European countries, are now actively opposing the launch of Nord Stream 2. Is it still possible to stop this project and what is needed to realise this goal?

Ukraine and Poland have consolidated their opposition to Nord Stream 2. Unlike some European countries, both Kyiv and Warsaw have always understood that this is not an economic project. Indeed, it is a political project designed to increase Russia’s energy influence in Europe.

Unfortunately, it is now clear that the project will technically be completed. However, this does not mean that we have lost our common fight against Nord Stream 2. Poland and Ukraine must make every effort to disrupt the certification of Nord Stream 2 or Russia’s ability to use the pipeline at full capacity.

Moreover, we already have effective legal precedents for challenging this development. I remember how the European Court of Justice imposed restrictions on the use of Nord Stream 1 following a Polish lawsuit in 2019. Gazprom was subsequently able to use only 50 per cent of the OPAL pipeline’s capacity (this is a ground extension of the Russian gas pipeline on German territory). We need to continue in this direction.

Washington, Brussels, Warsaw, Kyiv and other partners must convince whoever becomes the new German chancellor in the autumn that close energy cooperation with the Russian Federation is not worth it. With all due respect to Angela Merkel, she often showed excessive loyalty and flexibility with regards to the Russian side. This is despite the fact that the whole world knows that the price of Russian aggression will always be higher than the profits of Nord Stream 2.

The Crimean Platform summit will be held in Ukraine on August 23rd. What, in your view, will Ukraine be able to achieve through this initiative?

The Crimean Platform is a promising initiative of the Office of the President of Ukraine and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It aims to create conditions for the restoration of Ukrainian control over Crimea.

The goal of the Russian Federation is simple as it hopes to ‘freeze’ the topic of the occupied peninsula and take it off the negotiating table. For example, Crimea is not included in the agenda of the Normandy Format. The Minsk Tripartite Contact Group also does not discuss the status of the peninsula. This is why Ukraine cannot allow Crimea to get lost among Russian propaganda and wider international diplomacy.

The Crimean Platform should become a constructive institution for negotiations and take steps in several strategically important areas. Firstly, it must focus on observing and protecting the rights of the Ukrainian population in the occupied territories. The persecution of the Crimean Tatars must be stopped immediately. In 2014, it seemed impossible to the international community that one country could occupy the territory of another in today’s world. In 2021, we would not like the international community to be surprised once again by the fact that one political regime can repress an entire nation.

Secondly, the initiative can help maintain sanctions against the Russian side. Sanctions are one of the strategic mechanisms of applying pressure on Russia and encouraging Moscow to enter negotiations on Crimea. Despite various problems, we need to unite around continuing sanctions and perhaps strengthening some economic restrictions against the aggressor country.

Thirdly, the platform must focus on the topic of security. Russia is deliberately turning Crimea into a military base and a platform for further displays of military force. We have seen more than once how the Russian side uses its presence on the peninsula to restrict free navigation in the region, closing the waters in the Sea of ​​Azov.

The Crimean Platform will become more than just a platform for discussions. It will also act as a fully fledged tool that will ensure Ukraine’s continued policy of restoring control over its own territory, returning those displaced from the peninsula and restoring regional security.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Poland for its active support for this initiative at the highest level. As a result, we hope to see Mr. Andrzej Duda and many other Polish friends both at the Crimean Platform summit and at the celebrations on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Ukrainian independence.

Ukrainian media have been reporting that the Servant of the People party is on the verge of a split. Can you comment on these reports?

You can be sure that this is all speculation. This rumour has been promoted by various groups inside and outside the country who are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. They are annoyed by the fact that we are passing legislation against the oligarchs and fighting corruption. We are also supporting progressive reforms, opening the land market in the interests of the Ukrainian people, and taking a consistent position on foreign policy.

I assure you that there are no divisions or critical problems. I agree that it is impossible to build an ideal party structure in a short period but we are not wasting time. The Servant of the People party is a long-term political project, not an impromptu union for one political cycle. We have come a long way and have set ambitious strategic goals. If you look at opinion polls, our party remains in first place in all rankings. This is despite the large number of problems we had to face. For instance, we had to deal with a severe economic downturn due to the pandemic and we continue to fight against the consequences of this event. As for the presidential election, Volodymyr Zelenskyy confidently won in the first round and defeated any opponent in the second. This shows that he remains a reliable and popular leader, around whom the people and the party are ready to unite.

The democratic world is now boycotting the regime in Belarus. Both Ukraine and Poland have closed their airspace after the hijacking in May of a Ryanair flight with Raman Pratasyevich onboard. What other actions could be taken to stop the Lukashenka regime and help political prisoners in Belarus?

The countries of the civilised world have jointly opposed this dictatorial regime, which is doing everything it can to stay in power. Lukashenka has become a true international terrorist by demanding that planes land on his own territory, sending the opposition to prison and dispersing his own people from protests. This must come to an end.

Everyone understands that Sviatlana Tsikhanouskayais the leader of the Belarusian opposition. I would like to take this opportunity to support her and invite her to Ukraine to address the Ukrainian parliament.

We need to continue to unite within the framework of the Lublin Triangle and in a broader dialogue with the EU and the US on increasing sanctions on the Lukashenka regime.

The Polish Ambassador to Ukraine Bartosz Cichocki stated recently that Poland is ready to become a new platform for Tripartite Contact Group negotiations, instead of Minsk. How do you assess this proposal?

 Further talks in Minsk do not make sense and cannot take place. During the meetings of the TCG, we saw how Russia tried to involve terrorists in the negotiations. This cannot be allowed as they are totally controlled by Moscow.

I like the idea of ​​moving the talks to Poland. Moreover, I support the more active involvement of the Polish side in the negotiation process to ensure peace in the Donbas and counter Russian aggression.

But you understand what the problem is. Before choosing a new place for negotiations, it is necessary to determine the content of these talks. So far, I do not think that the Russian side is ready to enter into meaningful dialogue. I think that it will be impossible to reach a political settlement without a revision of the set of measures needed to implement the Minsk agreements. How can elections be held if there are no security guarantees? Does anyone think that the OSCE are ready to send their representatives to regions where armed militants can move around freely? Who will be responsible for security there if Ukraine does not control the occupied territories and the border?

We are constantly told about the need to implement the “Steinmeier formula” and other relevant legislation. However, it is clear that the militants simply do not adhere to the ceasefire. How can we talk about the peace process if our military is being shot at and Russia does not recognise itself as a party to the conflict?

Weapons can only be silenced when diplomacy begins. Despite this, if diplomacy is blocked and guns continue to be used, political decision-making is not possible. Russia must remove the illegal armed groups, sit at the negotiating table and take responsibility for its own ‘puppets’. Only then can peace be achieved. Unfortunately, the main obstacle to this potential peace is in the Kremlin but they do not want anything to do with it.

As early as July 1st the land market opened in Ukraine. Poland has already many years of experience regarding such issues. Is there anything Ukraine can learn from its neighbour in relation to this?

Yes, we actively analysed and studied the experience of Poland in this context. Let me remind everyone that we have introduced a rather conservative market model, where there are clear restrictions on individual land ownership and the sale of land to foreigners is prohibited. We have introduced a transition period until 2024, during which we will be able to make any necessary adjustments to the existing reform. Our goal is to create tens of thousands of new family-owned farms, which will create additional jobs in rural areas and give a much-needed boost to community development. As part of this initiative, we are consistently increasing support and government subsidies for small and medium-sized farms and encouraging citizens to work on their own land to create added value. In general, the key problem is that such reform was similarly implemented in the early 1990s. Despite this, the politicians of the time simply lacked the political will to properly realise the reforms. I am convinced that the ability to freely buy and sell property is a constitutional right of every Ukrainian citizen and no one has the right to restrict such freedom. We will see the results of this new legal land market very clearly in the next five to seven years. All owners of agricultural lands will benefit from this decision and it will only encourage the development of Ukraine’s agro-industry.

Polish-Ukrainian relations have always gone through ups and downs. What is the situation now? Which area of cooperation is currently the strongest and which one still needs improvement?

Poland and Ukraine are strategic partners and such an alliance helps to guarantee stability in the region. The creation of the Lublin Triangle should help to significantly expand the horizons of our cooperation. We have repeatedly demonstrated unity when it comes to key political issues. We have presented a united front against Russia with regards to energy and now we need to focus on the economic component of our partnership.

In addition to the agricultural sector, I see significant prospects in transport infrastructure. Large-scale construction projects prove promising for both sides. These help to strengthen Ukraine’s transit potential. They have also provided jobs in the country and have become an effective solution for the eternal problem of poor quality Ukrainian roads. We are finally coming out of the ‘pit’ in both the literal and figurative sense of the word. Now we need to integrate transport communications between our countries. For example, we need to connect Odessa, Khmelnytsky, Lviv, Katowice and Gdynia by building high-quality highways.

It is also necessary to solve various problems regarding freight transportation. Ukraine and Poland could become a real strategic transit corridor for trade between Europe and Asia.

Cooperation in the energy and military spheres should also be strengthened. Significant prospects also exist with regards to including Ukraine in promising regional projects, such as the Three Seas Initiative.

I am convinced that our countries will be able to overcome any problems that emerge in our bilateral relations. Overall, we must come to an acceptable compromise on historical issues and not allow third parties to use this topic as a means of driving us apart.

Dmytro Solomchuk is a Ukrainian deputy with the ruling party Servant of the People.

Oleksandr Gnydiuk is a Ukrainian journalist with the Diplomat.


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