Polish-Russian Relations and the 2004 Ukrainian Presidential Elections
Goldman, Minton F., East European Quarterly
Polish Russian relations in the Putin era have become severely strained as Polish ties to Europe have expanded. In the past several years tension between the two countries have developed even as Polish leaders, in particular recently elected Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, insisted that Warsaw remains committed to good working ties with the Kremlin. One recent source of this tension was the Polish effort to influence the outcome of the November 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections. This Polish behavior risked provoking Russia. But, the outcome of the Ukrainian presidential contest was important for Poland for several reasons, not least security on its eastern border. So, despite the risk Poland became deeply involved in Ukrainian domestic politics during the election, openly supporting one candidate and opposing another. This Polish behavior and the consequences for Polish-Russian relations reverberate to this day.
POLAND'S STAKE IN THE 2004 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Poland had a large stake in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election that primarily concerned Polish security and regional strategy in the east. But, there were other reasons for Poland's interest in the outcome of the election that included Russian influence-building ambitions in Ukraine under President Vladimir Putin, the future development of Ukraine's fragile democracy, the well being of a Polish speaking minority living in Ukraine near its border with Poland; and a concern about, perhaps even an alarm over likely domestic and foreign policies of the leading presidential candidate during the campaign, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich who had the support of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Russian President Putin.
Security and Strategy
Of utmost importance to Poland is the Polish-Ukrainian "Strategic Partnership" built by Poland's post-communist leaders from the early 1990's onward. It is a policy both sides had worked hard to cultivate. (1) In fact, the Ukrainian government in the 1990's, embraced the partnership at the risk straining relations with Russia. The partnership is based on three principles: first, reconciliation of past differences between the two countries; second cooperation to safeguard the newly won post-Soviet era independence of both partners; and third, avoidance of conflict of any kind between the two states that would increase their strategic vulnerability to an outside threat, say from Russia. (2)
The Polish-Ukrainian partnership is important for maintaining Polish security in the east vis-a-vis Russia in the post-communist era. It is part of a comprehensive Polish strategy in the post-communist era of linking countries along Russia's western flank particularly the Baltic Republics and Belarus to the West, which form a sort of European front line with Russia. Poland and the Baltic Republics are in NATO and the European Union (EU) They can present a strong counterweight to Russia's influence on Ukraine. (3)
The Polish Ukrainian partnership annoyed the Kremlin because it encouraged Ukraine's recent leaders, Presidents Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma, despite their close ties to Russia, to strengthen ties with the West. The Polish Partnership with Ukraine bothered the Kremlin because it rivaled and threatened to undercut Russian influence in Kiev which has a long history of closeness to Russia. Indeed, the Kremlin has tried to push the leadership in Ukraine from time to time to limit ties to the West and expand cooperation with Russia, especially in the military area.
The Polish-Ukrainian partnership stood to be weakened or strengthened depending on who won the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections. It stood to be weakened, but by no means abandoned, by the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovic. It stood to be continued and strengthened by the pro-West Viktor Yushchenko who was serving as Prime Minister in 2004. Were Yanukovich to win the election, the Kremlin would expect Ukraine to strengthen ties with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). (4) In particular, Yanukovich would in all likelihood be responsive to Putin's program of influence-building in the ex-Soviet Eurasian republics intended to increase their closeness to Russia.
Russian Influence-Building Ambitions in Ukraine
Putin had reason to believe in this strategy vis-a-vis Ukraine because of Russia's strong historic ties to Ukraine in the Czarist and Soviet periods. Close ties between Ukraine and Russia had the support of Russian speaking Ukrainians living for the most part in Ukraine's eastern region where Yanukovich was very popular as well as of Russian speaking military personnel in the Ukrainian army.
Putin's influence-building policies in Ukraine concerned Warsaw even before the 2004 presidential election. Putin from time to time used economic blackmail to discourage Ukrainian links to Poland and other countries in the West, especially the United States. For example, for many years Russia sold oil to Ukraine at below market prices. The real cost of this oil to Ukraine is a political one: Kiev had to maintain close ties to the Kremlin if it wanted cheap oil. Beyond economic blackmail, Putin blatantly interfered in Ukrainian domestic politics to support pro-Russian politicians in Kiev, recently President Leonid Kuchma and his Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovich. Putin encouraged them to slow westward tilt by Ukraine evident in its joining the U. S. sponsored "Partnership for Peace" in the 1990's and subsequently participating in NATO sponsored war games in the Black Sea. (5)
A Possible Ukrainian Drift toward Belarus?
Worse for Poland, a Russian leaning leadership would be likely to link itself close to Belarus. The repressive, anti-Western Belarus regime led by Alexander Lukashenko has posed a security threat in Poland's view given his efforts to create strong political, economic, and military links to the Kremlin in many respects making it a strategic ally of Russia rather than a buffer between Russia and Poland. With Putin's support, Belarus under Lukashenko could encourage--or even be the first phase of--a revival of Russian influence building in central Europe and the Baltic republics, with Ukraine one of its lynch pins. This scenario might seem farfetched, but it is hardly that in the countries on Russia's western frontier like Poland and Ukraine, so newly emancipated from the strong influence of Moscow during the Soviet era. (6)
Yanukovich promised to be even more pro-Russian than Kuchma if he succeeded to the presidency. Yanukovich was--and remains-pro-Russian with strong backing from at least 25 percent of the Ukrainian population which favors close ties with Russia. He is also conservative on domestic political and economic issues, skeptical of the kind of democracy and capitalism that other ex-communist countries linked closely to Moscow in the Soviet era like Poland were developing with much success.
A Weakening of Ukrainian Ties to the West?
Moreover, Yanukovich was skeptical of expanding Ukrainian ties to Europe. Yanukovich was in no hurry to have Ukraine join NATO and the EU. He and his supporters were inclined to look for security and economic advantage to Russia. He recognized that Ukraine had been linked closely …
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Publication information: Article title: Polish-Russian Relations and the 2004 Ukrainian Presidential Elections. Contributors: Goldman, Minton F. - Author. Journal title: East European Quarterly. Volume: 40. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2006. Page number: 409+. © 1999 East European Quarterly. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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