Germany is poised to replace Poland as Ukraine’s top strategic partner no matter who wins the next elections since PO’s victory will likely lead to this happening right away while PiS’ would likely just delay this seemingly inevitable outcome for a short while. The only realistic way that this scenario could be offset is if PiS wins and then promulgates a much more muscular policy towards Ukraine aimed at coercing that country into preserving Poland’s sphere of influence.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speculated during a campaign rally on Sunday that Zelensky cut a deal with Germany behind his country’s back and implied that Ukraine should give Poland a sphere of influence there out of gratitude for all that Poles have done for it since February 2022. His words represent the latest escalation in the Polish-Ukrainian dispute that exploded in mid-September and add credence to expectations that mutual distrust will continue worsening. Here’s what he said:
“I understand that it seems to [President Zelensky] now that he will have a close alliance with Germany. Let me warn you, Germany will always want to cooperate with the Russians over the heads of Central European countries.
It was Poland that welcomed a few million Ukrainians under our roofs, it was the Poles who welcomed the Ukrainians, it was we who helped the most at the time when the Germans wanted to send 5,000 helmets to besieged Kyiv. It is worthwhile for you not to forget this, President Zelensky.”
The following analyses describe the context within which Morawiecki shared his scandalous suspicions:
The sequence of events leading up to this will now be summarized for the reader’s convenience.
Poland’s ruling “Law & Justice” (PiS) party took advantage of Russia’s special operation to carve out a sphere of influence for their country in Ukraine, which was seen as a serious step towards fulfilling the late Marshal Pilsudski’s “Intermarium” vision aimed at restoring Poland’s long-lost Great Power status. Germany also saw the latest phase of the Ukrainian Conflict as an opportunity to advance its own hegemonic vision over the EU, which placed it at odds with Poland, both in general and in Ukraine.
The Polish-Ukrainian grain dispute set into motion a self-sustaining cycle of distrust that prompted Kiev to proactively reduce its disproportionate dependence on Warsaw, to which end Ukraine recently clinched a military deal with Germany till 2027. Those two consider their agreement to be a means for pragmatically managing an increasingly rogue Poland, while Poland regards this an unfriendly scheme by its neighbors to contain it. A strategic dilemma has therefore come to characterize this triangle.
Ukraine no longer feels comfortable merging with Poland into a de facto confederation after the grain dispute showed that these plans entail unacceptable concessions to its sovereignty, which would institutionalize Ukraine’s junior partnership status vis-à-vis Poland if Kiev went along with this. In order to prevent that from happening, Kiev decided to counterbalance Poland’s disproportionate influence via the several-year-long military partnership that it just agreed to with Germany.
Poland expected that Ukraine would give it a sphere of influence, even if only over those western regions that used to be part of the interwar Second Polish Republic, after everything that it did to help Kiev survive Russia’s special operation thus far. This includes direct military aid, facilitating NATO’s arms shipments, and hosting millions of Ukrainian refugees. Instead, Zelensky compared Poland’s role in this conflict to Russia’s during his UNGA speech and then gave Germany a sphere of influence in Ukraine.
Germany was previously reluctant to get involved in the latest phase of the Ukrainian Conflict, but last year’s Nord Stream terrorist attack and this summer’s onset of the Polish-Ukrainian dispute convinced it to finally play a leading role. With nothing more to lose regarding ties with Russia and sensing an opportunity to divide-and-rule the region in pursuit of its hegemonic policy, Germany swiftly made up for lost time and subsequently sought to poach Poland’s envisaged sphere of influence in Ukraine.
The dynamics detailed in the preceding three paragraphs suggest that Germany is gaining strategic ground over Poland in Ukraine, and this trend is expected to continue even after the next Polish elections on 15 October. If the “Civic Platform” (PO) opposition wins, then Poland will return to its traditional post-Old Cold War status as a German vassal, which would then catalyze a competition with Ukraine for the privilege of being Germany’s most important junior partner in the region.
In the event that PiS maintains its electoral edge over PO, then it’ll likely be forced to form a coalition government with the anti-establishment Confederation party, which could prevent the incumbents from walking back their tough stance towards Ukraine. Should that happen, then Poland will remain on the strategic backfoot in its competition with Germany for influence in that country since it’ll be politically difficult for Warsaw to offer Kiev any perks that Berlin couldn’t match, let alone surpass if needed.
With this insight in mind, Germany is therefore poised to replace Poland as Ukraine’s top strategic partner no matter who wins the next elections since PO’s victory will likely lead to this happening right away while PiS’ would likely just delay this seemingly inevitable outcome for a short while. The only realistic way that this scenario could be offset is if PiS wins and then promulgates a much more muscular policy towards Ukraine aimed at coercing that country into preserving Poland’s sphere of influence.
Its newly concluded investigation into last November’s Przewodow incident, which determined that Ukraine was responsible for the wayward missile that killed two Poles despite Zelensky’s denials to this day, could be exploited as the pretext for this purpose. Poland could then threaten to stop the transit of third countries’ (especially Germany’s) military and economic aid to Ukraine until Kiev pays restitution for this in the form of institutionalizing its envisaged sphere of influence there.
What’s being proposed is a remix of the 1938 ultimatum that Poland gave to Lithuania, albeit this time without the implied threat of armed force if Ukraine doesn’t agree. Nevertheless, the threat of cutting off that country’s military and economic lifeline would likely be sufficient for coercing Kiev into complying with Warsaw’s demands. If PiS wins re-election and garners the political will to protect Poland’s interests despite the negative press that would provoke, then this could happen by year’s end.
Nobody should get their hopes up for this, however, since neither of the aforesaid variables can be taken for granted. Even if PiS wins re-election and assuming that it’s forced to enter into a coalition government with Confederation in that scenario, it’s still very unlikely that its leadership would be willing to hold NATO’s proxy war on Russia hostage unless Ukraine does Poland’s bidding. For this reason, the loss of Poland’s sphere of influence in Ukraine to Germany might already be a fait accompli.