The Ukrainian Conflict - Two opposing views
by Camille Loubignac
Poland - bordering country concerned with its domestic security
Since the onset of the "Ukrainian crisis", Poland has been one of the Western countries defending the most drastic line against Moscow. Indeed, the Polish government is not ready to accept any compromise nor to loosen economic sanctions against Russia — even if they are damaging its own national economy — as long as the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine are not restored. The Polish president, Mr Andrzej Duda, even suggested on August 15, 2015, that the government of Poland be part of the Minsk II negotiations alongside Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, arguing that Poland was one of the strongest European countries and had a common border with Ukraine. But this proposal was not endorsed by the Normandy format.
Poland condemns Russia vehemently even at the expense of its own economic interests. By 2012, Russia was Poland's sixth client and second supplier, while Ukraine was only its eighth client and nineteenth supplier. Russia retaliated by embargoing meat and cutting down electricity and gas supplies to Poland. Poland, unperturbed, is currently advocating against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project (intending to double the capacity of Nord Stream 1) — backed by Gazprom along with British, French, German and Austrian companies — which will, it its view, deprive central European states, and especially Ukraine, from transit revenues they rely on for their economy
Poland has, so far, hosted a very high share of the Ukrainian refugees (who number close to 600,000 according to UN estimates). Asylum applications from Ukrainians in Poland increased 50-fold between 2013 and 2014 (46 to 2,318) while applications for temporary residence more than doubled (13,000 to 29,000). The Ukrainians in Poland now number 400,000.
Poland has always been in a close relationship with Ukraine. The two countries not only share a common border but also a common history. This goes back to the 14th century, when the Lithuanian and Polish empires conquered the vast majority of former Ukraine, forcing the local Slavs to emigrate to the North, and therefore mixing the Ukrainian population with both the conquering Lithuanians and Poles, and the hosting Belorussians and Russians. Ukraine will remain torn apart in the midst of intra-continental struggles during the following centuries. Eventually, its borders will be fully recognised during the Yalta Conference in 1945, Ukraine becoming a Soviet state under USSR mentoring until its independence in 1990, which Poland was the first country to recognise. Before the current crisis, Poland was in strong support for Ukrainian integration in the EU.
This shared history is a redundant argument advanced by Poland to condemn Russia's own claims of common roots, used to justify support to oppressed Russian minorities in Ukraine. Poland claims that all countries have to respect new borders drawn in 1945, in order to permit to countries such as Ukraine to fully become democratic and independent states. Therefore, Poland condemns the so-called self-determination of Crimea and Eastern territories, considered as fomented by Russia and untransparent.
However, Polish vehement support to Ukraine is not independent from its own domestic interests. A strong Ukraine ensures security for Poland, whereas an open conflict would destabilise the whole region and unleash Russian expansionism. This domestic-centred perspective is exemplified by Poland requesting the creation of NATO permanent new bases on its territory. Further, due to recent developments, Poland shifted its support for Ukraine joining NATO to Montenegro. Indeed, Polish interests rest primarily in the defence of Poland's own security, be it at the expense of defending its Ukrainian neighbour.
Rettman, Andrew, "Poland fears mass exodus of Ukraine refugees", 27 Aug. 2015, EUobserver. Link: https://euobserver.com/migration/130016.
Russia - Former World Power clinging to her past glory
Russia considers the expansion of NATO since the end of the Cold War as a threat to her political and economical strengths. Indeed, in the view of many Russians, the maintaining of NATO in a post-Cold War era revealed the West's continued suspicion towards Russia: Russia was condemnable, for her political system differed from the Western ideal of democracy. Still, the West developed diplomatic relations with Russia, her being an unavoidable partner regarding the Middle East as well as for European gas supply, and in order to eventually face a growing China.
The three-wave integration of twelve former Soviet states in NATO combined with the increasing deployment of NATO's military bases and exercises close to her eastern borders and in the Black Sea appeared to Russia as a tactic to further deprive her from her natural sphere of influence. Western propaganda and funding as well as the local interference of Western national intelligence such as the CIA excited anti-Russian sentiments in former satellites and triggered protests such as the coloured revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine in 2003-2004. Russia observed, helpless, her former satellites — among the world's richest regions in natural resources (gas, oil, mineral iron, gold, copper) — adhere to the competing model; while her economy weakened due to the dropping of the oil price. These two trends transformed Russia from big to modest power, with weak economy, and exacerbated Russians' will to recover their past glory.
At the end of 2013, the EU oriental partnership offered to Ukraine threatened Russian will to build an economic union; moreover, this could later follow with a NATO partnership and eventually a NATO military base in Crimea. Russia had to react, in order to prevent other states under her influence to depart like Ukraine intended. Therefore, Russia exerted pressure on Ukraine not to endorse the EU oriental partnership. As a consequence, pro-EU protesters toppled the government, and a proxy war triggered by the West started: pro-EU, backed and funded by the West, opposed pro-Russians, backed and funded by Russia. While the Western community accused Russia of breaching the international law (especially the Helsinki and Budapest agreements), Russia accused them of breaching the Ukrainian constitutional law by replacing with coup d'état an elected president (Yanoukovych) by the pro-Western non-elected Yatsenyuk.
However, entering this proxy war, Russia decided to be strategic: an open conflict would have triggered worldwide contesta
tion and sanctions, as well as a dangerous conflict escalation on the international stage. On the contrary,the combination of Russian-speaking minorities' support and Russian "voluntary" citizens' ground involvement (the "little green men") permitted to exacerbate protests and destabilise the central government while circumventing Western accusations.
Russia's prestigious annexation of Crimea under popular claims, with very limited infighting, was a clear and menacing message to all Russian satellites tempted to join the West. From now on, Russia can only win from the conclusion of the conflict. At the minimum, Russia will have won Crimea, reaffirmed her soft power and threatened any satellite country from departing from her sphere of influence. Ukraine will certainly become a federal state with decentralised powers to Eastern regions, increasing pro-Russians' leverage in the running of the country.
Moreover, the Russian population will have been distracted from domestic economic problems to focus on proud reviving of national pride and strength. In the scenario of Ukraine's government not accepting to transfer more powers to the Eastern oblasts, these latter could eventually request Russian annexation, as did Crimea, giving to Russia another opportunity to show immense national prestige.
 The actions governed by president Putin are thought to be backed by 8/10 of the population, who consider that he is defending their country's interests.