Poland 2015-2019

What kind of Eastern policy has PiS conducted

Polska 2015-2019 2019-08-23
PiS rule saw the deterioration of relations with Ukraine and the role of the Eastern Partnership decreasing. On the plus side, Poland has become less reliant on energy from Russia.

Foreign visits to Eastern Partnership countries and Russia under the various PiS governments
Foreign visits to Eastern Partnership countries and Russia under the various PiS governments
Poland 2015-2019

Eastern Partnership (EP) shelved. It has been ten years since Poland and Sweden inaugurated the programme integrating six eastern states with the EU. The initiative's last big success – the EU's signing of the association agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova – was however in 2014, before PiS came to power. Since then, interest in the EP has been slowly waning in Europe. Many EU states are opposed to expansion; this, in turn, demotivates the eastern partners who thought that participation in the Eastern Partnership would be the first step on the way to EU membership. The Polish government has failed to work out a new idea for cooperation which could breathe new life into the initiative. Although MinFor Jacek Czaputowicz proposed a reform of the EP this year, making increased regional cooperation between the Partnership's members its main goal, the idea is unlikely to succeed due to the ongoing conflicts between the various states.

Relations with Ukraine worse than before. This was partly due to the tightening of rhetoric connected with historic policy. On the Polish side, the problem was the amendment to the IPN law at the beginning of 2018 and the Sejm resolution in 2016 on the victims of the Volhynia massacre. On the Ukrainian side, it was the glorification of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Another factor was the gradually diminishing significance of Poland in relations between Kyiv and the West – a process which began before PiS came to power. An example was Warsaw not being included in the Normandy format peace talks (Ukraine, Russia, Germany, France). Neither the president's, nor both the MinFor's visits to Ukraine (there were nine in total) were able to stop the deterioration of relations. Volodymyr Zelensyy's taking office is unlikely to change this trend; while the previous Ukrainian president's first trip was to Warsaw, Zelenskyy (as President-elect) chose Brussels.

Relations with Russia completely frozen. The PiS government decided not to reinstate high-level diplomatic relations with Russia, which had been suspended following the illegal annexation of Crimea. The lack of contacts between the Polish and Russian leaders meant that the ruling party failed to fulfil one of its key promises from 2015: to get the wreck of the Tu-154M jet back from the Russians (related to the Smolensk crash). In the international arena, Warsaw consistently lobbied in favour of maintaining or tightening sanctions against Moscow until May this year, when Polish MinFor Jacek Czaputowicz voted for the reinstatement of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Countries which voted against included Ukraine and Lithuania. The decision caused controversies within the ruling party – PiS MPs in PACE voted against reinstating Russia and left the meeting when the motion eventually carried.

Lower energy dependence on Moscow. In May 2016, the government announced that Poland would not be extending the Yamal contract for gas deliveries by Gazprom, which runs out in 2022. In order to ensure the required amount of gas, Gaz-System has begun preparations for the construction of Baltic Pipe and PGNiG singed three contracts for over 20 years for the import of LNG from the US and Qatar. At the same time, the gas company reduced gas deliveries from Russia from 10.2 billion cubic metres in 2016 to 9 billion cubic metres in 2018. A similar trend can be seen in the import of crude oil – according to NBP data, the share of Russian oil in total Polish imports was 67 per cent in 2018, 10 per cent less than in the previous year. In the current term, however, PiS has been struggling with the rising imports of Russian coal. According to Eurostat, in Q1 2019 alone Poland imported 3.15 million tonnes, or about 60 per cent of the entire 2016 amount.

Promotion of democracy - inconsistent. Support for pro-democratic opposition and NGOs in the East has traditionally been one of the pillars of Poland's eastern policy. Not all countries have been offered assistance from the PiS government, though. While in Ukraine the initiatives promoting human rights and democracy continued (the Ukrainian director Oleh Sentsov who was imprisoned by Russia received the Pro Dignitate Humana award), in Belarus it weakened visibly. In 2016, MinFor cut funding for Belsat TV (funding was subsequently reinstated in 2018), and at the beginning of 2019 the International Solidarity Foundation (controlled by the state Treasury) considerably reduced funds for the Karta 97 website linked with the radical opposition.

the bottom line

The East has not been a priority for the party currently in power - regional initiatives within the EU, especially the Three Seas Initiative, were much more important in this term. PiS has failed to strengthen Poland's position as an intermediary between the East and West mainly due to its worsening relations with Brussels (see: controversial changes to the judiciary), as well as the lack of suitable personnel. In the coming years, the biggest challenge for Poland's eastern policy (regardless of who wins the approaching election) will be the starting détente between the West and Russia.

*Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia

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Paweł Wiejski
fmr. European Affairs Analyst
Paweł Wiejski
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