- The new Polish government has reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine’s security in the wake of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s visit to Kyiv.
- Warsaw is a major advocate for Ukraine’s NATO membership. It calculates that Ukraine’s accession to the Alliance will be crucial in ensuring an effective deterrence against any Russian invasion plans.
- The Tusk government has an opportunity to reinforce Warsaw’s lead role in securing Ukraine by expanding Poland’s influence in the European Union.
In his first foreign trip following the formation of the new Polish government, Prime Minister Donald Tusk visited Kyiv on January 22 to reaffirm that Ukraine remains Warsaw’s overarching security priority (Rzeczpospolita, January 23). His meetings with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian government were intended to demonstrate that relations between Warsaw and Kyiv were emerging from a downswing in the latter part of 2023 when Poland was embroiled in general elections and government formation. The visit was not simply symbolic; it also announced the delivery of a new military aid package to Ukraine and plans to launch joint weapons production.
In December 1991, Poland was the first country to officially recognize Ukraine’s independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Warsaw views Ukraine’s independence from Russia as key to its owns security, and successive Polish governments have all expressed their commitment to Ukraine’s national security, territorial integrity, and Western integration (Wilson Center, May 23, 2018). Warsaw has been a staunch advocate of Ukrainian interests in both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Since its ascension to the European Union in 2004, Poland has been at the forefront of various EU initiatives to deepen relations with Ukraine. Poland and Sweden were the vanguard of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program launched in 2009 to draw Ukraine, Belarus, and other former Soviet republics closer to the Union (For more, see: Janusz Bugajski, The Eastern Dimension of America’s New European Allies, 2007).
After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Poland’s Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau delivered a major foreign policy speech to the Sejm in April 2023, in which he underscored that Warsaw would strive to enable Ukraine’s speedy accession to NATO and the European Union: “It is in Poland’s most vital, existential interest. A safe Ukraine means a safe Poland and a peaceful Europe. It is why Poland is Ukraine’s ally in its defense of peace and preventing Russian imperialism” (Gov.pl, April 13, 2023). Tusk reiterated this fundamental position in Kyiv, stating that while there were partisan political conflicts in Poland, “there is no difference of opinion regarding support for Ukraine … because our security is also at stake … there is nothing more important than supporting Ukraine” (NotesFromPoland.com, January 22).
The outgoing Law and Justice Party (PiS) government significantly contributed to Ukraine’s security and the safety of its population. Poland was the lead donor to Ukraine in 2023—including refugee costs, bilateral aid amounted to 2.4 percent of GDP (Ukraine Support Tracker, December 7, 2023). By September 2023, Poland had accommodated almost one million Ukrainian refugees, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that Poland had the highest level of employment of Ukrainian refugees among 12 countries surveyed (NotesFromPoland.com, October 25, 2023).
Warsaw has been a major advocate for Ukraine’s NATO membership. It calculated that together with its own military modernization, Ukraine’s accession to the Alliance will be crucial in ensuring an effective deterrence against Russia’s invasion plans. Warsaw also assisted Ukraine in developing the proficiency of its national guard, border guard, and intelligence services to meet Euro-Atlantic standards. Following the Russian invasion in 2022, Warsaw supplied Ukraine with most of its Soviet-era weapons as well as more modern stocks, including tanks, howitzers, artillery, and drones. Poland became Ukraine’s chief logistics hub, through which most foreign arms deliveries passed. It hosted multinational training for Ukrainian soldiers and was a driving force in creating the EU Military Assistance Mission in Support of Ukraine (Eeas.europa.eu). Warsaw played a decisive role in the formation of an international coalition of countries to transfer Leopard tanks to Ukraine and was also one of the organizers of a coalition of 11 Western countries that pledged to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter aircraft.
Relations between Kyiv and Warsaw deteriorated on the eve of the Polish elections in October 2023, mainly because of disputes over the inflow of cheaper Ukrainian agricultural products that undercut the income of Polish farmers. Another point of tension became the EU’s transport regulations, which created unfair competition with Polish truckers. The disputes led to border blockades on the Polish side (NotesFromPoland.com, November 28, 2023). Although the quarrels affected all of Ukraine’s neighbors, Poland’s position was particularly challenging as the agricultural sector constitutes one of PiS’s main constituencies. The disputes were partially resolved in January when EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis announced that Brussels would introduce measures to control the influx of farm goods from Ukraine if they risked pushing prices down in Poland and other nearby EU countries (Euronews.com, January 23).
During his visit to Kyiv, Tusk reached an understanding with Zelenskyy to resolve fully any differences between their countries over grain shipments and trucking. Kyiv offered a mechanism to verify the export of agricultural products in line with the European Commission’s decision. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced that Warsaw and Kyiv planned to introduce joint border and customs control, exchange customs databases, and expand and modernize all border crossing points (Kyiv Independent, January 23). Tusk also appointed Paweł Kowal, a former deputy foreign minister and current member of parliament, as the government’s plenipotentiary for supporting Ukraine’s reconstruction (Pravda.com.ua, January 22).
The Tusk government has an opportunity to reinforce Warsaw’s lead role in securing Ukraine by expanding Poland’s influence in the European Union. Tusk served as President of the European Council (2014-2019) and the European People’s Party (2019-2022) and is well respected in most EU capitals. During his Kyiv visit, Tusk confirmed that Poland was joining the G7 Security Guarantees (Interfax Ukraine, January 22). This involves a multi-year agreement to provide “swift and sustained” assistance for Ukraine’s defense, including intelligence sharing, cyber security, medical and military training, and defense industrial cooperation. Warsaw and Kyiv also plan to establish a joint consultative group to support Ukraine’s progress toward EU and NATO membership. Warsaw intends to be active before the NATO summit in Washington on July 9–11 to convince its allies that Ukraine’s NATO membership is vital for European security.