What does the increase in Russian troops on the Ukrainian border indicate? What will war look like if it happens? What is behind the Polish border crisis and how ready is the West to help Ukraine? Can the EU support Ukraine in the face of an escalating energy crisis? The “Brussels Ukraine Review” journal asked these very difficult questions MEPs, politicians of Ukraine and Belarus, as well as Western and Ukrainian experts.
Witold Waszczykowski, Polish Mep (European Conservatives and Reformists Group), Chair of the Eu-Ukraine Delegation to the European Parliament, Former Foreign Minister of Poland
Thousands of migrants near the Polish border with Belarus is not a Polish border crisis. This is a hybrid attack of Lukashenka at the EU’s border, not only the Polish border but also the ones of Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, these are not only EU borders but also NATO ones. Lukashenka uses migrants and misleads them, mentioning that through Poland they can have access to Germany or farther West, where they can legally move and enjoy the social benefits. They are not told that the border crossing is conducted illegally. Without Polish visas – the border-cross is illegal. Thus, they would have to ask for asylum, and stay at the refugee camp, which is not what they want.
Everyone in Europe is now wondering what is behind these actions of Lukashenka. We assume that it is a scenario of Putin. One reason is that Putin is using migrants to start negotiating this case with Europe – if the negotiations start between Belarus and the EU, then Lukashenka will have to be officially recognised as the president of Belarus. Following this, the sanctions imposed on Lukashenka will also be lifted.
Secondly, it could be a so-called “maskirovka” to cover the actions taking place in Ukraine: the concentration of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border. While we are busy with Belarus, Putin will start an attack in Ukraine. Both scenarios could be true and happen simultaneously.
The current timing is perfect, the EU is busy internally, the Americans are also busy with domestic policies, so there is a vacuum at the international arena, which Putin might fill in with his actions.
There is a pattern that Russians are using current timing – when the other part of the world is busy with winter holidays. It is good timing. I do not think that Putin needs a major war. He cannot afford to occupy the whole of Ukraine and justify it to the world. What he wants is anti-Maidan. He wants to force Ukraine to spend money on security and defence, instead of internal reforms that are needed for the people and are very costly – to make Ukrainians sick and tired of the current government that focuses on defence instead of the domestic reforms. So, that Ukrainians change the government in the end.
This does not mean that some type of a low-scale conflict will not happen. Putin wants a land corridor to connect Donbas and Crimea, so some cities like Mariupol might be in danger. Another possibility is cutting off Ukraine from the Black Sea. Here Odesa is in danger. Ukrainians might become unhappy with the government that did nothing to protect Ukrainian territories, if such actions do take place. Then, Ukrainians again would get disappointed with the Euro-Atlantic integration, lack of support and assistance from the EU and NATO, and, thus, might change the course from Eurointegration towards Russia.
Russia’s media and the propaganda machine is already preparing the narrative for an invasion. This is a typical pattern for Russia to turn things upside down. They like to accuse others, instead of explaining their own actions, such as the concentration of troops. They will accuse Ukrainian security leaders and government, as well as NATO and the EU member states for their deterrence actions, and explain that Russia was just reacting and protecting the Russian minority in Ukraine – if it happens.