Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Let’s help Ukraine fight Covid-19. This should be number 1 on our current foreign policy


Zbigniew Rau and Dmytro Kuleba, the ministers of foreign affairs of Poland and Ukraine published an article in politico.eu, the title of which (“Nord Stream 2 has sufficiently destroyed the West. Time to put an end to it”) clearly presents the main thesis of the speech. It is also important from the point of view of Polish interests, and perhaps it is also a testimony to a re-evaluation in Ukraine.

For many years, after 2014, especially during the presidency of Petro Poroshenko, the local elites were convinced that Poland under the rule of the right, in conflict with the European mainstream, could do little for Kiev and therefore it is necessary to focus on relations with Berlin and Paris rather than bothering with Warsaw . Now this view, it seems, especially in the light of Germany’s stubbornness over Nord Stream 2 and France’s slips towards Russia, is beginning to be revised. It is clearly visible in the structure of this article, which calls on President Joe Biden to use all means at his disposal to block the gas pipeline, and ministers describe the attitude of the American administration towards him as “critical”. German policy was also treated in an interesting way. After routinely thanking Berlin for efforts to stop Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine and help reform the country, it was stated that:

We respect Germany’s right to express its point of view. But we also firmly believe that such projects must not be viewed narrowly through the prism of bilateral relations, but must instead be viewed from the broader perspective of the interests and security of Europe as a whole.

One can risk a thesis that the emphasis on the importance of Nord Stream 2 by the ministers of Poland and Ukraine from the point of view of security interests is the result of the increasingly popular belief that the stubborn pursuit of Berlin and Moscow to complete the construction of the gas pipeline is essentially caused by the desire to obtain something like a German-Russian protectorate in our part of Europe. Showing that, disregarding the opinions of the countries of the region, ignoring their opinions, and not consulting their position with them, Moscow and Berlin can carry out even the most controversial project is in fact a demonstration of the hierarchy and the essence of mutual relations, often hidden behind the façade of beautiful-sounding slogans . This is how politics works and it is good that in Warsaw and Kiev the idea is finally beginning to emerge that the cooperation and potential of two nations together of almost 80 million people, whose combined economic potentials are not less than the GDP of, for example, Turkey, and the best growth opportunities in Europe can lead to build a strong force in the region.

If this line of reasoning is to be followed, then in Warsaw the view should take root that the course of affairs in Ukraine is also our interest and our policy should be built on the assumption that Poland can only benefit from the success of our neighbor. Of course, not standing aside and passively watching the developments, but actively participating in the life and transformations of the neighboring country.

In order not to theorize what our involvement in Ukrainian affairs should be about, let us pay attention to one extremely important area, which seems to be somewhat outside the area of ​​our involvement. It is the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, or more precisely the vaccination program against the virus. Poland rightly prides itself on being at the forefront of European vaccination rates, but we cannot help but note that Ukraine is the only European country where vaccination has not yet started. Even no vaccines came in there. The first batch of 500,000 units from India (Oxford / Astra-Zeneca) may just land in Kiev, but there is no certainty either, because President Zelenski officially announced the launch of the vaccination plan on February 15, and nothing happened. At the beginning of February, Prime Minister Denys Szmyhal said at a press conference, quite vaguely, that this year 15 million vaccines should be brought to Ukraine, which means that they can immunize roughly 7.5 million people. For a nation of nearly 40 million people, this is not an encouraging prospect, the more so as the statements of the government officials also mention another, extremely disturbing topic – the launch of a commercial, paid vaccine line. If such ideas were to be implemented, the related political crisis is bricked. Anyway, we are already dealing with a vaccine crisis in Ukraine.

On the same day when the vaccinations were to begin, and due to the lack of vaccinations, it had to be postponed under pressure from the Zelensky administration, according to Dzerkało Tyżnia, a draft amendment to the relevant act was registered, which allows the dismissal of Artem Sytnik, the head of the special anti-corruption prosecutor’s office NABU. The reason for this decision was the launch of an official investigation by his services to clarify the reasons for the failure of the state’s policy of purchasing and bringing to the country vaccines against Covid-19. An attempt to interfere with the staffing of NABU, probably the only Ukrainian institution respected by the West, caused a crisis in talks with the IMF mission negotiating another aid package. They ended in a fiasco and most likely, as Ukrainian economists argue, we will have to wait until autumn for their resumption. All this is happening in a situation where the situation in the Donbass is becoming more acute and there are more and more voices in both Ukraine and Russia that the resumption of military operations is inevitable there.

In other words, Ukraine is entering a difficult time. Zelenskiy and his formations are falling, the country is politically divided and conflicted, and worse, it has not dealt with the pandemic, in virtually any of its phases. Neither in terms of the lock down policy, nor the preparation of the health service to fight severe cases of infection, nor the vaccination program. Paradoxically, the economy looks good against this background, and last year’s decline will most likely be caught up this year, unless new strains of the virus spread to Ukraine and vaccines are successfully carried out. However, Ukrainian sanitary services do not currently have even a single laboratory where they could detect new virus mutations, which is not only a sign of negligence, but also leads to the thesis that the next wave of infections may not be stopped.

President Emmanuel Macron during his recent speech in Munich, but also in a later interview with the daily The Financial Times he called on the countries of the European Union and, more broadly, the West to share their Covid-19 vaccines with poorer countries. For obvious reasons, because his country’s interests are so concentrated, the French politician spoke of African countries. But the same applies to Ukraine, the support of which should be Poland’s main demand in this respect. Macron is right in arguing that if the collective West does not now start its own vaccine diplomacy against countries with fewer resources and capabilities, a vacuum will be created that will enter others – primarily the Russians and the Chinese. The same, but even more so with Ukraine. Not noticing this problem is not only short-sighted but also harmful to our interests. Not only because millions of citizens of a neighboring country come to Poland to work, but this is also important. The failure of the vaccination process against Covid-19 in Ukraine weakens the current government, destabilizes the domestic situation and increases Russia’s temptation to take advantage of this situation. Therefore, if we are talking about an effective policy of suppressing Moscow’s imperial appetites, we must start sending vaccines to Ukraine now, strive for a realistic EU delivery schedule and start organizing a regional support group for Kiev. As you know, you meet friends in poverty, and today Ukraine is in this situation.





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