Spoiling Ukrainian-Polish relations: next phase in Kremlin’s hybrid war

Paid demonstrators attempt to block traffic between Poland and Ukraine. Photo: Zaxid.net

Paid demonstrators attempt to block traffic between Poland and Ukraine. Photo: Zaxid.net 

Analysis & Opinion

It’s 6 April 2017 in Ukraine, and the Polish consulates were reopened following a weekly pause after the  Polish Consulate General in Lutsk was hit in a grenade attack. This was the latest episode in a series of inflammatory events with a clear purpose to exacerbate tensions between the neighboring countries. Despite Poland and Ukraine sharing mutual enmity in the past, after the dissolution of the USSR they established close relations, with Poland being Ukraine’s main advocate in the EU.

Recently, tensions between the two countries had been growing: cemeteries related to World War II events were being desecrated, and monuments defaced on both sides of the border. The period of World War II is an especially sensitive one: Ukraine’s search for new national symbols while being attacked by Russia have led to a veneration of the WW-II Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), guerilla fighters that, following a brief period of collaboration with Nazi Germany, fought against Germany, the Red Army, and Poland. Poland remembers them mainly by a series of slaughters and ethnic cleansings of 1943-1944 in Ukraine’s northwestern region called called Volyn slaughter in Polish and Volyn tragedy in Ukrainian. Despite historians setting up initiatives to jointly search for historical truth, the topic of UPA remains a permanent source of hostility between the two nations. Poland’s recent adoption of a resolution proclaiming the Volyn massacre as “genocide” has added fuel to the fire.

The Ukrainian-Polish memory wars have been christened a “gift for Putin” and fingers have been pointed at Russia following the grenade attack. So, what evidence is there for a Russian trace?

Mysterious attack, fake rally

Ukraine’s security service (SBU) has named the suspect of the Polish consulate attack in Lutsk on 29 March. In a press announcement, they blame it on Mykola Dulskyi, leader of the Nazhdak radical civic organization who they called a well-known agent of influence of the Russian special services conducting anti-Ukrainian activities starting from 2015.

Микола Дульський

Mykola Dulskyi

The SBU named him the main organizer of a provocation that happened the same day as the grenade attack, when a group of some 100 protesters in Hriada (Lviv Oblast) blocked the international highway passing through Rava-Ruska to Poland, causing a traffic jam. Holding posters such as “Volyn is in our hearts,” “NO to the genocide of Poles,” “Poles are our brothers,” “Take your hands off the monuments” in Polish and Ukrainian, and setting tires on fire, they could not answer why they were there and what they demanded, and were arrested by the police.

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But the media component of the protest was more professional – the group had hired a drone operator to film them from above, who sold his material to the journalists of Zaxid.netapparently because the organizers didn’t pay up after the arrest. The dramatic footage portrays a picture of chaos and is more than likely to have been destined to create a propaganda picture for Russian media.

This case is now being investigated for inciting inter-ethnic enmity by the Security Service. Among the participants are 22 underage students, homeless people, and only one ethnic Pole. They were paid 150-200 UAH ($5-7; yes, Ukraine is a poor country) and carried written instructions which the SBU made public. Written in Russian with an abundance of explicit language, they lay out a detailed plan to make the best picture for the cameras and threaten to not pay the promised sum if the participants do anything wrong: “Everyone should stand at the pedestrian crossing, unfold the posters simultaneously, ignite the tires and light up a fire-show at the edges. NO BATHROOM BREAKS. Talking heads tell about the protest to the cameras on this backdrop. The drone and cameras film everything. The protesters should obey the video team like slaves. The protest should be filmed from far away to show that there are many people. IF YOU B**CHES MESS UP WITH ANYTHING I WILL SCR*W YOU.” It was planned that the group would stand there until late evening.

Instructions were also sent to the phones of the organizers:

Zaxid.net

The Security Service declared that pro-Russian forces aiming to destabilize the situation and ignite interethnic enmity between Poland and Ukraine are behind this rally. “Today we had the next stage of our enemy’s actions and this event today was more prepared and refined. There was a documenting group equipped with a quadrocopter. Their goals were to make a ‘good picture’ for the media, especially for the psychology of Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, and Poles,” Valeriy Sereda, head of the national police in the Lviv Oblast, told at the press briefing following the event, and added: “our ‘permanent clients’ prone to drug use were there too, and children 13-14 years old – students of Lviv middle schools.”

The style of this protest repeats a similar event on 12 March, when the police intercepted a bus carrying 35 people (of which 14 were schoolchildren) with posters written in bad Polish, which was driving to the Shegyni border crossing between Poland and Ukraine. They were promised $3.50.The organizer of the group had been previously convicted.

The war on monuments

The incident with the Lutsk bombing and fake rally is considered to be the latest stage in the ongoing “war on monuments” between Poland and Ukraine. Starting from late 2016, news reports in both countries were full of incidents guaranteed to strike a sour note in both countries.

On 10 October 2016, a monument to UPA soldiers was destroyed in the Polish village of Werchrat. The suspected culprits are members of the radical nationalist group Oboz Wielkiej Polski who uploaded the video of the demolition to youtube.

On 12 January 2017, a group of vandals partially destroyed a monument to Poles killed during WWII in the village of Huta Peniatske, Brody district, Lviv region.

The partially destroyed monument to Polish villagers who were massacred in 1944 was painted in the colors of the Ukrainian and UPA flag. Photo: youtube screengrab.

On 25 January 2017, graves of Polish officers at the Bykivnia cemetary in north-central Ukraine were vandalized with the words “OUN-UPA” and “SS-Galizien” being painted over the grave monuments in red, the last one referring to the Ukrainian division which collaborated with the Nazis and is accused by the Polish Institute of National remembrance for the ethnic cleansing of Poles in Huta Peniatske.

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The Polish consulate in Lviv was attacked too – vandals splattered it with paint and graffiti on 8 February 2017.

Photo: gazeta.lviv.ua

Photo: gazeta.lviv.ua

On 10 March 2017, a monument to Polish professors was vandalized in Lviv, with “death to Liakhy” written over it, referring to a local name for Poles in Ukraine. Two days later, more monuments to massacred Poles were vandalized in Lviv, with the same inscription “death to Poles.”

Photo: Vkontakte.ru/Varta1-Варта1

Photo: Vkontakte.ru/Varta1-Варта1

The director of Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance, Volodymyr Viatrovych, who has been blamed for excessive veneration of the UPA, has also fallen prey to the hostility. On 16 February 2016, he was attacked. On 1 March, the door of his institute was set on fire. On 3 March, a funeral wreath with this name was brought to the institute’s front door.

Photo: Volodymyr Viatrovych

On 16 March, the foreign ministers of Poland and Ukraine assessed the ongoing acts of vandalism on monuments as part of Russia’s hybrid war.

The Russian trace

“We did not start this war – it is a clear provocation. Both Poles and Ukrainians understan who is behind the destruction [of the monuments]. A cross is destroyed during the night – a symbol that is dear to Christians, Poles and Ukrainians alike. So it’s impossible that this is being done by Ukrainians or Poles. I’m convinced that this is being done by criminals paid by Russia,” Jak Pieklo, Poland’s ambassador to Ukraine, told LB.UA.

Indeed, there are good reasons to suspect Russian money in fueling up ethnic hatred between the nations. Recently, Ukrainian hackers from the Ukrainian Cyber Alliance hacked the email and facebook accounts of Vladimir Usovsky, a Belarusian activist and proponent of the ideas of the “Russian world” living in Poland. The correspondence was analyzed by the Informnapalm investigative community. In it, he is seen receiving €100,000 from Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev to organize rallies in support of “Novorossiya,” Russia’s proxy states in Donbas, during August-October 2014, as well as discrediting monuments to UPA fighters in Poland. One of them was the vandalization of the monument in Hruszowicy with the symbols of the Polish Falanga organization in Septemer 2014. However, judging from the correspondence, it is possible that the act was carried out by members of the Oboz Wielkiej Polski, paid by the Kremlin.

After Malofeyev was switched from Ukrainian affairs in late 2014 to coordinating the unrest and subsequent unsuccessful coup in Montenegro, Usovsky managed to get in touch with Konstantin Zatulin, director of the Russian Institute for CIS Countries who was elected to the Russian Duma in September 2016. Usovsky’s plans for cooperating with Zatulin include an endeavor to oblige all Ukrainians working, studying, and living in Poland to take a pledge condemning the UPA, in cooperation with the parliamentary parties Kukiz’15 and PSL. The project with a timeframe of 7 weeks was started on 1 February and had a price tag of $104,000. However, the correspondence reveals that small rallies took place in Poland in parallel with the large-scale project – traditional rallies against the UPA, pro-Russian events with the participation of Polish nationalist organizations OWP and KORWiN  which cost just a few thousand euros.

The sensitive issues of historical memory are ideal for spoiling relations between Poland and Ukraine, and the Kremlin is playing this card to the best of its abilities using radical organizations from both sides. Whether it will succeed depends now on the Poles and Ukrainians themselves.

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  • Alex George

    This is a typical modus operandi of the Russian spy agencies. They look for a genuine cause of dispute, often historical, and use covert agents on both sides to stir up dissension. These agents typically pose as patriotic protagonists of one side in the dispute. They use as much vile language as possible, as they seek to open up old wounds.

    Putin glories in disagreement – east Ukrainian against west Ukrainian, Ukrainians against Poles, Lithuanians against Poles, Jews against Crimean Tatars, wherever he can get them arguing. He hates to see people of different races, religions and cultures reconciling.

    And this is another reason why he hates Ukraine most of all – for Putin, there are too many different types of people living in harmony there – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hungarians, Hutsuls, Russian-speakers, Ukrainian speakers etc,

    His biggest failure was when he thought all of Ukraine would start fighting each other in 2014, and instead most of them united to fight the dwarf.

    • laker48

      There are basically no sparking points between Poles and Ukrainians except the 1943-1944 Volhynia and western Ukraiian genocide of Jews and Poles committed by the OUN/UPA-B (the Bandera, Lebed and Shukhevych faction) and local Ukrainian peasants. The ball is in the Ukrainian court now. BTW, the moument commemorating the OU/UPA in Werchrata was erected illegally, but this doesn’t justify its demolition by vigilanties, as Poland is a state of law and the monument could have been removed in a legal and civilised way.

      • Mykola Banderachuk

        this so called “Ukrainian genocide” of Jews and Poles never happened and you know it. What about the NKVD genocide against Ukrainians in 1941 as the russians were withdrawing from Lviv, what about the Gulag, what about the Holodomor, only to mention a few incidents done by the Russians. What about the destruction of the Polish leadership in Smolensk when the Russians shot down their airplane. Also what about Katyn

        • laker48

          Your “whataboutism” is totally misplaced, as that genocide did happen and my late parents were among survivors of it in the Luck area. They were saved in 1943 from Bandera thugs by their Ukrainian neighbours who risked their lives by doing so. I happened to spend hundreds of hours listening to the survivors’ stories and had an honour to receive my parents’ Ukrainian saviours.
          http://www.volhyniamassacre.eu/

          BTW, nobody sane questions the Holodomor but, as a matter of fact, the Polish “occupation” of western Ukraine spared western Ukrainians from sharing the fate of their eastern brethren starved to death by the Stalin regime. The OUN/UPA-B paid the Poles back very graciously by slaughtering in the cruelest imaginable way of some 60,000 Poles in the Volhynia region and some 40,000 more throughout the rest of western Ukraine. Nobody blames contemporary Ukrainians for the crimes committed by their forefathers, but the victims of the genocide should be at least recognised as such.

          • Andrew Chmile

            WONDERFUL!!!

            “BTW, nobody sane questions the Holodomor but, as a matter of fact, the
            Polish “occupation” of western Ukraine spared western Ukrainians from
            sharing the fate of their eastern brethren starved to death by the
            Stalin regime.”

            NEVER would have been a SOVIET UNION **IF** the
            STUPID GREEDY, RAPING **BETRAYING** POLAKS DID NOT **INVADE** UKRAINE AFTER WW1 IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!

            YOU LYING POLAK IDIOT!!!!

          • Alex George

            Your numbers are exaggerated, and you don;t allow for the tens of thousands of Ukrainians who were killed.

            Same old, same old. Your views have no more future in Poland than Andrew Chmile’s have in Ukraine.

          • laker48

            Any real arguments, save labelling?

          • Alex George

            I gave you real arguments. If you can’t respond, give up.

          • laker48

            LOL! Do you believe in the crap you come up with?

          • Alex George

            Other intelligent and educated people believe it so why shouldn’t I?

          • laker48

            What “intelligent and educated people”?

          • Andrew Chmile

            He is a RUSKI ***MOLE*** LIAR!!

            Just as YOU are a LYING polak!!

            Next time, DON’T INVADE UKRAINE, you LYING polak SCUMBAG!

            SIMPLE!!! — Isn’t it? :))
            STUPID polak!!!

          • Andrew Chmile

            Your POLAK ***COLONIZING*** PARENTS SHOULD HAVE BEEN KILLED!!! THEY KNEW THEY WERE TAKING “BLOOD LANDS” & PEOPLE WERE STARVING BY THEIR **STEALING** LAND!!!

            YOU KNOW IT TOO —- YOU ***LYING*** POLAK SCUMBAG!!!!

      • Dirk Smith

        Funny that whenever ‘Volhynia’ is brought up, the actions of the Polish military are never included. Every action will usually initiate a reaction. Where is the outrage on the Polish military’s genocide? They were exacting their policy of ‘Polonisation’ to Ukrainian villages throughout Western Ukraine.

        • laker48

          There has never been any symmetry there, albeit some Polish partisans’ reprisal actions were quite brutal and bloody. The difference is that the Polish party has never denied them, they’re well documented by the Polish Institute of National Memory (IPN) and are public knowledge. Another difference is the scale, the scope and the concentration of the Ukrainian crimes against Jews and Poles in western Ukraine. “Smert Lakham, smert Zhydam” (“Death to Poles, Death to Jews”) was a battle cry of the OUN/UPA-B (Bandera faction) led by Lebed and Shukhevych.

          A Polish-Ukrainian strategic alliance is a necessity and will last as long as RuSSia poses a grave danger to both countries, but there’s no real friendship between the two nations and both parties know this. This is why RuSSia goes head over heels to trigger as many hostilities on both sides as possible by using the Volhynia genocide as a perpetuum mobile that still reverberates throughout Poland. Free and independent Ukraine is in the best interest of both nations, so old historical issues will be eventually addressed and a real friendship will follow, but it’s not the case now. Time will bring perspective to those painful issues and, let’s hope, a full reconciliation.

          • Andrew Chmile

            YOU ARE A POLAK LIAR!!!

            WTF ABOUT YOUR “max Canada” posts you COWARDLY, LYING SCUMBAG!!!

            You polaks were ALWAYS EVIL & VICIOUS TOWARDS UKRAINE!!

            POLAKS ALWAYS **BETRAYED** & RAPED & MURDERED & BUTCHERED!!!

            WANT NE TO PROVE IT YOU ***LYING*** polak SCUMBAG?? 😉

            Still hiding your posting history, eh? :))

          • Alex George

            “but there’s no real friendship between the two nations and both parties know this”

            Rubbish, and no they don’t know anything of the sort.

            Just because extremists like you and Andrew
            Chmile don’t want friendship betwen the two nations to be possible, does not mean its not happening.

          • laker48

            I have family and many friends on both sides of the Polish-Ukrainian border and talk with them on Skype almost everyday. There’s a deeply entrenched resentment against Poles in the Lviv and Volhynia regions but, thank goodness, those regions constitute less than five percent of the Ukrainian population, and those hostile towards Poles are a minority there, at least openly.

            There’s no trust between the two nations, as there’s no trust between the Poles and the Germans, and the Poles and the RuSSians. There’s also the openly anti-Polish Association of Ukrainians in Poland that used to be a Soviet agency of influence, and is still led by Piotr Tyma, a former communist apparatchik. The issue is more complex than many of you think.

          • Alex George

            There is plenty of trust between the two nations, and also plenty of distrust, fanned by extremists like you and Andrew Chmile.

            And yes, the issue is much more complex than you think.

          • laker48

            Agree, but the world, Poland included, is running away from RuSSia and Ukraine way faster ,than the two aforementioned kleptocracies can chase. Just eat it!

          • Alex George

            Now you are trying to change the subject.

            And on your new subject, no the world isn’t running away from Ukraine at all. Try reading the news.

          • laker48

            Ukraine is still a deeply corrupt kleptocracy, studded with RuSSian agents, moles and spies, totally unable to identify, catch, charge and punish a single perpetrator of dozens of anti-Polish acts. Eat it! Any arguments to the contrary? The grenade attack on the Polish consulate in the city of Luck was an attack on Polish territory. Nobody has so far been identified by Ukrainian police and the SBU as a suspect. Why should the Polish government trust such a “strategic partner”?

          • Andrew Chmile

            LYING polak POS “laker48” WROTE:

            “Free and independent Ukraine is in the best interest of both nations,”

            NO!!! That’s why the STUPID, GREEDY POLAKS INVADED UKRAINE AFTER WW1 —- RIGHT YOU **LYING** POLAK POS???

            There would NOT have been a SOVIET UNION had Ukraine NOT BEEN INVADED, you ***LYING*** POLAK SCUM!!!

            I’ve DOCUMENTED THAT BEFORE —- STUPID!!!

            Polak MORAN!!! —- If there was no polak invasion there would NOT HAVE BEEN A HOLODOMOR either!!!

            SCUMBAG!!!

            YOU ***LYING*** COWARDLY, HIDING POLAK!!!

          • Andrew Chmile

            POLAKS ***NEVER*** SHOULD HAVE INVADED UKRAINE IN THE FIRST PLACE —- STUPID POLAK MORAN !!! :)))

            And how DARE people defend themselves!!! :)))

            STUPID POLAK POS!!! :)))

            Never were very bright or honest, were you?

        • Andrew Chmile

          Yeah … how about that? :)

      • Andrew Chmile

        SHUDD–UP YOU LYING POLAK SCUM!!!

        Post some more as “max Canada” on how Ukraine should be divided AGAIN between polaks & Ruski, etc… like in the good ol’ polak days you FILTHY LYING COWARDLY POLAK SCUMBAG!!!

      • Alex George

        Sorry Laker, but I don’t agree. Trying to limit the past to just SOME issues is merely a variation on trying to deny the past completely. And it plays into Putin’s hands

        • laker48

          Your arguments are null and void. NOT A SINGLE PERPETRATOR WAS IDENTIFIED LET ALONE CAUGHT on Ukrainian territory by the Security Service of Ukraine (the SBU) or Ukrainian police. I don’t even care to comment.

          • Alex George

            No, my arguments are on the money, as you show when you try to change the subject.

          • laker48

            What? :)

      • Andrew Chmile

        Did the polaks INVADE Ukraine in a “civilised way” you LYING polak?

  • Terry Washington

    An old saying in criminal invesitgations runs- Cui bono? Who benefits or stands to benefit? Neither Poland or Ukraine has any vested interests in fighting one another- only Russia does!

    • Alex George

      Hits the nail on the head, Terry.

  • Victor Victory

    Again, nuke Russia and then the world will live in peace. :))