For some of Ukraine’s neighbors, ‘Protect Europe’ has a different meaning

WARSAW – As the United States strengthens warning of a Russian attackand as Western allies call for unity against aggression, the leaders of two NATO members bordering Ukraine have headed for a meeting in Madrid over the weekend entitled “Defending Europe”. Europe”.

But rather than address Russia’s threat to Europe’s eastern borders, the meeting, attended by the prime ministers of Poland and Hungary, Mateusz Morawiecki and Viktor Orban, focused on what the populist leaders said. Drugs see as their most pressing threats: immigration, demographic decline and the European Union.

Even as the two NATO members rely on the alliance to ensure their security, pressing problems in Madrid have long fueled their relations with the United States and the European Union. the extent to which domestic political concerns remain at the forefront of them. calculations.

The meeting, which brought together populists and largely Kremlin-friendly, standard-bearers from across Europe, also underscored the extent to which that politics has clouded what the United States has seen. seen as a clear case of bullying by Russia, a nuclear-armed autocracy, against Ukraine, a vibrant, albeit highly dysfunctional, democracy.

Mr. Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, will travel to Moscow on Tuesday to meet President Vladimir V. Putin. France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, an outspoken fan of the Kremlin, was also present at the two-day conclave, as was Austria’s far-right Liberal Party, which has long been called for an end to European sanctions imposed on Moscow. In 2014 the annexation of Crimea and the military invasion of eastern Ukraine.

A statement released after the meeting in Madrid made no mention of Ukraine, although it did lament “Russian aggression on Europe’s eastern borders.” Instead, it stressed the need to form a united front in favor of “family policies”, Christianity and immigration deterrence. The European Union, the statement said, has become “decoupled from reality,” leading to “demographic suicide. ”

Poland is a country with a long and painful history of Russian aggression. The fact that it will join a meeting focused on striking the European Union at a time of crisis on its eastern border has highlighted the extent to which the ruling party views Brussels as a threat.

Poland regularly condemns Moscow and supports the presence of some 4,500 US troops on its territory and a US-operated missile defense system. But, moved by the EU’s criticism of its limitations on judicial independenceLGBTQ rights and other issues, the governing party has increasingly turned its back on Brussels.

“Polish foreign policy has been completely submissive to domestic needs and now it is all about preventing interference from the European Union,” said Roman Kuzniar, professor at the University of Warsaw who advised his country’s previous pro-European government.

While the tiny Baltic states have sent weapons to Ukraine and worked to build a united front against Moscow, Poland, the largest and most militarily powerful country in the region, is “very passive.” and nothing serious to say,” added Professor Kuzniar.

After weeks of coordination, Polish authorities said on Monday they would provide “defensive weapons” to Ukraine. Prime Minister Morawiecki, who arrived in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Tuesday, expressed “Solid Support” for Ukraine against “Russian neo-imperialism” which he said threatened the “destabilization” of the European bloc.

Jacek Bartosiak, founder of Strategy and Future, a research group that defends the government’s prudence, says Poland has too much risk in Ukraine to act rashly. Poland “is the most important piece in the game around Ukraine,” he said.

The foreign policy turmoil of domestic politics reflects a similar phenomenon in the United States, where Republican power has challenged the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine and asked if Russia could be a more worthy cause.

Few people in Poland voice sympathy for Russia. However, there is also deep wariness over Ukraine, the western part of the country that belonged to Poland before World War II, especially among nationalists seen as genocidal, the murdered tens of thousands of Poles of Ukrainian nationalists during the conflict.

“Anti-Ukrainian sentiment is characteristic of Polish nationalism,” said Marek Swierczynski, a security expert at Politika Insight, a research group in Warsaw. “Things in Poland today have become overly politicized,” he added, noting that Law and Justice have been reluctant to accept Ukraine too closely because “part of the basic Their offices may turn their backs on them.”

Hostility towards Russia frequently cuts political divisions but has been overshadowed by hostility towards Brussels, the ruling party’s favorite party.

Jarosław Kaczyński, Poland’s head of Law and Justice and de facto leader, frequent anti-European bloc, announced in December that the bloc was becoming a “Fourth Reich” led by Germany leadership, but has said nothing publicly about the Ukraine crisis.

Mr. Kaczynski’s libertarian critics note his emphasis on defending traditional Christian values ​​against what he sees as decadent incursions by the European Union near as indistinguishable from the Kremlin’s own favorite propaganda guise.

But while siding with the Kremlin in Europe’s culture wars, populist nationalists in Europe are bitterly divided over whether to reject or accept Putin, a rift. Cracks have hindered their efforts in realizing their common goal. At the meeting in Madrid, following a similar event in Warsaw in December, Mr. Morawiecki, the prime minister of Poland, attempted to mention Russian aggression in his final statement. Ms. Le Pen protested and issued a separate statement that did not mention Russia.

George Simion, leader of a Romanian right-wing political party, described the meeting as a “catastrophe” because of divisions for Russia, which he saw as a threat to his own political career, Romania’s association with neighboring Moldova, a territory captured by Moscow in 1940.

The high-level Polish presence at such a gathering prompted critics of Law and Justice, especially opposition leader Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who emphasized the access to Ukraine and close relations with the European Union.

Mr Tusk accused the Madrid meeting of being “anti-Ukrainian and pro-Putin”, and Mr Tusk urged the prime minister not to attend. Among the parties in attendance was an Estonian far-right outfit whose leader had campaigned with an anti-immigrant slogan: “If you’re black, come back!”

Mr. Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, has a long track record with Moscow and has quarreled with Kyiv, particularly over its policies towards Hungarian-born Ukrainians. Like Law and Justice in Poland, his party Fidesz has built its political brand around the war with the European Union, from which both countries have received billions of dollars in aid but considered an easy bag to beat in domestic political wars.

Faced with a difficult election in April, Mr Orban has gone further than any other European country leader in reaching out to Moscow and destroying the European bloc.

His opponents on Monday urged him to cancel a visit on Tuesday to meet with Putin to negotiate gas contracts and the expansion of Russia’s nuclear power project in Hungary.

Peter Marki-Zay, the standard-bearer for an unusually united opposition in the April elections, said the Moscow trip meant “Hungary has betrayed its Western allies” and “betrayed” the country’s thousand-year-old dream of Western integration”.

Aside from the Baltic states, which have staunchly backed Ukraine, Europe’s formerly Communist eastern region has sent mixed messages, pledging allegiance to NATO, which now includes mostly former members of the alliance. The Warsaw Pact was led by the Soviet Union, but sometimes voiced distrust of Ukraine.

In the most abrupt rift with NATO’s stance of solidarity with Ukraine, President Zoran Milanovic of Croatia, which joined the alliance in 2009 along with Poland, said last week that Ukraine should never be joined. NATO, a view sincerely shared by Moscow. In the event that Russia attacks Ukraine, the president said, “Croatia must come out of it like a fire.”

However, his comments were less motivated by the Ukraine crisis than by domestic political controversies with Croatia’s Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, who belongs to a rival political party and has voiced support for Ukraine. The prime minister this week released a statement noting that Ukraine deserves support as one of the first countries to recognize Croatia as an independent country after it broke away from Yugoslavia in the wars. Balkan wars in the early 1990s.

The history of past wars weighs heavily on governments across the region, where gratitude for past support jostles with bitter memories of betrayal, often of same people.

In Poland, Poles massacred by Ukrainian nationalists during World War II rival earlier memories of Ukrainian soldiers helping Poland defeat invading Soviet troops. strategy in 1920 on the banks of the Vistula River near Warsaw.

“Our history is very difficult,” said Swierczynski, a Polish security expert.

Benjamin Novak contributed reporting from Budapest and Anatol Magdziarz from Warsaw. For some of Ukraine’s neighbors, ‘Protect Europe’ has a different meaning

Fry Electronics Team

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