Did Russia ever plan to give the Ukraine to Poland?

Tensions between Russia and Poland have reached new highs as the latter’s current Parliamentary Speaker, Radosław Sikorski, was quoted denouncing Vladimir Putin for offering to split Ukrainian territory between both countries in 2008.

It was allegedly during a trip to Moscow with the Polish prime minister that Putin made the proposition, with Poland expressing no interest in Russia’s suggestion, aware of the fact that they were being recorded. Putin also reportedly described Ukraine as an artificial country formed of just Russian and Polish cities, therefore the idea that the country could be divided into two by Russia and Poland made complete sense and resolved the situation. There is reason to believe that this is not the first time Putin has expressed will to obtain Ukrainian soil by appealing to neighbour states and proposing a joint division. Following the annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Russian Parliamentary Speaker, sent a letter to the governments of Poland, Romania and Hungary, to discuss the issue.

However, after further investigation, controversy is rising over Sikorski’s claim, and his career as a high profile politician is under threat. Crumbling under the pressure of the media coverage and Western response to the allegations, Sikorski was forced to alter his statement and admit just days later at a press conference that he was unable to provide any evidence of such a conversation actually taking place. The scandal has stirred things up within Russia.

The Sikorski accusation is just another scandal to add to the with regards to the degrading relationship between Poland and Russia. Not only is it a direct consequence of the Ukrainian crisis, it also reflects the decades of tension following the Second World War. Furthermore, Central and Eastern Europe have consistently been subject to annexation, leaving a host of territorial claims as political bait for nationalist parties in the post-1991 countries. Territorial disputes have thus often revolved around cultural diversity and ethnic minorities. In this particular incident it was Poland’s historic ties to the Ukrainian city of Lviv that was used as an argument to try and convince Poland to invade the country. Furthermore, the Ukrainian population is still made up of Hungarian and Romanian minorities in the Western region, as a result of Soviet domination in the 1940s.

Although Sikorski’s accusations were false and leave us doubting Poland’s political credibility on the international scene, it does reveal deep-rooted strains in Eastern Europe relations, and given the current political climate, these relations are a long way from improvement.

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