Contemporary Relations between Poland and Ukraine

The “Strategic Partnership” and the Limits Thereof

by Andrzej Szeptycki (Author)
Monographs 264 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Translator’s note
  • Introduction
  • I. Historical outline
  • The Piasts and the Ruriks
  • The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Cossacks
  • Under Romanov and Habsburg rule
  • The First World War and its consequences
  • The Second Polish Republic and the Ukrainian minority
  • The tragic 1940s
  • The Polish People’s Republic and the Soviet Ukraine
  • Bibliography
  • II. Determinants
  • Democratic Poland
  • Independent Ukraine
  • The foundations of Poland’s policy towards Ukraine
  • The foundations of Ukraine’s policy towards Poland
  • Bibliography
  • III. Political relations
  • Wałęsa and Kravchuk: recognition of Ukrainian statehood and a difficult beginning
  • Kwaśniewski and Kuchma: “strategic partnership” and the Orange Revolution
  • Kaczyński and Yushchenko: expectations and disappointments
  • Komorowski and Yanukovych: Euro 2012 and the Euromaidan
  • Duda and Poroshenko: the war with Russia and historical conflict
  • Bibliography
  • IV. Economic relations
  • Trade exchange
  • Foreign direct investments
  • The energy sector
  • Bibliography
  • V. Social relations
  • Images of each other
  • National minorities
  • Ukrainian immigration to Poland
  • The non-governmental sector
  • Euro 2012
  • Bibliography
  • VI. Security and defence relations
  • The issue of NATO membership
  • Joint military units
  • Cooperation in the field of the defence industry
  • The Russian threat
  • Bibliography
  • VII. Historical memory
  • Protection of historical sites
  • Conflicting memories
  • Bibliography
  • VIII. The Polish-Ukrainian border
  • Visa policy
  • Border infrastructure
  • Border trade
  • Euroregions
  • Bibliography
  • IX. Poland, Ukraine and the European Union
  • Polish actions in support of the interests of Ukraine within the European Union
  • Polish actions in support of the process of reform in Ukraine
  • Bibliography
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • List of figures
  • Selected bibliography
  • Index

Translator’s note

Only the current forms of place names appear in the text. This mainly concerns the city of Lviv (once Lwów when part of Poland, and even Lemberg when part of Austria) and the region of Volhynia (Wołyń in Polish). Although this results in expressions that some may find inappropriate (e.g. the Lviv School of Mathematics, whose members were Poles), the author and I agreed on this choice for the sake of simplicity and readability.


Poland and Ukraine are two countries in Central and Eastern Europe, an expansive area lying between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas that, historically, has been an object of rivalry between the two powers on either side of it - Germany and Russia/the Soviet Union (Kłoczowski, Łaszkiewicz, 2009). Ukraine and Poland are the largest and most populous countries in the region; Ukraine covers 603,000 km2 and Poland 312,000 km2, and in 2016, their populations were 45 million and 37.9 million, respectively. The two countries have similar geographical features (with a common border more than 500 km in length) and, despite their religious differences (most Poles are Roman Catholics, most Ukrainians Orthodox), they have close cultural and linguistic ties (Tyshchenko, 2012).

Polish-Ukrainian relations are of interest for at least three reasons. The first is their difficult history which, despite three decades of effort on the part of both states, continues to have an adverse impact on their bilateral relations. Those relations are an interesting field of study with regard to reconciliation, collective memory and historical policy. The second reason is the different models of transformation implemented in the two countries after the collapse of the communist system. After 1989, Poland effectively introduced democratic and free market reforms that bore fruit in its acceding to NATO and the European Union, whereas Ukraine remained an internally weak, peripheral state with ambiguously defined priorities in the area of foreign policy. These differences meant that, despite the similar potential of the two countries, their bilateral relations have been large asymmetrical, as manifest in particular by the presence in Poland of more than one million workers from Ukraine. Thirdly, since 2014 Ukraine has been defending itself in an undeclared war against Russia, while Poland also sees Russia as a potential threat. Despite their convergent interests in this area, the two states cooperate within only a limited scope, due in part to steps taken by the Russian Federation, which seeks to pit Poland and Ukraine against each other.

Modern Polish-Ukrainian relations have already been studied in Poland and, to a lesser extent, in Ukraine. Polish authors include Krzysztof Fedorowicz (2004), Bogumiła Berdychowska, Ola Hnatiuk (2007) and Piotr Kuspys (2009), whereas Ukrainian authors include Petro Sardachuk (2011), Oleh Boryniak and Ihor Hurak (Boryniak, Walak, Hurak, 2013). Yet there is a lack of comprehensive studies in this area aimed at a readership beyond Poland and Ukraine; one of the very few such works appeared more than 15 years ago, before Poland’s ←11 | 12→accession to the EU, and before the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (Wolczuk K. and Wolczuk R., 2003). This publication aims to fill that gap.

The timeframe of the work is from 1989–2018, with particular emphasis on the period after 2013 when, as a consequence of the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict began. The book consists of nine chapters divided into three fundamental parts. In the first part, the history and determinants of the two countries’ bilateral relations are outlined, with particular emphasis on Poland’s and Ukraine’s evolution since the collapse of the communist bloc and on the place given to those relations in the foreign policy of each state. In the second part, those bilateral relations are discussed with regard to politics, economy, society, security and defence. The third part involves more specific issues important to Polish-Ukrainian relations, such as historical memory, the Polish-Ukrainian border and borderlands, and relations with the EU. Both the arrangement of the book and its scope meant that a detailed discussion of certain issues was not possible. There is no separate chapter on cultural relations, though reflections on this subject are to be found in those chapters concerning social relations and historical memory. I also chose not to make a separate analysis of the legal framework for bilateral relations in order to discuss existing solutions in particular areas of cooperation. It is worth noting that certain issues important from the Polish and Ukrainian perspectives are difficult to fit into the traditional classification of international relations: a good example of this was the two countries’ joint organisation of the Euro 2012 football championship. While, formally, the event was run by two non-governmental organisations - the Polish Football Association and the Ukrainian Football Federation, it in fact had considerable significance both politically and economically.

I would like to thank all those without whom this book could not have been written. First of all, my home Faculty of Political Science and International Studies at University of Warsaw, which allowed me to take up this research and facilitated the publication of the results. This book is also the fruit of my cooperation with other Polish and Ukrainian entities, such as the Polish Institute of International Affairs, the bi-monthly Nowa Europa Wschodnia, the Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, the Faculty of International Relations at the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, and the Chair of International Relations at Vasyl Stefanyk Precarpathian National University. A very valuable experience for me was from 2011–2017 as a member of the board of the Polish-Ukrainian Partnership Forum under the patronage of the Polish and Ukrainian Ministries of Foreign Affairs. Last but not least, my thanks go to my family - Anna, Jan, Mikołaj and Helena, without whose support and patience this book would certainly never have reached completion.

←12 |


Berdychowska B. and Hnatiuk O., ed. 2007. Polska. Ukraina. Osadczuk. Lublin: Wydawnictwo UMCS.

Boryniak O., Walak M. and Hurak I., ed. 2013. 20 rokiv polsko-ukrains’kykh vidnosyn. Razom chy okremo? Ivano-Frankivsk: Vydavnytstvo Prykarpatskoho natsionalnoho universytetu imeni Vasyla Stefanyka.

Fedorowicz K., 2004. Ukraina w polskiej polityce wschodniej w latach 1989–1999, Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Adama Mickiewicza.

Kłoczowski J. and Łaszkiewicz. H., ed. 2009. East-Central Europe in European History. Themes & Debates. Lublin: Institute of East Central Europe.

Kuspys P., 2009. Współczesne stosunki polsko-ukraińskie. Polityka. Gospodarka. Wojsko. Sektor pozarządowy. Kraków: Institute for Strategic Studies.

Sardachuk P., ed. 2011. Mizhderzhavni vidnosyny Ukrainy ta Respubliki Polshcha: zbirnyk dokumentiv. Kyiv: Vydavnytstvo TOV „Sak Ltd”.

Tyshchenko K., 2012. Vseslov’ians’kist’ movy ukraintsiv. Ukrainskyi tyzhden’, 39 (256). p. 22–64 [online] 28 September–4 October. Available at: <http://i.tyzhden.ua/content/photoalbum/2012/10_12/04/tyshenko/tyshenko.pdf> [Accessed 23 April 2018].

Wolczuk K. and Wolczuk R., 2003. Poland and Ukraine: A Strategic Partnership in a Changing Europe?: Maintaining a Strategic Partnership through a New Iron Curtain?, London: Chatham House.

I. Historical outline

Contemporary Polish-Ukrainian relations are profoundly affected by history. This is so for three basic reasons: the fact that the two countries (and previously, nations) are direct neighbours; the complex nature of their bilateral relations (in the past, the Ukrainians constituted a significant ethnic minority within the borders of the Polish state); and the tragic events that have occurred between them, especially in the 1940s.

At the same time, two methodological difficulties must be pointed out. Firstly, the Ukrainians have been counted as a stateless nation in that, for a long period, they did not possess their own state (Davies, 1998, p. 833), and this impedes an analysis of the history of Ukraine and its past relations with its neighbours. In this work, I take the history of Kyivan Rus as a starting point, since Ukrainian historiography invokes that tradition. Secondly, Polish and Ukrainian historians often evaluate the same events very differently. Polish historians tend to perceive them through the prism of the presence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Second Polish Republic in the east; Ukrainian historians seek to demonstrate the continuity of Ukraine’s history since the Rus state, and take as their central object of study the struggle of the Ukrainian nation for independence (Magocsi, 2010, p. 12–24).

The Piasts and the Ruriks

At the end of the 10th century, Poland included most of its present-day territory: Greater Poland (Gniezno), Lesser Poland (Cracow), Mazovia (Płock), Silesia (Wrocław), and Pomerania (Gdańsk). At that time, Rus consisted of the lands of today’s western and central Ukraine (Kyiv, Chernihiv, Volodymyr Volhynskyi, Halych), Belarus (Polotsk), and some of the lands of northwest Russia (Riazan’, Vladimir, Velikii Novgorod), with access to the Baltic Sea.

Poland dates its history from the baptism accepted in 966 by its ruler, Mieszko I, of the Piast Dynasty (922/945–992); Ukraine dates its from the baptism of Kyivan Rus in 988, during the reign of Volodymyr the Great Rurik (c. 958–1015). The acceptance of Christianity was an important element in legitimising the authority of each of those dynasties, both internally and internationally. Moreover, the clergy also brought with them knowledge and skills that facilitated the governance of the state. For both countries, of key importance to both their history and the relations between them was the fact that, while the Piasts accepted, ←15 | 16→through the intermediacy of the Czechs, the Latin version of Christianity (and later, Catholicism), in Kyivan Rus the Byzantine version from Constantinople (later, Orthodoxy) took hold. In this way, Poland found itself within the sphere of Western culture, which gave it easier access to technical and intellectual novelties through the agency of Church and academic institutions, and the Latin language. Belonging to the Byzantine cultural sphere during the twilight of the Eastern empire did not bring similar advantages, especially since, in the religious life in Rus, it was not Greek that was used, but Old Church Slavonic. This language, however, was the one the faithful understood best, which gave the religious community a very local character that tended to reinforce its identity. It should be noted that, in the times of Mieszko I and Volodymyr the Great, there was no formal division as yet between Catholicism and Orthodoxy; this took place only in 1054, and so decisions by the authorities of either country on matters of faith did not adversely affect their mutual relations (Jasienica, 2007a, p. 55).

Although the two countries were adjacent to each other, their geographical foreign policy priorities differed. For Poland, of key importance was its relations with the German Empire, and for Rus, with Byzantium. The object of their common interest, and rivalry, was Red Rus - today’s lands comprising southeastern Poland and northwestern Ukraine - and particularly the Cherven Cities. These were important because the trade route from Cracow to Prague and Kyiv passed through them. Control of the area changed hands on several occasions. At the time of the Polish Baptism, they were situated near the country’s border. In 981, Volodymyr the Great took hold of them. In 1018, Bolesław the Brave (967–1025) invaded Rus, conquering not only the Cherven Cities but the capital of Rus itself, Kyiv, where he installed his son-in-law, Sviatopolk, as ruler. Sviatopolk plundered the city, known for its wealth. In the 1030s, the Grand Prince of Rus, Yaroslav the Wise (978–1054) recovered the Cherven Cities, and took the occasion to put Prince Bezprym (986–1032) on the Polish throne. In 1069, Kyiv was again taken for a short time by Bolesław the Bold (1042–1081/1082), also of the Piast Dynasty (Davies, 2005a, p. 71). He also temporarily subjugated the Cherven Cities, though ultimately these remained in the hands of the Rus Princes.

In the 10th and 11th centuries, both states had to cope with two fundamental challenges: internal strife and invasions by Mongols. Yaroslav the Wise divided Kyivan Rus among his sons, and Bolesław III the Wrymouth (1086–1138) did the same with Poland. Such a solution was intended to prevent fratricidal quarrels between heirs, while preserving the suzerainty of the eldest representative of the dynasty. In practice, however, it led to a gradual weakening and decay of the central power, although the feeling of a community based on dynastic ties did ←16 | 17→continue (Jakowenko, 2000, p. 63). In the year 1240, the Mongols (Tatars) took Kyiv and the majority of the Rus lands, then went on through southern Poland towards Hungary, conquering Cracow among other cities.

They did not establish a permanent system of government in the Polish lands, and this became one of the incentives for unity among the last rulers of the Piast Dynasty: Władysław I the Elbow-high (1260/1261–1333) and Casimir III the Great (1310–1370). In Rus, on the other hand, the individual principalities began to develop in a different way. In the 13th century, the eastern part of Rus came under the rule of one part of the Mongol Empire, known as the Golden Horde. All of the princes had to have their titles approved by the Khan (in a yarlig), for which they paid lavish tribute. Under these circumstances, the role of the Duchy of Moscow grew in importance, due in part to its fortunate geographical position, and to close cooperation between the Muscovite princes and the Mongols (Bazylow and Wieczorkiewicz, 2005, p. 37–48). At the beginning of the 15th century, after the fall of the Golden Horde, the Muscovite principality launched a policy of uniting the lands of Rus. Favouring this was the fact that, within the whole territory of Rus, there was no other centre of power able to undertake such a task. The Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia, adjacent to Poland, enjoyed a particularly strong position at that time in Central Europe. In 1254, with papal permission, the Galician Prince Daniel (1201–1264) was crowned King of Rus (Kłoczowski, 1998, p. 83). In the 14th century, however, the kingdom came under the rule of Poland and Lithuania. Poland annexed Galicia and Podolia - today areas of western and west-central Ukraine. In this way, Casimir III the Great enforced the long-standing claims of the Piasts to those lands. Poland’s expansion favoured a strengthening of the position of Catholicism at the expense of Orthodoxy; at the same time, cities grew (Jakowenko, 2000, p. 109–122). The Volhynia and Kyiv lands - the northwestern and central parts of what is now Ukraine - which found themselves under the rule of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, were relatively free. The Ruthenian language became the actual language of the state in Lithuania, and its rulers had to reckon with the fact that most of the inhabitants of the country were Orthodox (Kłoczowski, 1998, p. 197, 330).

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Cossacks


The book analyses contemporary relations between two biggest states in East-Central Europe: Poland and Ukraine. This topic is of interest for three reasons: difficult history of the two countries, different models of development adopted after the end of communism and the common challenge of aggressive Russian policy. The timeframe of the work is from 1989-2018, with an emphasis on the period after 2014, when the Russian-Ukrainian war began. The book is divided into three parts. The first part discusses the history and determinants of Polish-Ukrainian relations. The second one presents political, economic, social and military relations between the two states. The last part focuses on more specific issues such as historical memory, the Polish-Ukrainian border and relations with the EU.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2019 (August)
EU Diplomacy Russian diplomacy Historical memory Ukrainian immigration Polish diplomacy Ukrainian diplomacy
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019., 264 pp., 20 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Andrzej Szeptycki (Author)

Andrzej Szeptycki holds a PhD and DSc in Political Science and is an associate professor at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies of the University of Warsaw. His research interests focus on Ukrainian internal and foreign policy, Polish foreign policy and selected aspects of the European integration.


Title: Contemporary Relations between Poland and Ukraine