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President Duda in Kyiv: Turning Point in Polish-Ukrainian Relations by Hélène de Lauzun

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President Duda in Kyiv: Turning Point in Polish-Ukrainian Relations

Polish President Andrzej Duda chose to pay a surprise visit to his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday, May 22nd.

Duda met personally with Zelensky and then gave a speech to the Ukrainian Parliament. It was the first time since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24th that a foreign leader had personally addressed the deputies in Kyiv.

The Polish president praised Ukraine’s exceptional resistance to the Russian army, which is considered to be much more powerful. He was very critical of those who would like to push Ukraine to accept concessions to Russia in order to hasten the end of the conflict. On several occasions, Duda insisted that there was no going back: “After Bucha, Borodyanka, Mariupol, there cannot be business as usual with Russia,” he told the deputies. “An honest world cannot return to business as usual while forgetting the crimes, the aggression, the fundamental rights that have been trampled on,” he added.

Since the beginning of the conflict, Poland has been the main supporter of Ukraine, especially in terms of the massive reception of refugees—Poland has already received more than two million. Zelensky in return promised reciprocal rights for all Poles living in Ukraine. He would even consider giving Polish citizens a specific legal status.

Today, the Polish government is the most ardent supporter of Ukraine’s entry into the European Union. Duda reaffirmed the priority of this goal in his speech in Kyiv: “Today, Ukraine needs our signal that the door to Europe is open. The decision to give Ukraine EU candidate status as early as the Council meeting on the 23rd and 24th of June has a very important psychological and political significance,” he said. Yet, some other countries are reluctant, like Macron’s France, which recommends the creation of a kind of “European political community” prior to membership.

This is the third time since the beginning of 2022 that President Duda has visited Ukraine. The first visit took place on February 23rd, the day before the conflict broke out. 

Relations between Poland and Ukraine have been tense since 1945, due to multiple border disputes. At the end of the Second World War, Ukraine, then a republic of the Soviet Union, had seen its territory considerably increased thanks to the transfer of more than 125,000 square kilometres of former Polish territory, at Stalin’s initiative and without consulting the populations concerned. The Lviv region was one of these territories. However, the conflict with Russia brought the two Slavic republics closer together and has enabled them to support each other against their common Russian enemy.

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).