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Ukraine turns on its ‘friends’

As the situation within Ukraine itself deteriorates, Ukraine’s relations with the two neighbouring countries with which it has struggled to remain on good terms – Belarus and Poland – have also taken a sharp turn for the worse.

That post-Maidan Ukraine has been able to maintain reasonably good relations with Russia’s close ally Belarus might seem surprising.  However Belarus President Lukashenko is far from being a client’s Moscow and his relations with the Russians have often been prickly.  Since the Maidan coup he has strived to maintain at least a civil relationship with Ukraine, in part no doubt in order to assert his independence from Moscow.

In recent weeks that attempt has been showing signs of unravelling.  In November Belarus angered Ukraine by voting against a Ukrainian sponsored UN Resolution condemning alleged Russian human rights violations in Crimea.  Ukrainian politicians loudly called this a ‘stab in the back’, though it ought to have been obvious to them that in any situation where Belarus was forced to choose between Ukraine and Russia, it would choose Russia.

Since then there have been a succession of incidents involving Ukrainian activists in Belarus whom the Belarus authorities accuse of participation in anti-Lukashenko protests, and who have been deported from Belarus to Ukraine.  There has even been talk of an attempt to stage a Maidan type ‘revolution’ in Minsk.  Unsurprisingly this has provoked the Belarus authorities, notwithstanding that Belarus has been going to a difficult patch in its relations with Russia, to become more critical of Ukraine and to distance Belarus from Kiev.

If relations between Ukraine and Belarus have become more strained, of much greater concern to Kiev is the steady deterioration in relations between Ukraine and Poland.

Poland has been Ukraine’s staunchest ally within the EU and NATO.  However following the victory of the Law and Justice Party in recent elections in Poland, relations between Ukraine and Poland have become increasingly strained, with Poland complaining about the role Ukraine is according to Stepan Bandera – Ukraine’s most notorious Nazi collaborator, with a history of anti-Polish atrocities – who is increasingly being built up in Ukraine as the country’s primary national hero.

All this has led to increasing ill feeling towards Poland on the part of committed hardcore Ukrainian ultra-nationalists, and this appears to have now spilt over into an attack on the Polish consulate in the west Ukrainian town of Lutsk, in Ukraine’s nationalist heartland.  This attack does not seem to have been a minor affair, involving as it did use of a grenade launcher, and as the Polish authorities are saying, it was clearly intended to cause casualties, though by chance it failed to do so.  The Ukrainians are promising an investigation but their record of arresting those people who carry out these sort of incidents is patchy.

There is an outside possibility that the attack on the Polish consulate in Lutsk is – as the Ukrainian authorities are claiming – the work of a provocateur or group of provocateurs supporting the struggle of the Donbass.  However it is far more likely that an attack like this, carried out in western Ukraine, was the work of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists.

It is scarcely credible that with all its other mounting problems the Ukrainian government wants to bring relations with Poland or even with Belarus to the point of crisis.  Rather what these incidents show, coming as they do after the transport blockade and the Voronenkov murder, is how uncertain the Ukrainian government’s grip on the internal situation in Ukraine has become.

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