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Polish election a bright light in a darkening world. Far-right, far-left “Ukraine fatigue” reminiscent of 1930s isolationism

Nov 9, 2023 | Featured, Editorials

Civil Platform Leader Donald Tusk

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

Last month’s Polish election is a bright light in an otherwise darkening outlook in terms of international support for Ukraine. The far-right Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, PiS for short) Party, which has ruled Poland for the past eight years, did deliver substantial support to Ukraine in terms of military and humanitarian aid for most of its tenure, and provided safe haven for over 15 million refugees since February 24, 2022, but changed course just before the October 15 election. Facing the prospect of losing votes to the even more right-wing Confederation Party which was both anti-Ukrainian and anti-European. PiS banned the import of Ukrainian grain to Poland, put a stop to weapons deliveries and even demanded the extradition of Division veteran Jaroslaw Hunka from Canada.

The biggest among the likely new ruling opposition parties, the centre-right Civil Platform party promises to reverse this trend and has presented a plan for the “stabilization of Polish-Ukrainian relations”. It advocates a long-term, constructive approach to: a) making Ukrainian migrants in Poland one of the country’s strengths; b) carrying the “main burden” of coordinating military and humanitarian support for Ukraine; c) being the most engaged country in reconstructing Ukraine, and d) engaging in more dialogue with all relevant stakeholders.

What is most significant about Civil Platform’s victory is that it reverses the anti-Ukrainian trend that dominated elections in two of its (and Ukraine’s) neighbours – Hungary and Slovakia. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s friend Victor Orban recently won re-election in Hungary and is pushing the European Union to reduce sanctions against Russia and lobby for a negotiated settlement which would undoubtedly lead to territorial concessions by Ukraine. On September 30, Slovakia elected a far-left/far right coalition which also takes an anti-Ukrainian stance. Its foreign minister, Juraj Blanar has even gone so far as to claim Ukrainians were responsible for the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

But the biggest far-right threat to Ukraine comes from the country whose support is indispensable for Ukraine – the United States. After several weeks of gridlock, the Republican House of Representatives finally elected a speaker – Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson, a member of the pro-Trump MAGA (Make America Great Again) bloc. Instead of backing President Joe Biden’s request for military aid to both Ukraine and Israel, Johnson decided to pass a House bill that provides aid only to Israel. He said Ukraine needs U.S. aid as it battles Russia, but that there was no way Biden’s request for a nearly $106 billion supplemental funding request could be passed through the House. Johnson also made it clear that House Republicans want to pair aid to Ukraine with U.S. border security. The Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says that the House’s Israel-only approach was dead on arrival in the Senate and Biden has threatened to veto the $14.3 billion Israel aid bill without Ukraine funding.

Biden has taken the right approach, but it is unfortunate that Ukraine aid has become a political football. Frankly, it is unconscionable of the Republicans to use Ukraine aid as a bargaining tool when hundreds of thousands of people are dying, when an unrelenting barrage is killing civilians and destroying schools, hospitals and civilian infrastructure, when a campaign of genocide is being inflicted upon a people that only want to be free.

One can also question the double standard that prioritizes Israel aid over that of Ukraine. No one will dispute the fact that the Hamas raid on Israeli soil was both brutal and criminal. And no one will deny that Israel has the right to defend itself. But when it comes to defense, how far is far enough?

Israel has launched a relentless air assault on Gaza and has now moved land forces in. Health officials in Gaza have estimated that more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s bombing campaign that has also destroyed schools, hospitals and ambulance convoys. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointedly snubbed blunt warnings from the US Secretary of State on November 3 that Israel risks losing any hope of an eventual peace deal with the Palestinians unless it eases the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. One may well ask whether aside from restocking its Iron Dome air defense system with additional anti-missile weaponry, Israel needs any more bombs and artillery shells with which to prolong its efforts to eradicate all traces of Hamas given the enormous collateral damage this continues to entail in terms of innocent Palestinian lives lost and the wholesale destruction of civilian dwellings and infrastructure.

Ukraine, on the other hand, faces a very different set of circumstances. It was invaded by the second most powerful army in the world and is fighting for its very existence. Although Hamas is committed to eliminating Israel and the Jewish people, the risk of such occurring is imperceptibly small. Israel possesses by far the largest and most powerful military in the Middle East and is a nuclear power. Ukraine, by comparison, has no navy, and no air force to speak of. Its army is still in the process of modernizing, but is far from a modern, fully equipped fighting force. It possesses no nuclear weapons (indeed, it surrendered them to Russia in exchange for security guarantees from Russia, the U.S. and the U.K.) and has a population barely one-quarter the size of Russia’s upon which to draw recruits for its fighting forces. It is also hopelessly outgunned when it comes to tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery, missiles, and air-defense systems. Without military aid from NATO members and other western allies, Ukraine’s prospects of just holding Russia to a standstill, much less defeating it militarily, would be very much diminished. In a word, without continued military aid, especially from the U.S. and other NATO countries, Ukraine’s very existence is called into question. A second, equally important factor to consider is that by virtue of the valiant defense of its armed forces, Ukraine is actually reducing the likelihood of future Russian aggression against the rest of Europe by destroying Russia’s military capacity at the cost of its own people’s lives.

The threat from MAGA Republicans is very clear. Despite constituting a minority in the House of Representatives, they have successfully managed to take control of the Republican majority. Even more ominous is the threat from former President Donald Trump who maintains his runaway lead in the race for the Republican nomination despite his countless criminal indictments. One can only hope and pray that conscientious conservatives will rally behind one candidate who can defeat Trump and maintain support for Ukraine. Although former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and others have taken a strong stand in support of Ukraine, at this moment former UN Ambassador Nikki Hayley appears to have the best chance to beat Trump, though it’s still a long shot.

The current neo-isolationism of the far right and far left is eerily reminiscent of the posture and positions taken by the far-right in both western Europe and the United States in the years preceding World War II. Let us learn from history instead of repeating it. And that can only happen by recognizing how indispensable support for Ukraine really is.

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