After the Russian ambassador was yesterday doused with red paint in Warsaw, Poland’s government spokesman and interior minister have said that the anger of the protesters was “understandable” and that there is “no reason to criticise their behaviour”.
If Russia wants to avoid evoking such emotions, it “should stop committing genocide in Ukraine”, adds the spokesman. However, the Polish foreign minister struck a more conciliatory tone, calling the incident “regrettable”.
Russia’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, has condemned the attack, accusing Poland of “tolerating neo-Nazis”. It called for the ambassador to be allowed to safely return to the Soviet war cemetery where he was attacked and lay a wreath as planned.
“The gathering of opponents of Russian aggression against Ukraine, where the crime of genocide takes place every day, was legal,” tweeted interior minister Mariusz Kamiński. “The emotions of Ukrainian women taking part in the demonstration, whose husbands are fighting bravely in defence of their homeland, are understandable.”
Kamiński also noted that the Polish authorities had recommended that the ambassador, Sergey Andreyev, not lay a wreath yesterday at the Soviet military cemetery in Warsaw.
Those remarks were echoed by Warsaw police, whose spokesman, Sylwester Marczak, said that the protesters’ “emotions are understandable…As long as the war continues, such reactions should be expected”.
Police did not detain anyone at the scene of the incident, but “all gathered materials will be subject to criminal and legal analysis”, said Marczak, quoted by Rzeczpospolita.
Zgromadzenie przeciwników rosyjskiej agresji na Ukrainę, gdzie każdego dnia dochodzi do zbrodni ludobójstwa było legalne. Emocje ukraińskich kobiet, biorących udział w manifestacji, których mężowie dzielnie walczą w obronie ojczyzny są zrozumiałe. 1/2
— Mariusz Kamiński (@Kaminski_M_) May 9, 2022
Government spokesman Piotr Müller struck a similar tone, telling TVN that “there is no reason to criticise the behaviour” of the protesters. “I’m not going to criticise these emotions…I understand them” he said, adding that he believes Andreyev had sought to “purposely evoke negative emotions” by visiting the cemetery.
“We all wish there were no such emotions, but for there not to be, Russia should stop murdering people in Ukraine and stop committing genocide there,” he said in separate remarks quoted by Rzeczpospolita.
However, in a brief statement, the foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, said that what took place in the cemetery “was a regrettable incident that should not have happened. Diplomats enjoy special protection, regardless of the policies pursued by their governments”.
Former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski also warned that yesterday’s incident “will have the consequences”. In particular, “Polish diplomatic staff and the ambassador to Moscow…now cannot be sure of their safety”, he told Gazeta.pl.
Oświadczenie Ministra Spraw Zagranicznychhttps://t.co/8o2nk2JbSw
— Ministerstwo Spraw Zagranicznych RP 🇵🇱 (@MSZ_RP) May 9, 2022
Russia’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, announced that it had issued a note of protest to the Polish authorities, including a demand that the ambassador’s wreath-laying ceremony be immediately reorganised with his safety assured.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the Polish authorities of “tolerating bandits with neo-Nazi views” and said that the attack on Andreyev was part of “the reincarnation of fascism”, reports Wprost. She also condemned the recent removal of Soviet monuments.
One of the protesters who poured paint on the ambassador has been identified as Ukrainian journalist and activist Iryna Zemlyana. However, she later said that she had been pouring the paint (symbolising Ukrainian blood) on herself and it had “accidentally” hit Andreyev because he “stood too close”.
Video of the incident does indeed appear to show Zemlyana pouring the paint on herself, though moments later another protester deliberately throws paint at the ambassador.
“Russians should know that wherever they go, Ukrainians will be waiting for them,” Zemlyana told Wirtualne Media. “We want to show the world the blood of Ukrainians who are now being killed by Russia in Ukraine.”
Ambasador Rosji Siergiej Andriejew został oblany czerwoną farbą przed Cmentarzem Żołnierzy Radzieckich w Warszawie. Incydent zarejestrowała kamera Polsat News pic.twitter.com/NkIm83Y119
— PolsatNews.pl (@PolsatNewsPL) May 9, 2022
Main image credit: Slawomir Kaminski / Agencja Wyborcza.pl
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.