The Polish prime minister and his Czech and Slovenian counterparts, along with Poland’s ruling party chairman, today made a surprise visit to Kyiv in a show of support for Ukraine. They met this evening with President Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.
The trip – the first by foreign leaders to the Ukrainian capital since Russia’s invasion – has drawn widespread praise around the world, as well as support from opposition figures back in Poland.
Volodymyr Zelensky:”Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki,Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Czech Prime Minister Piotr Fiala and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa.Your visit to Kyiv at this difficult time is a powerful evidence of support We appreciate it very much. pic.twitter.com/t1AEcxAXTv
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) March 15, 2022
Yet there are some doubts over the extent to which the plans were coordinated with other European partners. When announcing the visit this morning, the Polish government said that it had been organised “in agreement with” the heads of the European Council and Commission, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen.
Its purpose was to “confirm the unequivocal support of the entire European Union for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine and to present a broad package of support for the Ukrainian state and society”, said Warsaw.
The Polish, Czech and Slovenian prime ministers, as well as Poland’s ruling party leader, are going to Kyiv today “to confirm the unequivocal support of the entire EU for the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine and present a broad package of support” https://t.co/GMlno1Zei2
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 15, 2022
However, later in the morning, European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said only that Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had informed von der Leyen and Michel about the possibility of the visit on the sidelines of last week’s summit in Versailles, before last night confirming that it was happening.
A number of Brussels-based correspondents cited EU sources expressing exasperation over the trip. One official told David Keating of France24 that it was an individual initiative with “no mandate of the European Council”.
Maria Tadeo of Bloomberg likewise reported that the trip had “no mandate from European leaders” and was “more like a Polish initiative”.
An interesting view from Brussels that counters the PL government narrative that the Polish, Czech, and Slovenian PMs’ visit to Kyiv today was in fact an EU diplomatic effort. https://t.co/2ZyIjusqOm
— Wojciech Kość (@WojciechKosc) March 15, 2022
Some also questioned the wisdom of heading into a war zone, and especially of announcing that the visit was taking place while travel was still underway. Morawiecki’s chief of staff, Michał Dworczyk – who provided social media updates on the delegation’s progress towards Kyiv by train – admitted that it was “not a safe trip”.
“But history is happening before our eyes…[and] these prime ministers participating in the delegation decided to take such a risk,” said Dworczyk, quoted by the Polish Press Agency (PAP). He also confirmed that the visit had been organised and overseen by the Polish authorities.
A number of commentators praised the decision to travel to Kyiv. Lionel Barber, former editor-in-chief of the Financial Times, called it “a powerful testament to European unity in the face of unprovoked aggression”. CNN referred to it as a “remarkable statement of solidarity”.
CNN: Decyzja przywódców Polski, Czech, Słowenii aby pojechać do oblężonego Kijowa jest wyjątkową, wyjątkową deklaracją solidarności. pic.twitter.com/dnmYbiHLss
— Daniel Liszkiewicz (@Dan_Liszkiewicz) March 15, 2022
German newspaper Bild described the trip as “Europe at its best”. It recalled how, when Georgia was under Russian attack in 2008, then Polish President Lech Kaczyński had led a delegation to Tbilisi. His twin brother, Jarosław, was now following “this tradition”.
“This is Europe at its best” – noteworthy take of German @Bild on the visit of Polish, Czech and Slovenian PMs in Kyiv today. It also shows how the visit will put pressure on others in Europe to show more resolve on Russia.https://t.co/tBAA2PaC7B pic.twitter.com/y4c8BDhR0o
— Nicolai von Ondarza (@NvOndarza) March 15, 2022
Back in Poland itself, Morawiecki and Kaczyński’s decision to travel to Kyiv also won cross-party support. A number of figures from The Left (Lewica), the second largest opposition group, praised the decision.
One of the group’s leaders, Adrian Zandberg, called it “an important gesture”, while two of its MPs, Paulina Matysiak and Maciej Konieczny, praised the government for taking the lead in the EU’s policy towards its eastern neighbour.
Bogusław Sonik, an MP from Civic Platform (PO), the largest opposition party, said that those criticising the prime minister’s trip to Kyiv were “contemptible”. Former president and PO politician Bronisław Komorowski said that the “courageous” decision sent an “important signal to Ukraine that Europe is on its side”.
Details are yet to emerge of what specific support was offered to Ukraine during the visit. But, after meeting with Zelensky, Morawiecki said that “we will try to organise arms for Ukraine around the world”.
Kaczyński – who as well as being leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is also deputy prime minister with responsibility for security – called for a “NATO peacekeeping mission in Ukraine”, reports Interia.
Zelensky himself thanked Morawiecki, as well as his Czech and Slovenian counterparts, Petr Fiala and Janez Janša, for their “brave step” in visiting Kyiv, reports PAP. “With such partners, we can be victorious”.
Main image credit: zelenskiy.official/Facebook (screenshot)
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.