Russian Spy Chief Naryshkin Claims Poland Seeks To Dismember Ukraine, But Others Impute The Same Designs To Russia

On April 27, 2022, the Director of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service [SVR], Sergey Naryshkin, (whom Vladimir Putin publicly humiliated on the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) claimed that the Polish authorities are planning to take control of Ukraine. Russia has made these charges before[1] but Naryshkin now claimed that the assessments were backed by trustworthy sources.

“There are reports that Washington and Warsaw are developing plans to establish strong military and political control of Poland over ‘its historical possessions’ in Ukraine” Naryshkin said.

According to the SVR, the plan will develop as follows: Poland will deploy troops in Western Ukraine claiming that these forces will be tasked with defense against Russian aggression. Poland would be acting outside NATO but would assemble a coalition of the “willing states” under the pretext of “defending against Russian aggression” Naryshkin divulged that Poland intends to act without a NATO mandate, but in concert with the “willing states.” To further its designs for controlling the Ukraine, the SVR alleges that the Polish special services have been searching for representatives of the Ukrainian elite “capable of compromise”, in order to form a “democratic” counterweight to the nationalists oriented towards Warsaw.

Russia cited the previous proposal of Polish Deputy Prime Minister, Jarosław Kaczyński, to Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky to deploy an armed NATO peacekeeping mission to Ukraine as a prelude to the takeover. [2]

Naryshkin also claimed that if the scheme hatched in Washington and Warsaw reached fruition, the result would be the partition of Ukraine. The idea of a Greater Poland that would absorb parts of Ukraine had historical antecedents. At the end of the First World War, the victorious “Entente” powers sought to increase Poland’s boundaries to weaken and contain Soviet Russia. Today, the collective West headed by the United States was using Poland in the same way.[3]

The government-controlled Russia Today stepped in to provide credibility to Naryshkin’s charges. It cited Vladimir Olenchenko, a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Center for European Studies “To what extent these lands can be considered Polish today is a very debatable issue. Not everyone in Poland agrees with this, but the current Polish leadership claims these lands.” Dmitry Novikov, First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on International Affairs, noted that Poland’s possible invasion of Ukraine would be contrary to international law, even if it was advertised as a peacekeeping mission. “It will be Poland’s aggression against Ukraine, the annexation of part of its lands. These actions cannot be legal” Novikov noted.[4]

The Russia Today article pivoted to depict the Ukrainian government as a frail reed against Polish aggression and acquiescing to its own collapse. Olenchenko explained “If they accept or allow a Polish protectorate over their lands, then this means that they are giving up their own sovereignty. If they renounce their own sovereignty, then they come into conflict with their own Constitution. Ukraine will actually fall apart”

In turn, military expert Aleksey Leonkov intimated that the current Ukrainian leadership is unlikely to try to prevent the entry of Polish troops.”Kyiv does not manage its own state. Ukraine is not a subject of politics, but an object. The Zelensky government will do what Washington tells it to do.”[5]

Stanisław Jarin, a spokesperson for the Polish Minister-Coordinator for Special Services of Poland denied that the Polish authorities entertained plans to establish control over the western regions of Ukraine. Jarin countered that Naryshkin’s charges were designed to undermine Polish cooperation with Ukraine

“Lies about Poland’s alleged plans to attack Western Ukraine are being repeated for several years. This campaign intensified after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. Representatives of the Kremlin are engaged in the vilification of Poland,” Jarin wrote on Twitter.[6]

Writing in the National Interest Mark Episkopos offered an alternate theory. Naryshkin’s charges were not intended primarily to sow discord between Warsaw and Kyiv or to discredit the Zelensky government but should be interpreted as a trial balloon by Russia about a possible partition of Ukraine: “The allegation may be intended as a signal that Russia seeking to lay the groundwork for a forced partition of Ukraine. Even if fabricated, the partition scheme sheds light on Russia’s priorities three months into the war; the claim could be interpreted as a trial balloon to see how the West would respond to an outcome that falls short of Russia’s core objective to achieve regime change in Ukraine, but still leaves the Kremlin with a significant chunk of Ukrainian territory to show for its costly military venture.”[7]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when asked at a news conference following talks with the Eritrean Minister of State Osman Saleh about Russia’s plans to annex the areas that Russia had conquered since the start of the fighting, was evasive:

Question: The Head of Crimea’s Civic Chamber Alexander Formanchuk spoke about the possibility of the Kherson Region becoming a part of the Russian Federation. This region and a number of other areas in southern Ukraine are controlled by the Russian Armed Forces. They are in close contact with the local people. Did you notice any signs of local people wishing to join Russia? Can we speak about a new shape of the map of Russia that includes certain regions of southern Ukraine?

Sergey Lavrov: From the very start of the Special Military Operation, we have stated that our goal is to protect civilians affected by the militarization and Nazification of their country, by the fact that open Nazis rule the roost at the security, defense, and law enforcement agencies. They do not even hesitate to display the symbols of Hitler’s Germany. The population is suffering because the government, headed by the president, approves laws that consistently murder the Russian language, culture and education in Ukraine. These laws are encouraging the theory and practice of Nazism. People are under totalitarian oppression. It is their sentiments that should be put first and prioritized.

While announcing the Special Military Operation, we said that we were proceeding from the premise that the citizens of Ukraine would decide their fate on their own. It is up to them to decide. Ukraine has been under external control for years. People are sick and tired of this.”[8]

Some analysts in the Russian media appeared to agree with Episkopos’ speculation. Political scientist George Bovt claimed that Naryshkin’s claims had some historical plausibility as Western Ukraine in the interwar period and until the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that allowed Russia to annex the area was Polish territory. Poland had attempted to Polonize the territory by forced assimilation of the Ukrainians and by settling Poles there. It was precisely the failure of this policy and the massacre of the Poles in Volhynia in 1943 that would deter Warsaw from repeating this experiment.

Bovt did not buy the idea that the Polish proposal for a peacekeeping force betrayed annexationist designs: “It’s probably worth drawing a line between so-called ‘peacekeeping or military intervention’ and ‘occupation.’ Warsaw has indeed taken almost the most active anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian stance among Europeans in the current military conflict. It also accepted the most refugees, already over 2 million.”

Bovt also pointed out that the Polish peacekeeping proposal was shot down in March by both other NATO states and by Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky.

It was actually in Russian political circles that the topic of Ukraine’s ‘collapse’ or ‘partition’ was in vogue particularly after the establishment of the breakaway republics in Donbas and the Crimean annexation of 2014. This motif reappeared prior to the current fighting in Ukraine.

“On the eve of the today’s special operation, Russian discourse on the ‘artificiality’ of Ukrainian statehood existing in its current borders was revitalized. For example, the Russian president has repeatedly stated that after the revolution, Lenin and Stalin completely and utterly created modern Ukraine.”

Ilya Kiva, a former Rada deputy from Viktor Medvedchuk’s pro-Russian opposition party, who recently applied for political asylum in Russia also repeatedly advocated Ukraine’s partition.

Now, Bovt assesses, “Moscow is preparing for the division of Ukraine in its own way. For the time being, however, there is no prospect of a referendum [on independence or joining Russia as with Crimea] being held in, say, the Kherson Oblast, which is under Russian military control since early March. There was no confirmation to the rumors about the plans to stage such a referendum by the Russian Foreign Ministry as well.

“Meanwhile, Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the military and civil administration of the Kherson oblast, who was appointed by the Russian forces, claimed the other day that the oblast decided to switch to settlements in rubles as of May 1 and won’t return to Kiev’s control. According to Stremousov, the transition period will take up to four months.

“Thus, in practice, we are returning to the discourses and policies of the 1930s, with perhaps the sole difference, that today’s Poland, Hungary and Romania do not have to try hard in order to seize some territories of Ukraine, because the EU, and hypothetically NATO intend to accept country as a whole (or what would be left of it). Be that as it may this question will be decided on battlefield. Like in the bad old days.”[9]

Kommersant noted that Moscow’s accusation of Poland aside, Kyiv and Washington believed that it was Moscow that sought a partition of Ukraine. “Kyiv and the West are wary of Russia’s actions in the Ukrainian territories under its control. The possibility of a referendum on the creation of the so-called Kherson People’s Republic, which Russia might stage, is being actively deliberated [in Russia].” Russia has replaced elected officials in Kherson with officials amenable to Moscow. Zelensky preemptively warned that if referenda were staged while the areas were under Russian military occupation, Kyiv would immediately break off peace talks with Russia.[10]

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