Poland-Ukraine ties seen as goal of Russian disinformation

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Days earlier than Poland’s Independence Day in November, vandals painted the blue-and-yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag on monuments in Krakow. The vandalism, which befell as Russia massed troops close to Ukraine’s border, seemed as if Ukrainians had been defacing memorials to Polish nationwide heroes.

Yet some clues prompt in any other case.

The flag’s colours had been reversed, with the yellow on high of the blue and one offensive message was in an unnatural mixture of Russian and Ukrainian. Though prosecutors are nonetheless investigating, Polish and Ukrainian authorities imagine it was most definitely a Russian-inspired try and set off ethnic hostility between Ukrainians and Poles.

Polish and Ukrainian authorities have for years accused Russia of making an attempt to impress hostility between their neighboring nations as a part of a broader effort to divide and destabilize the West — and the considerations have gained better urgency since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Poland and Ukraine are neighbors and allies however they share a tough historical past of oppression and bloodshed, and people historic traumas generally rise to the floor.

Poland has additionally accepted giant numbers of Ukrainian refugees, creating fears that would grow to be one other wedge concern that Russia may exploit.

“The Russian efforts to sow divisions between the Poles and Ukrainians, particularly by means of exploiting historical issues, are as old as time,” stated Stanislaw Zaryn, the spokesman for Poland’s safety companies.

“Russia has redoubled them since the war began,” he stated. “And they are more dangerous now because the war is going on and it can affect more people than before.”

Reacting to the November incident, the Ukrainian Embassy in Warsaw instantly denounced it as “shameful” and “a provocation aimed at harming the good neighborly relations between Ukraine and Poland.”

More than 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Poland for the reason that struggle started, and whereas some transfer on to different international locations greater than half have remained. Poles have reacted with an outpouring of assist and goodwill and the federal government has prolonged to the Ukrainians the identical rights to training and well being care that Poles have.

Never Again, an anti-racism affiliation in Poland, has documented a number of makes an attempt to stoke aversion to the Ukrainian refugees and even to overtly justify Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion. In some instances these behind the messages are far-right Polish activists or politicians with pro-Kremlin views, in response to a report the group printed Thursday.

“These groups do not enjoy widespread public support, but they do their best to make Poles and Ukrainians quarrel, spread hateful content, conspiracy theories and false information, primarily in the internet space,” it stated.

Larysa Lacko, an skilled on countering disinformation at NATO, stated Russia is thought to take advantage of refugees as a wedge concern as a result of it touches on the economic system, race and different delicate points, and that she has additionally noticed Russian “disinformation talking about historical grievances.”

Western Ukraine was as soon as below Polish rule, with Ukrainians largely subservient to a Polish landowning class.

Resentments erupted in ethnic bloodshed throughout World War II, when the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, a nationalist navy formation, slaughtered tens of hundreds of Poles within the Nazi-occupied Polish areas of Volhynia and Eastern Galicia.

Poland additionally has a tough historical past with Moscow. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union carved up Poland at the beginning of World War II in 1939, invading and occupying the nation primarily based on a secret clause within the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Poles suffered atrocities inflicted by each occupying states. The Nazis arrange loss of life camps and focus camps the place they murdered Jews they usually killed many different Polish residents as properly. Meanwhile, the Soviets despatched some Poles to Siberia and murdered 22,000 Polish officers within the Katyn massacres of 1940.

Even after the struggle, Poland was compelled to dwell below Moscow’s oppressive management for the many years of the Cold War.

It nonetheless stings Poles to recollect the Soviet Union denied the reality of the Katyn killings for many years, forbidding Poles from publicly commemorating the victims. When the Polish wartime government-in-exile requested the International Red Cross to research the Nazi disclosures of the Soviet crimes, Moscow smeared the Polish leaders as “Fascist collaborators” — a lot as they’ve falsely accused Ukraine right this moment of being a Nazi state.

Some Poles, particularly those that lived via the struggle, keep in mind these occasions and carry a lingering hostility to each Russians and Ukrainians.

One false declare Polish authorities say Russians are spreading is that Poland seeks to reclaim Lviv and different territory in western Ukraine that when was Polish. “Those claims are untrue,” the Polish Foreign Ministry stated in a sequence of tweets searching for to debunk false claims. “Poland will never accept the annexation of any territory belonging to an independent state.”

Another is that Poland, a NATO ally internet hosting hundreds of U.S. troops, is working to set the West towards Russia.

That declare was made not too long ago by former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, the present deputy chairman of the Russian safety council.

“Now the interests of the citizens of Poland have been sacrificed due to the Russophobia of mediocre politicians and their puppeteers from across the ocean with clear signs of senile insanity,” Medvedev wrote not too long ago on Telegram, a social media app well-liked in Russia and Ukraine.

Zaryn, the Polish safety companies spokesman, additionally pointed to a Polish Facebook web page known as “A Ukrainian is NOT my brother,” whose posts name on followers to not neglect the Ukrainian massacres of Poles within the Forties.

The web page was created lower than a month after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has practically 55,000 followers. In latest weeks posts have criticized Polish authorities for his or her sturdy assist for Ukraine.

Zaryn stated proof factors to it being run by a girl with ties to a pro-Kremlin celebration, Zmiana, in Poland. The former chief of the celebration, Mateusz Piskorski, has labored for Russian information retailers RT and Sputnik and has been charged with espionage for Russia and China.

Poland’s authorities has been taking steps to guard itself, with public warnings concerning the disinformation makes an attempt and expulsions of dozens of suspected Russian brokers and one arrest.

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Polish authorities arrested a person they accused of being an agent of the Russian navy intelligence company, GRU, in Przemysl, a key entry factors for Ukrainian refugees, as he sought to cross into Ukraine.

In late March, Poland ordered the expulsion of 45 suspected Russian intelligence officers they accused of utilizing diplomatic standing as a canopy to function within the nation.

“The illegal activities of these diplomats can also pose a threat to those people who left their country to flee the war and found protection in our country,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina stated.

At a second of big solidarity in Poland and elsewhere with Ukrainians, disinformation is proscribed in its affect, argued Lacko, the NATO skilled working to counter disinformation.

“Given the atrocities on the ground, it’s harder to fall into these sorts of traps,” she stated.

But officers in Poland say they’ve to stay on guard, particularly if the variety of refugees grows, creating the potential for extra social anxieties that may be exploited.


Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

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