Moscow sows discord in Warsaw over Ukrainian workers

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  • Moskwa wzmaga podziały w Warszawie sporem o imigrację z Ukrainy  Ten artykuł jest dostępny w języku polskim
Russia’s Sputnik and various pro-Kremlin media in Poland are working hard to spread fear of Ukrainian immigration to Poland. Their goal: to divide and turn public opinion in both countries.

Since the tourist visa waiver program took effect 10 June 2017 between the European Union and Ukraine, nearly 365,000 Ukrainians have crossed into the EU, according to the State Border Service of Ukraine (DGPSU). Some 74,000 people used new biometric passports to cross the border visa-free, of which 12,875 intentionally took advantage of the new law; 5,210 came to Poland. In fact, 2016 was a record year; 123,000 foreigners—83 percent of them Ukrainian citizens—got jobs in Poland. Yet pro-Kremlin propaganda outlets are using the jump in Ukrainian immigration to Poland to spoil relations between Warsaw and Kyiv.

The Polish-language version of Sputnik writes that restrictions on Ukrainian workers could spark criticism against Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, so the “success” announced by Kyiv is overrated. Sputnik quotes relatively unknown Ukrainian political scientist Alexander Jakubin, who says the visa waiver program is a dead end for Ukraine, and that it will not compensate for the heavy costs of European integration borne by Ukraine. This is an obvious attempt to denigrate Ukraine’s relations with the EU among Ukrainian public opinion.

Meanwhile, Dr. Cezary Mech—a recognized critic of Ukraine-EU cooperation—told that Poland should work to bring the Polish minority in Ukraine back to Poland instead of helping Ukrainians enter the EU. He warns that Ukrainian immigrants will steal jobs from Poles. This contradicts Sputnik’s message, maybe because this Polish text is aimed at a Polish audience. In any event, the Ukraine-EU visa free regime is about tourism, not jobs. However, pro-Kremlin media uses fear to spread anger against Ukrainian immigrants in Poland.

Mech’s revelations were the focus of an interview with Andrzej Zapałowski in the Polish version of Sputnik. He uses the term “Ukrainization” of the job market. His idea is essentially the same: Poles would lose jobs if Ukrainian immigration rises. He also speculates about the intentional provocation of a wave of migration, noting that “...the same bunch that instigated African emigration is provoking job emigration from Ukraine.” Such irrational arguments feed another conspiracy theory about Jewish rule in Ukraine promoted by Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian veteran and member of parliament, and also by Polish pro-Kremlin media such as Wolna Polska 24.

The goal of all this propaganda is to connect the terms “visa liberalization for Ukrainians” with “Ukrainization of the Polish job market.” This hurts Ukraine’s image, creates divisions between Poland and Ukraine and feeds the agenda of nationalist parties. In March 2017 nationalists from ONR organized anti-Ukrainian marches described in a previous StratCom report. These aim to slow the process of Ukraine-EU integration, undermine visa liberalization and hurt the positive trend of filling the gaps in Poland’s professional workforce created by Poles leaving for Western Europe. It is why Polish authorities welcome such immigrants. But pro-Kremlin propaganda distorts the facts to create the opposite impression. What is urgently needed is an information campaign that outlines the benefits of Ukrainian immigration and explains the legal restrictions that protect Poland’s job market from imbalances.