Polish Ukrainian Ties as a Target for Disinformation

Several Russian military and intelligence institutions are involved in an information war targeting Ukraine, according to the Department of State, which is working with the US interagency. The transmission of disinformation and propaganda seeking to portray Ukraine and Ukrainian government officials as aggressors in the Russia-Ukraine relationship are among these operations. Such steps are meant to persuade Western countries that Ukraine’s actions could spark a worldwide conflict and to persuade Russian citizens that military intervention in Ukraine is necessary.

One prime example of this was vandals painting the blue-and-yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag on monuments in Krakow just days before Poland’s Independence Day in November. At first, the vandalism appeared to be Ukrainians defacing memorials commemorating Polish national heroes, but when taking a closer look, it was determined that it was not an act of Ukrainian hate. The colors of the flag were flipped, and one inflammatory phrase was written in a strange blend of Russian and Ukrainian. Despite the fact that prosecutors are still looking into the incident, Polish and Ukrainian authorities believe it was most likely an attempt by the Russians to incite ethnic tensions between Ukrainians and Poles.

The Ukrainian Embassy in Warsaw promptly condemned the November event, calling it “shameful” and “a provocation aimed at harming the good neighborly relations between Ukraine and Poland.”

Since the war began, more than 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees have come to Poland, and while some have moved on to other countries, more than half have stayed. Poles have responded with an outpouring of assistance and sympathy, and the government has granted Ukrainians the same educational and health-care privileges as Poles. Further, Ukrainians were once predominantly subordinate to a Polish landowning class while western Ukraine was under Polish authority.

During World War II, when the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, a nationalist armed group, massacred tens of thousands of Poles in the Nazi-occupied Polish districts of Volhynia and Eastern Galicia, ethnic tensions erupted in ethnic violence. Poland has also had a tumultuous relationship with Moscow. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union split apart Poland, illegally occupying the country based on a secret clause in the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Both invading states perpetrated atrocities against Poles. The Nazis established death camps and concentration camps where they slaughtered Jews as well as many other Poles. Meanwhile, in the Katyn killings of 1940, the Soviets dispatched some Poles to Siberia and slaughtered 22,000 Polish commanders.

Poland was compelled to live under Moscow’s harsh supervision for the rest of the Cold War, even after the war. Some Poles, particularly those who lived through the conflict, have a lasting animosity toward both Russians and Ukrainians.

One false assertion disseminated by Russians, according to Polish authorities, is that Poland is seeking to retake Lviv and another former Polish territory in western Ukraine. Another theory is that Poland, a NATO partner that hosts tens of thousands of American troops, is attempting to pit the West against Russia. Zaryn, the spokesman for the Polish security services, also mentioned a Polish Facebook group called “A Ukrainian is NOT my Brother,” which encourages members to remember the Ukrainian killings of Poles in the 1940s.

With public warnings about disinformation operations, expulsions of hundreds of suspected Russian agents, and one arrest, Poland’s government has taken steps to safeguard itself. Poland ordered the expulsion of 45 suspected Russian intelligence officials in late March, accusing them of utilizing diplomatic immunity to operate in the nation.

Poland claims that it must remain vigilant, particularly as the number of refugees rises, potentially increasing social tensions that can be exploited.

by PAC Intern Nicole Zelazko