“He wanted us to become participants in this partition of Ukraine … This was one of the first things that Putin said to my prime minister, Donald Tusk, when he visited Moscow.”
“He (Putin) went on to say Ukraine is an artificial country and that Lwow is a Polish city and why don’t we just sort it out together,” Sikorski was quoted as saying in the interview dated Oct. 19.
Before World War Two, Poland’s territory included parts of today’s western Ukraine, including some major cities such as Lwow, known as Lviv in Ukraine.
According to Sikorski, who accompanied Tusk on his trip to Moscow, Tusk did not reply to Putin’s suggestion, because he knew he was being recorded, but Poland never expressed any interest in joining the Russian operation.
“We made it very, very clear to them – we wanted nothing to do with this,” Sikorski said.
This is important, as it shows that the justification that Russia has used to first annex Crimea, and then invade the east of Ukraine in order to set up Novorossiya was something that Putin has been planning for a long time rather than just a response to the Euro-Maidan protests.
It would have been incredibly dangerous for Poland to show the slightest bit of interest in this plan back in 2008, their words would have been used against them in justification for what Russia is doing now.
I think Poland is very happy with the current borders, no matter what the historical legitimacy to the lands to the east are, as those borders guarantee stability. Once Europe starts changing borders for whatever reason, the floodgates of war could be released. As a country that has experienced war on a devastating scale, there is no way Poland would want that.
As an aside, this weekend there is a Polish festival on Queens Wharf in Wellington, run by the Polish Association that was originally set up by NZ's first refugees, the Polish children that were granted temporary and then a permanent home here. Those children were most likely from the areas of Ukraine that Putin was suggesting that Poland take back1.
UPDATE 22 October:
From Polish Radio:
“My memory failed me. After checking, there was no bi-lateral meeting between Prime Minister Tusk and President Putin,” Radoslaw Sikorski said, Tuesday evening, adding that he was actually referring to comments Putin made at a NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, and not in Moscow in February of that year, as he had originally told the American magazine.
Sikorski also appeared to back away from the claim that Putin offered parts of Ukraine to Poland on a plate, saying it could have been a sick joke but one that became more sinister as events have unfolded.
Sikorski has come under fire for not releasing such explosive information before and Poland's largest opposition party has called for his resignation as speaker of parliament.
The interview with Politico will probably be raised at a meeting of Poland's National Security Council on Wednesday, presidential spokeswoman Joanna Trzaska-Wieczorek has said.
Asked why he and PM Tusk had not made public Putin's imperial ambitions before, Sikorski said that the "surreal" remarks “appeared significant only later, after the NATO summit, after the war in Georgia and the annexation of Crimea".
He added that the detail of the conversation was “open to interpretation”, which takes on meaning “in the light of recent events,” referring to the current crisis in Ukraine.
In the morning, Radoslaw Sikorski tweeted that Politico “over-interpreted” some of his comments, detailing a conversation between Donald Tusk and Vladimir Putin, when the current president of Russia had allegedly offered to carve up Ukraine with Poland's help.
Sikorski - who was moved as head of the foreign ministry after seven years in office in September to take up the role of speaker of parliament – maintains a conversation still took place, though he “was not a witness to it” but declined to say who told him about it.
“Putin told all western leaders in Bucharest in 2008 that Ukraine was a conglomerate of several different nations, including Poland, and threatened its statehood,” Sikorski told journalists, Tuesday evening during his second press conference of the day.
1. Just to explain my connection, my aunt was one of these Polish children. My dad, her brother, was not a refugee child, he came to NZ as an immigrant in 1950 from Britain, to be reunited with his surviving family here. For more of his story, read Experiences of Motherhood and Conservatism.↩