In 2019 we celebrated the 550th anniversary of the Union of Lublin that established the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which included the territories of today’s Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and even Latvia. In reference to those events, which bound Poland to those lands for the next two hundred years, the establishment of the Lublin Triangle took place in July 2020. Of course, in this context, no one would name Poland as an authority. What is being said is that that body creates, in our opinion, successful cooperation in many areas based on partnership. In that article, we will research the current state of that project, the Polish take on that, and its possible outcomes.
On July, 28th 2020, there was a working meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine, respectively: Jacek Czaputowicz, Linas Linkevičius, and Dmytro Kuleba. A day earlier, the representatives of Ukraine and Poland took part in the ceremonial opening of the new building of the Embassy of Ukraine in Warsaw, which currently houses also the consular department. The three then met in Lublin. They visited the headquarters of the multinational unit LITPOLUKRBRIG, which includes specialized military units separated from the Polish 21st Highland Rifle Brigade, the Ukrainian 80th Air Assault Brigade, and the Lithuanian Great Princess Biruta Lancer Battalion.
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However, the most important result of the meeting was the Joint Declaration of Foreign Ministers of the Republic of Poland, the Republic of Lithuania, and Ukraine to establish Lublin Triangle. While analyzing this document, the first thing that strikes one’s eye is recognizing the centuries-old, historical ties between the nations and the benefits of closer cooperation, among others: political, economic, or infrastructural. At this point, it is necessary to mention the memorandum signed in August 2019 by representatives of Poland, the US, and Ukraine, which provides for the supply of 6 billion m3 of LNG from the US to Ukraine through the terminal in Swinoujscie, as well as the development of gas infrastructure connecting Poland and Ukraine precisely.
The LNG terminal in Swinoujscie (Poland). Polskie LNG
This shows that specific cooperation in the aforementioned fields is already underway, and there is a good chance that the parties will not just stop at declarations. There was even an idea to include Lithuania into this agreement, and then a part of the gas could flow to Klaipeda and be further distributed from there, which would also require multimillion infrastructural investments.
Recrafting the Ukrainian path to West
As far as the political aspect is mentioned, the document entails information about intensified cooperation within the European Union, NATO, the Eastern Partnership program, and the Three Seas Initiative. It seems that the Lublin Triangle will serve as a platform within which Ukraine will strive to become even closer to the West. By joining this agreement, Poland and Lithuania have agreed to take on the obligation to support Kyiv’s pro-European aspirations, which, if successful, would be the best argument for the creation of such regional agreements, as well as a great success for Poland as a leader in EU eastern policy. Ukraine’s accession to the EU or NATO, however, seems to be a very distant prospect. Some steps have already been taken for years – for example, the already mentioned Eastern Partnership, inaugurated in 2009 as a part of the European Neighborhood Policy, as a result of the efforts of, among others, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radosław Sikorski.
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The rapprochement can also be seen in the field of Euro-Atlantic relations. The most recent example happened last year in June when Ukraine joined the Alliance’s Enhanced Capabilities Programme. By doing so, it became an equal member among the group of countries such as Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan, and Sweden, i.e., those which have made a significant contribution to missions and operations conducted by the Alliance. Participation in this program does not in any way prejudge Kyiv’s NATO membership, but it does offer an opportunity to present itself as a reliable partner. It will lead to deeper integration of the Ukrainian army with Western armies, which will undoubtedly facilitate full-fledged accession in the future. It is also worth noting that the text of the declaration establishing the Lublin Triangle mentions the granting of the Membership Action Plan to Ukraine as another desirable step on the part of the Alliance.
The Three Seas Initiative, which includes 12 EU countries, also plays a vital role in the Central and Eastern European regions. The first summit took place in 2016. Consequently, two years later, a fund was established to finance mainly infrastructure projects that would better connect the region’s countries. The United States, and in particular President Donald Trump, played a significant role in setting up this initiative, treating it as a counterbalance to the “old EU” countries with which he has not always had a good relationship.
The 2017 Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw (Poland). Krzysztof Sitkowski, KPRP. President.pl
Therefore, it is difficult to predict what approach to this project will be presented by the new American administration, relying more on traditional alliances. Nevertheless, Ukraine does not give up its desire to join this initiative. On 12 January this year, together with Moldovan President Maia Sandu, Volodymyr Zelenskyi expressed official interest in participating in the Three Seas Initiative. To exemplify, these countries can join initially as observers; such a role is currently played by the US and Germany.
Security issues as one of the top priorities for the Lublin Triangle
The next point of the declaration concerns the common security threat. There is no doubt that the source of this common threat is the Russian Federation’s actions, which is explicitly expressed in the passage referring to Russian aggression against Ukraine. The signatories do not recognize the annexation of Crimea and undertake never to do so and call on Russia to withdraw its troops from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. To resolve the conflict in Ukraine, in addition to trilateral cooperation, the declaration mentions cooperation within international organizations such as the EU, NATO, the UN, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE. Let us focus our attention on the latter for a moment. At the beginning of this year, Poland became one of the three countries coordinating the Organization for Security and Cooperation activities in Europe, and from 2022 it will take over the chairmanship from Sweden. This offers the possibility of greater OSCE involvement on the ground of the conflict, for example, by “establishing permanent monitoring along the line of demarcation between areas occupied by Russian mercenaries from the so-called “people's republics" and regions controlled by the Ukrainian government”, or introducing an international police mission, which would allow for the implementation of hypothetical peace resolutions. Such use of the OSCE chairmanship by Poland would undoubtedly strengthen its position as a natural leader of the region, acting not only for its selfish purposes.
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While deliberating on the subject of security, it seems reasonable to return to the LITPOLUKRBRIG international brigade. Thus, we should consider whether it would not be beneficial to create additional units of this type to be stationed in each of the countries forming the Triangle. In that scenario, for example, a second brigade could have its headquarters in Lviv and a third in Klaipeda or Kaunas. This would undoubtedly have a positive impact on the meaning of equal engagement on all sides in this endeavor and would also be a signal from Poland and Lithuania to show their complete confidence, especially towards Ukraine, and support for its Western aspirations. The document also includes support for Ukraine's economic and political reforms, using the best Polish and Lithuanian experience in this field and cooperation in combating the coronavirus pandemic.
Meetings and discussions for the future actions
Finally, the ministers decided to hold regular meetings at the ministerial level and the participation of selected partners. Therefore, the first meeting was to be hosted by Ukraine, and the special guest was to be the Foreign Minister of Belarus, but another increase in infections thwarted the plans. In addition, liaison officers were established at the ministries to enable ad hoc contact and joint coordination of activities.
The subsequent meeting within the framework of the Lublin Triangle formula, but this time in a remote form, took place on 29.01.2021. In the meantime, there were changes in the positions of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Poland and Lithuania. Jacek Czaputowicz was replaced by Zbigniew Rau and Linas Linkevičius by Gabrielius Landsbergis. They discussed mechanisms of joint fight against disinformation and hybrid threats. The conversations also covered the problem of the difficult accessibility of vaccines. Svetlana Tikhanouska also participated in part of the meeting, so the subject of the situation in Belarus was also present and discussed. Especially from the Ukrainian side, there is a strong desire to include democratic Belarus in the Triangle, but a change of authorities in Minsk would be necessary for this to happen. Lithuania will host the next meeting.
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Discussions on further cooperation within the Triangle were also held on other occasions. In early February, Lithuanian Foreign Minister G. Landsbergis paid a visit to Poland, where he met, among others, with Marshal of the Sejm Elżbieta Witek. Shortly afterward, in the second half of February, the Marshal of the Senate Tomasz Grodzki took part in an online conversation with the Speaker of the Lithuanian Seimas and the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.
As the Lublin Triangle is an informal forum for cooperation, its effective functioning and fulfillment of the tasks set before would require the goodwill of all interested parties, especially foreign ministers. Let us hope that despite the changes in the positions of the heads of diplomacy, this project will not be abandoned. It would be desirable for the Polish raison d'état if in several years we could be proud, together with the Lithuanians, that it was with our support that Ukraine managed to overcome the difficulties related to Russian aggression and permanently anchor itself in the West, whether by joining NATO or the European Union.
Written by Piotr Obszarski, a ‘Młodzi o polityce’ (‘Youngsters about politics’) project, University of Warsaw, Poland