Belarus – Poland: Emphasis on security

Anna Maria Dyner

Summary

As in previous years, the high dynamics of Polish-Belarusian bilateral contacts continued in 2019 – economic, cultural, tourist and regional cooperation developed. The Druzhba oil pipeline accident stimulated the expansion of cooperation between petrochemical concerns – Polish ORLEN and Belarusian Belneftekhim.

Despite the fact that both states are members of alternative military alliances (NATO and the CSTO) a dialogue related to security issues actively developed.

Trends:
Political interaction

In 2019, there was a high dynamics of contacts at the intergovernmental and ministerial levels. Last year, the Belarusian Ambassador to Poland Aleksandr Averyanov was replaced by Vladimir Chushev, who presented his credentials to the President of the Republic of Poland on March 21. On October 2, the Honorary Consulate of Belarus opened in Katowice. Marek Rasinski, a businessman who actively cooperates with Belarus, became Honorary Consul.

On February 11–14, a delegation of Belarusian parliamentarians headed by Mikhail Myasnikovich, Chairman of the Council of the Republic, visited Poland. During the visit, M. Myasnikovich met with the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Ministers and representatives of the Sejm and the Senate. Also a Social Security Agreement was signed between Poland and Belarus.1 In addition to Warsaw, Mikhail Myasnikovich visited Bialystok, where he met with representatives of the Belarusian minority.2

On August 21–23, Polish parliamentarians headed by Deputy Speaker of the Sejm Richard Terlecki visited Belarus. Earlier, Polish parliamentarians had been in Belarus on June 6–7 when the delegation had been headed by the speaker of the Senate Stanisław Karczewski. An agreement on interparliamentary cooperation between Poland and Belarus is scheduled to be signed in 2020.

On March 1, 2019, Belarusian Minister of Transport and Communications Aleksey Kravchenko and Polish Minister of Infrastructure Andrzej Adamczyk signed an agreement on maintenance of border railway bridges on the Polish-Belarusian border.3 In summer, on June 18, the parties signed the Final Protocol of checking the passage of the Belarusian-Polish state border. The Commission created for this purpose had worked since 2011.

On May 16, Belarusian-Polish consultations of the Foreign Ministries of the two countries were held in Minsk, headed by Deputy Ministers Oleg Kravchenko and Marcin Przydacz. The next day, negotiations were held on Belarusian-Polish humanitarian cooperation.

On November 4, in Warsaw, Deputy Foreign Ministers Marcin Przydacz and Oleg Kravchenko took part in the permanent round table Belarus – Poland, organized by the Polish Institute of International Relations, the Center for Eastern Studies and the Minsk Dialogue Initiative. The topic of the conference was regional security and Polish-Belarusian bilateral relations.

On December 4, Minsk signed an agreement on cooperation within the framework of the Polish aid program, which would contribute to the implementation of Polish aid projects in the coming years. It should also be noted that during 2019, Poland supported Belarus in its negotiations with the European Union regarding the agreement on visa facilitation.

Meanwhile, despite the invitation, the Belarusian President did not take part in the events held in Poland in connection with the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War II. The Belarusian President justified his decision by the absence of a similar invitation for the Russian President. This situation showed that historical memory remains a problem in political relations between Poland and Belarus. Currently, the most disputable are the activities of Romuald Rajs, who in Belarus is associated with the genocide of the Belarusian minority, and the assessment of the Polish campaign of the Red Army in 1939 and actions of the Soviet Army in Poland in 1944–1945, which the Polish side does not see as liberation.

Cooperation in the field of security

Despite the fact that Poland and Belarus are members of different military alliances (NATO and the CSTO) in 2019 both states maintained bilateral military contacts. At the same time, the topic of security was one of the priorities during the bilateral meetings.

On March 4–6, representatives of the Defense Ministries of the two countries held consultations in Warsaw. The topic of the talks was the planning of bilateral military cooperation, as well as current issues of regional security. On April 26, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Andrey Dapkiunas and Polish Ambassador to Belarus Artur Michalski discussed the same topic.

The Deputy Head of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly, Boleslav Pirshtuk, who took part in the meeting of the heads of the parliaments of Central and Eastern Europe, organized on June 4–5 in Warsaw, also paid attention to regional security issues.

On June 19, representatives of the Defense Ministries of the two countries signed an agreement on the exchange of airspace information in the area of the Polish-Belarusian border. During his visit to Warsaw, Igor Golub, Commander of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defense Forces, held consultations with the head of the Operational Command of the Polish Armed Forces.

On August 30, Warsaw hosted a meeting of Secretaries of the Security Councils of Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and the United States on security issues in Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, on November 4, Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Stanislav Zas held a meeting in Brest with his Polish counterpart – the head of the National Security Bureau Pawel Soloch.

On January 28–30 and November 18–22, Belarusian military inspections were held in Poland to check units in the region indicated by the Polish authorities. These were carried out in accordance with the Vienna Document of 2011, while the Belarusian inspections on April 23–26 and August 19–23 were carried out on the basis of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). A similar event, organized on May 21–24, was attended by the Polish military, along with German, Dutch and French ones. On March 25–29 and September 12, Belarus and Russia jointly conducted observation flights over Poland under the Treaty on Open Skies.

Despite the close military interaction, the Belarusian authorities still critically assess Poland's efforts to increase the American military presence on its territory, emphasizing that Russia will seek to deploy its military bases in Belarus in response.

Trade and economic cooperation

In 2019, the trade turnover between Belarus and Poland reached USD 2.62 billion. Belarusian exports amounted to USD 1.291 billion (an increase of 3.6% compared to 2018), imports – USD 1.329 billion (an increase of 12% compared to 2018).4

Economic issues were often raised during bilateral meetings. During Mikhail Myasnikovich’s talks with Mateusz Morawiecki on February 13, issues of developing economic relations, including the implementation of projects under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, were discussed. On March 16, Mikhail Myasnikovich met with the President of the Polish Chamber of Commerce Andrzej Arendarski in Minsk.

The Belarusian-Polish Economic Forum Good Neighborliness-2019, held in Minsk on June 6–7, was one of the most important events aimed at stimulating business development. During the conference, among other things, the prospects of Polish investment in the Belarusian-Chinese Technopark Great Stone were discussed. The Forum was attended by more than 500 entrepreneurs from Belarus and Poland. In September and November, the parties discussed opportunities for cooperation in the woodworking industry.

On April 17, in Warsaw, Belarusbank and Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego signed a framework agreement providing loans to clients of financial institutions on the Belarusian and Polish markets. Due to the agreement, credit procedures and financing of Polish exports to Belarus are significantly simplified. It is noteworthy that Belarusian companies make up the largest group of importers that use the Polish government's export support program.

It should also be noted that within the framework of the Polish Aid program, Poland allocated USD 0.5 million for the development of Belarusian enterprises in the tourism sector. In general, in 2019, Poland implemented 20 projects in Belarus with a total cost of EUR 2 million.

In 2019, Poland and Belarus actively collaborated on projects intended for administrative authorities. The cooperation between the National Banks of Poland and Belarus in 2018–2019 was considered particularly fruitful.

The accident, which resulted in contaminating raw materials in the Druzhba oil transportation system in April, contributed to the activation of cooperation between the two largest companies in the field of petrochemistry – Belarusian Belneftekhim and Polish ORLEN, which was not limited to joint elimination of the consequences of the accident. Representatives of both companies started to consider promising areas of cooperation. The Polish experience of diversifying oil supply sources may prove valuable if Belneftekhim decides to import large volumes of this raw material from outside of Russia (e.g. due to the increase in the price of oil due to the so-called tax maneuver).

Nevertheless, in the field of electric power, despite the efforts of the Belarusian side, Poland is not interested in cooperation. The Polish government says that their country will not buy electricity generated at the Belarusian nuclear power plant.

Regional and cultural cooperation

Cross-border and regional cooperation remains an important element of bilateral relations. In 2019, additional projects were implemented to improve the security of the Sławatycze – Damačava border crossings (it was also decided to expand the border bridge at this crossing starting in 2020) and Bobrowniki – Berastavica. A significant part of funds for these activities were allocated within the framework of the Poland–Belarus–Ukraine 2020 program.

A regular meeting of the Working group on the development of the Augustów Canal was held. Both states work together to add the Augustów Canal to the UNESCO world heritage list. In Bielaviežskaja Pušča National Park, the August-Velo cycle route (co-financed by Polish aid) was opened. At the end of August, the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences and the Polish Academy of Sciences signed an agreement on the establishment of a Joint Commission to solve the environmental problems of the Bielaviežskaja Pušča.

On November 29, a meeting of delegations of Belarusian and Polish twin cities took place in Maladziečna. Twenty organizations from Belarus and nineteen from Poland took part in the meeting. Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, who was present at the meeting, stressed that cooperation between local authorities was an important element of relations between Poland and Belarus.

On December 12, the Brest regional Executive Committee signed a Memorandum on Cooperation with the Polish Chamber of Tourism, and on December 20, a meeting of the Belarusian-Polish Working group on tourism cooperation was held in Brest.

The development of tourism cooperation and the efforts of both countries to expand border infrastructure are of great importance, as evidenced by the numbers of border crossings. In 2019, the Polish-Belarusian land border was crossed more than 8.8 million times (a decrease of about 2% compared to 2018). During this period, more than 3.364 million Belarusians visited Poland, thus taking second place after citizens of Ukraine (more than 10.4 million people). The Polish border service refused 4,989 Belarusians, 1,712 of whom did not have a valid visa.5

37 Belarusian citizens applied to Poland for international protection. At the same time, the Polish consular services issued almost 360 thousand visas for citizens of Belarus. The visa-free regime6 is gaining popularity among Polish citizens,7 as well as among tourists crossing the border at Minsk-2 International Airport.

In 2019, a number of joint cultural events were held. In particular, the 200th anniversary of the birth of the composer Stanislaw Moniuszko was celebrated. Polish theater companies took part in the festival “White Tower”, which was held in September in Brest. During the Listapad 2019 film festival, Polish Director Krzysztof Zanussi was awarded a special award by the President of Belarus. Finally, the Polish film “Boże Ciało” (“Corpus Christi”) directed by Jan Komasa won the audience award and the special jury prize of this festival.

Conclusion

Political and economic relations between Belarus and Poland are developing in a positive direction, as evidenced by density and the level of bilateral visits and consultations held in 2019. At the same time, the most important issues in bilateral relations were security issues. Although Poland and Belarus are members of alternative military alliances, both countries have common interests in this area, if to take into account European rules such as the Vienna Document 2011, the CFE Treaty, the Treaty on Open Skies, or the NATO Partnership for Peace program, in which Belarus participates.

The experience of the past year shows that Poland and Belarus are interested in deepening energy cooperation, which, however, will largely depend on the political will of the authorities of both states.

It is obvious that issues of historical memory and historical policy become an increasingly important issue requiring bilateral consultations.

The basis of mutual relations remains border cooperation, although in this regard, further improvement of the legal and contractual framework is necessary. The settlement of the status of the Union of Poles or the development of Polish education in Belarus could help to improve relations between Poland and Belarus.

All these issues will not lose their relevance in 2020, despite the fact that mutual relations are expected to remain at the same level. It should also be emphasized that in 2019, the actions of the official Warsaw demonstrated interest in the independence of Belarus.