Russia’s Risible Claim on Poland’s Ukraine Aims Points to a Desperate Putin

In Polish media, the assertion by the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service was promptly reported as propaganda, while Ukraine was more overtly derisive.

AP/Bernat Armangue
The Ukrainian flag flatters at half mast near the Ukrainian Motherland monument at Kyiv November 29, 2022. AP/Bernat Armangue

While an unfounded Russian claim that Poland has designs on some Ukrainian territory was swiftly batted down by Kyiv as bogus, it will be seen as more evidence that the Kremlin is turning to desperate measures to shore up flagging domestic support for its months-long invasion of Ukraine. 

In an interview with the state-run RIA Novosti agency, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, Sergei Naryshkin, claimed that Poland is preparing to seize three regions of western Ukraine that formed part of the Polish state between the two world wars. Mr. Naryshkin amplified his spurious assertion by claiming that Warsaw intends to hold referendums to “ensure the legitimacy of the planned acquisitions.”

In Polish media, Mr. Naryshkin’s claims were promptly reported as Russian propaganda, while Ukraine was more overtly derisive. A top adviser to President Zelensky, Mykhailo Podoliak, said in a tweet, “Statements of the speakers from the Russian Federation about ‘Poland’s plans to annex western Ukraine’ is another attempt of the Kremlin to sow distrust between friends… Ukraine and Poland are laughing at it. Together.”

While relations between Poland and Ukraine have grown closer since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, they have not always been rosy. This month, for example, Polish lawmakers criticized Ukraine’s appointment of Andriy Melnyk to the post of deputy foreign minister on account of his public espousal of a pro-Ukrainian narrative with respect to the massacre of Poles in the Volhynia and Eastern Galicia regions during World War II. Also, the Polish government will soon be asking more Ukrainians who have taken refuge in Poland since the war began to start paying their own way, the New York Times reported. 

In any case, the Russian spy chief’s suggestion that Poland is “speeding up preparations for the annexation of the territories of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and most of the Ternopil region of Ukraine” is almost as predictable as it is preposterous. Mr. Naryshkin is the same man to whom President Putin gave a stunning dressing down at the outset of the invasion. Given that unenviable kind of interpersonal history, Mr. Naryshkin’s distortions can be seen as not simply trying to undercut Western and NATO unity on aid for Ukraine, but also as currying favor with the world’s most ruthless boss. 

It would appear that Mr. Putin needs all the support at Moscow he can get, hollow or not. The independent Russian news site Meduza reported that according to leaked internal Kremlin polling, more than half of Russians are now in favor of peace talks with Ukraine — and only a quarter want the invasion to continue. As recently as July, less than a third of respondents favored negotiations. The plunging support follows Mr. Putin’s mobilization of thousands more men to Ukraine and the abysmal showing of Russian troops on the battlefield. 

Despite the dwindling public support for the war, the Russian strongman is still by most accounts desperate not to lose the debilitating fight he picked with Kyiv more than nine months ago.

There was no immediate indication of an official Polish government response to the false Russian claims. The worse things go for Moscow as winter in Ukraine sets in, though, the more we can count on the Kremlin’s well-oiled propaganda machine to keep the disinformation flowing.

The New York Sun

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