Partitioning Ukraine — Polish imperialism or Russian vindication


Originally published in Latvian on

Mārcis Balodis, researcher at the Centre for East European Policy Studies

Since 24 February, Russia has come up with various conspiracy theories about and around the Ukrainian war. If talk of fascists and drug addicts in Ukraine is commonplace, the ideas of Ukraine wanting to create weapons of mass destruction or even being prepared to fire at its own nuclear power plant are certainly bizarre and quite creative. This includes the idea, repeated quite regularly, that Poland allegedly wants to occupy part of Ukrainian territory in order to restore Poland’s historical power.

A version for every taste

Back in late November, Sergei Naryshkin, Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) — a man who in theory should have reliable and substantiated information — claimed that Poland was preparing an action plan to annex the western territories of Ukraine, including even the organisation of referendums, to be used as compensation for the aid given to Ukraine and the inconvenience suffered as a result of the war.[1] However, this is by no means the first time Russian officials have tried to develop this idea. Already in spring 2014, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a prominent Russian politician, wrote to the Polish, Hungarian and Romanian embassies urging them to consider holding referendums on Ukrainian territory to effectively partition Ukraine.[2]

But this year’s activity is most likely due to the statement by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s Law and Justice party, in mid-March that a NATO peacekeeping mission could ensure peace in Ukraine.[3] A few days later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “explained” that Poland’s idea was based on a desire to take control of part of Ukrainian territory under the guise of a peacekeeping mission.[4]

At the end of April, the SVR Director reiterated the same idea, namely that Poland was working with the US on a plan for Poland to recover its “historical territories”, accompanied by the deployment of armed forces, justified as the defence of the territories against Russian aggression. Moreover, as Naryshkin stressed, such a mission would not be under a NATO mandate, but could be joined by other countries willing to do so.[5]

A month later, Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, developed this idea. He explained that Polish President Andrzej Duda’s statement that the Poland-Ukraine border should unite, not divide, was in fact an indication that the border would in fact soon disappear. What is more, such planning is taking place with the involvement of several countries, and even Kyiv’s message, namely that President Zelensky’s administration is even ready to grant Poles a special status in Ukraine, which allegedly shows the Western countries’ disinterest in the well-being and rights of the Ukrainian people.[6]

At the end of June, Naryshkin once again shared his conclusions. This time he argued that the success of the Russian armed forces on the battlefield was so great that Poland, like the US and the UK, saw a de facto annexation of Ukraine as the only way to prevent Russia from winning, in order to preserve Ukraine at least formally.[7]

In early November, President Vladimir Putin met with representatives of various religious organisations, during which he once again shared his views on history and current events. He pointed out that Poland’s former ideas of a state from the Baltic to the Black Sea have not disappeared. Moreover, he believes that modern Ukraine is made up of areas that were forcibly taken from Poland, Hungary and Romania throughout history. This reasoning led him to conclude that Russia has historically been the only state capable of guaranteeing Ukraine’s sovereignty. He even added that Russia had willingly ceded territories to Ukraine in order to create a common cultural-humanitarian space,[8] thus continuing the inherent idea of Ukraine’s artificial origins and inseparable ties with Russia.

Russia’s leading motive

Given that no Polish official has made statements in the slightest way substantiating the different views of Kremlin officials, these statements generally reflect Russia’s view of Ukraine and its sovereignty. As Putin pointed out both at the above-mentioned meeting and in statements that have already been widely circulated, in his view, and thus in the view of modern Russia, Ukraine is an artificial state whose territory is in fact made up of territories taken from other countries in the region.

In the Kremlin’s view, if Ukraine was built by Lenin, it can just as easily be dismantled and divided by Russia. This clearly and unequivocally calls into question not only Ukraine’s sovereignty, but also the right of Ukrainians as a nation to stand on their own and form their own state. This goes hand in hand with Putin’s thesis that only Russia can truly guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty.

That is to say that if Ukraine is an artificial state, to which Russia has voluntarily ceded part of its territory, then Russia today is the only state that can guarantee Ukraine’s security and inviolability.[9] Thus, by regularly reminding of the allegedly ambitious plans of Poland and other countries in the region to regain their former territories, the Kremlin believes this should encourage Ukrainians to move closer to Russia in the name of survival.

At the same time, it helps the Kremlin to develop a message, the main aim of which is to save Russia’s face, namely that Russia is actually waging a war against NATO, or at least against some of its members, not just Ukraine. The announcements about Poland’s alleged plans to annex Ukrainian territories try to paint a picture of much broader interests colliding in Ukraine, which makes it relatively easy to explain to Russian insiders why the war is protracted and why there is no end in sight.

This implies an additional subtext that is not so clearly expressed in words in this context. By constantly creating the impression that Ukraine’s supposed allies are ready to divide the country, a construction based on Western imperialism is being built. The Kremlin is trying to convince its audience that it is the West itself that is not only willing but ready to illegally partition Ukrainian territory and deny Ukrainians their own state. According to this logic, the West is the real aggressor, against which the Russian ideas of liberating Ukrainians themselves from Kyiv slavery or reclaiming historical territories look quite innocent and just.

Obviously, the war is being fought on several fronts simultaneously, and at the moment Russia is not able to gain a clear advantage on any of them. Hence the logical need to find the real culprit to use as a scapegoat, and the accusations of Polish imperialism serve several purposes here. This not only allows the imperialist attitude of modern Russia towards the Ukrainian state and its people to continue unobtrusively, but also provides a preemptive answer to the questions of where and when Russia’s promised victory is actually coming.

It is worth remembering that the audience for these messages is also the Western world. Russia’s aim in the context of the war is to undermine support for Ukraine and disrupt the ability of countries to stand together. Ideas about the imperialist tendencies of Poland and other countries in the region are part of an effort to make Western societies question the true meaning of what is happening. According to the Kremlin’s logic, casting doubt on Poland’s intentions would discredit Poland and gradually lead to internal divisions within the Western community.

This publication has been financed by the European Media and Information Fund (EMIF) that is managed by the “Calouste Gulbekian Foundation”:  The sole responsibility for the content lies with the author(s) and the content may not necessarily reflect the positions of EMIF or the foundation.

[1] RIA Novosti, “Нарышкин: Польша форсирует подготовку к аннексии Западной Украины”, skat. 19.12.2022.,

[2] BBC, “Жириновский предложил Польше поделить Украину”, skat. 19.12.2022.,

[3] Ukrinform, “Sustainable peace in Ukraine could be ensured by NATO peacekeeping mission – Kaczyński”, skat. 18.12.2022.,

[4] Interfax, “Лавров связал идею Польши о миротворцах НАТО с желанием контролировать запад Украины”, skat. 19.12.2022.,

[5] Interfax, “Глава СВР заявил о планах установления польского контроля над частью Украины”, skat. 19.12.2022.,

[6] Interfax, “Патрушев сообщил о начале захвата Польшей территорий Украины”, skat. 19.12.2022.,

[7] Екатерина Волкова, “Нарышкин: Польша готовит сценарий расчленения Украины”,, skat. 19.12.2022.,

[8] Президент России, “Встреча с историками и представителями традиционных религий России”, skat. 20.12.2022.,

[9] Stanislav Kuvaldin, “Why Russia Keeps Insisting That Poland Is Preparing to Partition Ukraine”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, skat. 17.12.2022.,