Mr President, to start with, could you, please, explain the purpose of your visit and the nature of the agreements signed today between our countries spanning from agriculture through energy and defence?
President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda: I would like to make sure that mutual relations between Poland and Nigeria will develop and that this visit here, very important for me, not only because it takes place at a very specific time, but even more so because throughout 60 years of diplomatic relations between Poland and Nigeria, and we are actually celebrating their 60th anniversary, an auspicious occasion for our two countries – no Polish President has ever been to Nigeria. So, from this point of view, this visit is very important, because it is the first.
That being said, the timing is quite special. Now that we are faced with the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the ensuing energy crisis, potentially food crisis and the overall deterioration of the security situation not only in Europe, but also in the world, we find ourselves in a breakthrough situation. I do I believe that this visit will, therefore, not only contribute to the strengthening of our mutual relations and the beginning of new stages of cooperation between our two countries, but above all that it will strengthen our countries – both Nigeria and Poland.
And now, indeed new areas of cooperation open up, the ones that you have mentioned, cooperation in agriculture, cooperation in defence industry and in defence in general, as well as cooperation in energy. These three fields are at present of paramount importance.
The fact that today in our presence – of the two Presidents – the „Memorandum of Understanding” was concluded on cooperation in agriculture, including modern agricultural technology, and bilateral exports and imports, also food supplies, and food exports in both directions: from Poland to Nigeria, and also exports from Nigeria to Poland, serves to strengthen the effort. Added to this is cooperation in biotechnology and generally, in natural sciences, also nature conservation. And additionally, there is – of course – cooperation in the field of defence and energy, as previously mentioned, where there have already been the first deliveries of oil and LNG from Nigeria to Poland over the last few years, something which is now crucial.
So Poland is a ‘transit’ country – if you like – from Ukraine. Now that we are talking about the supply of grain from Ukraine to the world, what role is Poland playing?
Yes, we are indeed Ukraine's direct neighbour. That is why whenever I have the opportunity to meet with heads of state in Africa, especially states as important as Nigeria, and also in the African Union fold, where Nigeria features so importantly – I always make this point. I highlight the unique situation in which we, Poles, have found ourselves, being not merely observers but the ones who support today Ukraine, the country which – please, take it from me – has been attacked by Russia in an absolutely unjustified way.
This is an emanation and manifestation of Russian imperialism in the worst sense of the word. This is an attempt to take away the freedom of the Ukrainian people, to loot their property, just as grain stocks in Ukraine are being looted by the Russians today; just as agricultural equipment is being looted by the Russians in the occupied territories. The same is happening all across other sectors. The same is happening to Ukrainian industry. The Russians simply want to occupy, they want to plunder Ukraine, and this is happening before our very eyes.
That is why we support Ukraine with all our strength, that is why we help Ukrainians who are fleeing the war and make it to Poland, we welcome them in our homes in Poland, we assist them. We are talking millions of people. Over the past months, 5 million refugees from Ukraine have passed through Poland.
We send weapons to Ukraine, we help Ukraine. We are the second largest donor– after the United States – of military support, of arms for Ukraine. We have dispatched almost $2 billion in arms aid to Ukraine, so for us, for our country, this is an enormous burden. But at the same time, we realize that Ukraine today defends the freedom of Europe and also defends our freedom, our security. So, we support Ukraine, and we are very vocal worldwide about the true nature of this war.
All of this is additionally aggravated by a huge food problem. Ukraine is the great breadbasket of the world and especially of Africa, which was supplied with millions of tons of grain, sunflower oil and all sorts of agricultural crops from Ukraine over the past decades.
Therefore, there is a major threat emerging today: having invaded Ukraine, as they have, Russia is the one who is actually causing the food crisis, the crisis that needs to be addressed. We, as Poland, are trying to do our best. By doing so, we support the United Nations, the Secretary General, in the effort to unlock the routes for sending agricultural products from Ukraine to the world. This has partially succeeded, but efforts need to continue in the same vein, and obviously, some of the shipments are also dispatched through Poland.
You are talking about the issues of people fleeing Ukraine. At the beginning of the conflict there were allegations of racism and discrimination against people from Africa and elsewhere. People were turned back just because of the colour of their ski. What would you say about this? Why did it happen?
We monitored the situation, and we also got information from New York, from the United Nations headquarters, that some instances of racist behaviour were taking place on the Polish–Ukrainian border, especially targeting young people, students, men from African and Asian countries – because these were not only young people from Africa who were affected, but also from India, Pakistan. In general, they were in vast majority students who studied mainly in Kharkiv: Ukraine’s major university centre. They were fleeing the war, because Kharkiv was under attack, and they were among the hundreds of thousands of refugees on the Polish–Ukrainian border.
What was the source of the problem? The Ukrainians made a very firm decision: they decided to stop all Ukrainian men who could stand up to defend the country – they were not letting men through. As a result, there were mostly women and children queueing at the border. The queue was joined by young men, students, who were not Ukrainian citizens, they were not from Ukraine. Many of them were actually from African and Asian countries.
In our region it is customary that women with children always have priority. Accordingly, Ukrainian customs and soldiers would stop these men and direct them back to the end of the queue, saying: „No, you can't stand here, this is a place for women and children. You cannot.” The colour of the skin did not matter here.
On the other hand, admittedly, these were mostly students, young men. And because the situation was dramatic, it gave rise to many problems. But honestly, it had nothing to do with racial harassment. The situation at hand was very tense. Everyone thought that women with children had priority – and they also had priority in crossing the border.
We mobilized assistance for these students, and they found support in Poland. Diplomatic missions were also prepared for this. Today the President thanked me for the support that Poland offered to the Nigerian students. We managed to evacuate everyone.
The whole problem lasted no more than two weeks in total, but we received thanks from India and from Nigeria. The issue was resolved. Very few students were harmed. Unfortunately, a few were killed amidst war hostilities. In general, it was a very trying moment, which, fortunately, was resolved, and help was provided to all those who needed it.
Let me reiterate: it has not involved any racial harassment. There was a problem of people on the run.
Now I am talking about the implications or impact of the war in Ukraine. Russia has just announced that the main pipeline supplying gas to Europe, Nord Stream 1, would remain shut. Do you think Russia is doing this to punish European countries?
Yes, I have no doubt that Russia is using gas as a kind of weapon against Europe at the moment. This is precisely what we were warning of, as Poles, the countries of the European Union, Germany; we were warning the European Union institutions in Brussels that it would be dangerous to enter into such a close energy partnership with Russia. Because in the early 2000’s, Russia used gas deliveries to blackmail Ukraine, stopped gas supplies to Ukraine, leading to a disaster in the country at a wintertime, when this gas was needed for industry, but especially for heating homes.
Then we realized that Russia was using gas as a weapon. In the European Union, in Germany they did not pay heed to us. Nord Stream 1 was being built, Nord Stream 2 also under construction. We were pointing out: „This leads to Russian gas domination; this will allow Russia to monopolize the European market and pave the way for a gas blackmail.” But – unfortunately – we were not heeded.
Today, this has backfired on the European Union. The energy crisis that Russia has unleashed today through its policies – attacking Ukraine on the one hand and turning off gas for Europe on the other – is also the result of mistaken policies that have been pursued in Europe over the years.
We, at that time, were building alternative sources of supply. Because in terms of gas supply we were practically totally dependent on Russia. But we built an LNG terminal through which we are also supplied with gas from Nigeria – we have one that has been operating in Poland for several years now. We have also built new pipelines from the Norwegian shelf. We are planning to build another gas terminal in Poland. And what we have already implemented by now allows us, our country, Poland, to become completely independent from Russia.
Unfortunately, Europe did not follow this path and today is bearing tragic consequences of this. Russia has brought about a profound energy crisis in Europe.
So do you think your economy, Polish economy and the economies of other countries in Europe can survive and thrive without Russian oil and gas given the high dependence on Russia and the circumstances that the world has found itself now?
We will certainly need to brace ourselves for some difficult time in the coming months – in all Western Europe, including Central Europe. We will have to grin and bear it. A wave of crisis is to be expected – of that there is no doubt. Russia will play the gas weaponization card.
This is – regrettably – a great lesson to be learned by all of us in Europe, in the European Union. I think that in the end it will also be a huge drawback for Russia, because the way I see it, Europe will become completely independent of Russian supplies in the coming years. Western European countries are rich, they can afford to build gas terminals, they can afford to build new gas pipelines.
At the moment, new gas contracts are being concluded, for example, with Qatar, with the United States and other countries that have LNG, that can sell it being gas–producing countries, talks are underway with Nigeria. And this will be the option for Europe – in my opinion – to achieve a 100% alternative to Russian supplies within next few years. Ultimately, it will backfire on Russia. But today the Russian weapon is actually effective – it is plunging Europe into crisis.
You are in Africa. And recently we can see Russia is expanding its presence in Africa in the area of security for instance, and China also – in the area of economy, infrastructure and development. Some feel that the Western world is losing out in Africa. Do you think so given the growing ties between African countries and China as well as Russia?
I follow this process closely; I am aware of it and I understand it. Most unfortunately, Russia is in a way trying to colonize Africa. Using often very high–sounding words, it actually wants to consume African resources. But it also does not hesitate to use its military tools, such as the Wagner Group, which, under the guise of a supposedly independent company providing security services, is actually the Kremlin's arm of force operating in Africa, often in a very brutal and ruthless manner.
I think Africa should act very prudently, should be sensitive to Russian propaganda, no matter how efficient and misleading, often completely misleading. As a matter of fact, this is an imperial policy, and it would be good that people in Africa understand it – that this is a new attempt at colonization. And this is what Africa should guard against; avoiding partners who want to devour everything, who want to have a hand in every aspect of African economic life.
A genuine partner involves itself only in certain aspects and treats its co–operators with respect. This is a basic principle.
But some countries in Africa seem to be feeling comfortable with Russia and China at the moment – given years of relations with the Western world. And some say that perhaps what you are accusing Russia of is what has been happening over the years, Africa has become like a place where big powers are scrambling for resources.
A moment ago, we talked about the gas blackmail that Russia is using today against Western Europe. A very similar mechanism that is also spreading in Africa today. Russia offers its products, offers its support, often offers its assistance, but at the same time, through its extensive engagements and investments, they are in fact buying Africa, monopolizing the continent. The day may come – with the benefit of the hindsight from Europe – that it will do the same to African countries: it will turn off the tap and they will find themselves in dead end.
And that is the scenario I am warning against: an honest partner never resorts to the practices that Russia adopts today in Western Europe, purportedly their counterparty, and nowadays Russia’s victim when it comes to trade in energy. Previously, it did the same with Ukraine. An honest partner does not act like that.
That is why I wish to alert African countries to be cautious, because Russia is showing its true face – that it does not treat its counterparties as partners, but rather makes them dependent and then proceeds to exploit this dependence.
Given the implication of the war in Ukraine, the economic impact, energy crisis, food crisis, it appears they are also causing a lot of social and political unrest. We have seen some protests in some countries because citizens say the high cost of living is unbearable. As a political leader, are you personally worried about this economic impact? Isn’t it fuelling social and political unrest in countries such as yours?
Of course, I am. Of course, I see this, and I am extremely concerned about it, because after all, it has a massive impact on my country, Poland, as well. In our country, too, the prices of energy resources have skyrocketed, bearing heavily on our economy, on our households, on our families – this is a huge cost and a source of profound sense of insecurity in the public. Including inflation, which is galloping and is further stirred up by the crisis; the crisis triggered by the Russian aggression on Ukraine and by the overall growth of prices of production, but above its root cause was the increase in energy prices. And this is a universal phenomenon. It is not just a Polish problem; it is not just a European problem – it is a problem affecting a large part of the world today.
This boils down to the following question: should Ukraine be sacrificed at this juncture? Is it fair to say, „Let Russia take Ukraine then, as long as it is peaceful, as long as the war is over”?
As President of Poland, I do not consent to this. I do not consent to such an arrangement where some, for the sake of their uncompromised standard of living, for the sake of their possessions, should sacrifice the freedom of other people and of a country that has been unjustly and brutally invaded by the one who had power, had nuclear weapons and had a powerful army, many times larger than the victims of the invasion, and this imbalance of power was the only excuse. Where the big one has invaded the weaker one and crushes it.
And now – when half of the world is faced with the blackmail of the big one – voices will be heard: „Yes, then the weak one should be sacrificed, to satiate the hunger of the big one, to satiate his desire for land and freedom of the smaller ones.”
I cannot consent to it. This is a violation of international law. This is unjust. This is a violation of all principles. This is drawing us all into a world war. I do not consent to this.
Standing as a community of decent, democratic countries, we must endure this, we must weather this crisis, and punish Russia for having violated international law, for continued violation of international law, and for provoking a global crisis.
Finally, you talk about the attack by Russia. Before Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine many people would have predicted that it might not happen but it later happened. Do you feel it will end with Ukraine, or are countries such as yours vulnerable, are they likely to be invaded by Russia?
Back in 2008, exactly in August 2008, and we have we recently celebrated the 14th anniversary of the event – Russia attacked Georgia. The then Polish President Lech Kaczynski among whose collaborators I was at the time, serving my home country – stood together with other Presidents of Central European countries on the main street of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and said: „We must stop Russia, Russia is rearing its imperial head as we know it. Today Georgia, tomorrow perhaps Ukraine, then the Baltic States, and then perhaps my own country, Poland.”
What President Lech Kaczynski, a great Polish politician, had told us back then has unfortunately materialized. Georgia was attacked in 2008. Ukraine was first attacked in 2014, and now Russia has launched a massive, full–scale invasion on Ukraine.
If we, as international community, do not stop Russia today, as acting as decent states, as democratic states who do not consent to violations of international law, who do not condone any imperial dictate, colonial dictate against weaker states – if we do not stop Russia, we will have to reckon with further attacks, because this is what Russian imperialism is about.
And the Russians today make it clear – the Russian government, and not only government, regrettably. They make their intention to be a great Russia clear, to be a great Russian empire. That they want to restore the greatness of the tsars’ empire. The greatness of that empire means that Russia should occupy half of Europe and sizable parts of the world. We cannot agree to this. We are free, independent, we want to decide for ourselves, we want to be free nations. There is no consent for living under Russian occupation, under Russian bondage. We must defend ourselves, we must resist.
Thank you very much, Mr. President.
Thank you very much, too.
The anchor: Ishaq Khalid, BBC Africa
6.09.2022, Abuja (Nigeria)