Speech by Ms. Elżbieta Witek, Speaker of the Sejm Republic of Poland, at the High Level Meeting of Speakers of Parliaments of NATO Member Countries
2 June 2023, Vilnius
Photo by Viktoriia Chorna, Office of the Seimas
Szanowna Przewodnicząca Čmilytė-Nielsen,
Szanowne Panie Przewodniczące i Szanowni Panowie Przewodniczący Państw Członkowskich NATO,
The 16-th month of the war is underway, which in Russia's imperial plans was to end in three days. We are at a time of Ukraine's offensive and the special unity of NATO, which is entering a new era of defence. We are therefore participating in events that are changing the history of Europe. And most importantly, we are active participants.
We have stopped passively watching the violation of territorial integrity. We stopped "informing" Russia about our opposition from a safe distance and we began to take real actions. Here and now. And our meeting today, announcing the significant event i.e. the NATO Summit in July, is the best example of this.
How much tragedy and damage stems from Russia's aggressive attitude can be clearly seen in the misfortune of Ukrainian war refugees, in the deaths of soldiers and civilians, in the war crimes and in the destruction on the territory of Ukraine. However, atrocities are not the only dimension of the ongoing conflict. Because the war in Ukraine is also a proof of great international solidarity, which strengthens Ukraine's resistance and builds a coalition against aggressive actions in Europe.
NATO and the European Union member states have finally said a unanimous and firm "no" to Russian imperialism, against which Poland and The Baltic countries had warned many years earlier. They provided Ukraine with unequivocal and, most importantly, measurable support. And, among other things, this support allowed our neighbor to become an effective defender of its independence instead of being a victim of aggression.
That is why I believe that, when referring to the plan for long-term support for Ukraine, we should talk primarily from the perspective of international unity. The international community still has many areas in which it can and should show its support to Ukraine. We have already done a lot, but the war is not over and much remains to be done.
Supporting Ukraine is not only a matter of the physical security of NATO's Eastern flank and of Europe, but it also a matter of protecting democratic values that we all share. That is why I believe that every European state should participate in the reconstruction of Ukraine. Poland has defined its role and is making a great effort to fulfill it in the best possible way.
In our opinion, the long-term plan to support Ukraine is not only related to its post-war economic reconstruction, but to a whole range of activities in other areas that will strengthen its role in the new European reality. We see four such levels: military, political and diplomatic, economic and social. According to Poland, these areas make up a full long-term plan to support Ukraine. A plan that will make it a strong and independent state in accordance with the topic of today's debate.
A strong and independent Ukraine is a Ukraine free from invaders. The Ukrainian society does not allow any concessions to the aggressor. Therefore, the proposals to conclude possible agreements that violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine mean ignoring the voice of millions of Ukrainian citizens. It is also an extremely dangerous idea. We must not fall for the "peaceful illusions" for the second time, which may bring further concessions to Russia. NATO countries should provide military support to Ukraine to such an extent that would force Moscow to make peace including the full recovery of the territories occupied by the Russian army. All other agreements will only suspend Russia's imperial plans.
That is why Poland remains at the forefront of countries sending weapons, ammunition and military equipment to Ukraine. We are also the leader in terms of the number of trained Ukrainian soldiers. At the same time, we are constantly trying to encourage our allies to make bold decisions regarding military support for Ukraine. We need a tough and common NATO position, because this is the only way to stop Putin. Let us not give in to threats that our military support will be treated as a direct hostile action. Let us remember that according to the official message of the Kremlin, NATO and European Union countries are already at war with Russia.
A strong and independent Ukraine is the Ukraine being a member of the European family. We have no doubt that the upcoming summit in Vilnius will be crucial for the future NATO-Ukraine relations. Our partner expects us to send a clear message on the terms of their membership. Poland understands that the future of Ukraine lies in NATO, and at the same time we understand that some Allies are not ready to make decisions about such serious commitments. Nevertheless, we should not give up trying to find a compromise on this issue. We believe that the Annual National Program should be restored, which would allow Ukraine to prepare for membership. In our opinion, it is also very important to strengthen the political dialogue between NATO and Ukraine. That is why we see the plans to create a NATO-Ukraine Council as a very good and necessary step in this direction.
Equally important and necessary for Ukraine is the integration into the European Union – a process that we should go through together and in which we should all play an active role. Ukraine's task is to face the challenge of carrying out the reforms required by the European Commission. We, in turn, should convince all those who are undecided and thus provide Ukraine with political support, which will be crucial for launching the integration process. Ukraine's place is in the European family and I am convinced that since 24 February last year none of us has had any doubts about this.
A strong and independent Ukraine is an economically stable Ukraine. The latest estimates of reconstruction costs put the figure at $411 billion. The costs of reconstruction more than double Ukraine's GDP from last year. This is an effort that a country plagued by the war cannot bear on its own.
And that is why it is an area of action for international solidarity. This is the place for funding programs prepared by the European Union, international financial institutions and foreign partners who will join the reconstruction process. During his recent visit to Warsaw, President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Poland should play an important role in this process, due to the great help that Ukraine has received. On that day, our countries signed an official agreement on this matter.
At the same time, we must not forget Russia's responsibility for the destruction it caused. In our opinion, it should be properly enforced. Financial institutions have frozen about $350 billion in Russian assets. Poland, together with other countries, is striving for these funds to be taken over and used to rebuild Ukraine as a severe and tangible punishment for hostile actions against it.
Especially since many areas require immediate support. The greatest damage concerns housing and infrastructure, i.e. areas that directly affect Ukrainian citizens. It is also very important to rebuild schools and hospitals – so that society can function normally. In our opinion, investments in the reconstruction of the energy sector and the development of renewable energy, which will allow Ukraine to diversify its raw materials, are also very important.
In this context, it is worth emphasizing that Polish entrepreneurs want to actively support Ukraine in its reconstruction. Due to their great interest, the Ministry of Development and Technology has launched a call for Polish companies interested in resuming exports and participating in the reconstruction of Ukraine. According to current data, over 2300 companies representing the construction, machinery, IT, pharmaceutical and medical, food and automotive industries have registered.
Another form of our support is to enable Ukrainian entrepreneurs to continue their business activity on the territory of Poland: since the beginning of the war, about 23,000 Ukrainian citizens have taken advantage of this opportunity. In this way, we want to help Ukrainian companies to stay active. This allows us to build human capital, which after returning to Ukraine will be able not only to participate in the reconstruction process, but also to share the knowledge and good practices gained in Poland.
A strong and independent Ukraine is a socially healthy Ukraine. Unfortunately, as a result of the war, this country is experiencing a drastic deterioration in the physical and mental health of its inhabitants. According to the World Health Organization, 10 million Ukrainian citizens are at risk of mental disorders - acute stress, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. We cannot remain indifferent to this great problem. The state is strong with the strength of its society and therefore one of the directions of our long-term support should also be extensive social and health assistance. Assistance that will enable Ukrainian citizens to return to normal social functioning.
There is no social group in Ukraine that would not experience the war painfully. From the media we receive information about the terrible fate of prisoners of war and inhabitants of territories, which were under Russian occupation, women becoming instruments of war terror or children kidnapped into Russian captivity. These groups should be given special care of the international community. Poland and the Polish parliament remain very committed to this dimension of support. The Format of Women Speakers of the Parliaments, which I initiated, deals directly with the issue of supporting Ukrainian women and children as victims of the conflict. At the end of June, the Sejm will hold a meeting devoted to the protection of Ukrainian children taken prisoner by Russia and a conference on combating human trafficking.
In our opinion, a very important aspect of healing the society is also a fair accounting for the wrong done by detecting and punishing Russian war criminals. On 14 April, the Sejm adopted a resolution which concerns the prosecution of Russian perpetrators of war crimes committed in Ukraine. It indicates, m.in, the need to establish a Special Tribunal to adjudicate on their guilt and to establish an International Centre for the Prosecution of the Aggression Crimes, which will allow to secure the evidence. We believe that this course of action should also be an important element of Ukraine's long-term support.
Ladies and gentlemen,
16 months of war in Ukraine shows that international unity is a dynamic phenomenon and it is worth working on it. NATO cooperation is the best example of this. A year ago, it seemed that within the framework of our unity, it was impossible to supply Ukraine with tanks, but over time it turned out that it was possible. It seemed that within the framework of our unity it was impossible to provide Ukraine with air defense systems, let alone aircraft. Meanwhile, the first Patriot system arrived in Ukraine in April, and a coalition was recently formed to deliver the F-16 aircraft. This shows that our international unity is not only evolving, but more importantly it is becoming more pragmatic and effective.
And this is an extremely important attitude. Ukraine will be strong and independent thanks to our unity. Only then is it possible to implement a long-term support plan. We can outline the areas that require our attention, we can list the actions to be taken. But the truth is that alone will not be able to do much. It is through international unity that we have reached this place, and it is through international unity that we will be able to move on. Towards a strong and independent Ukraine and towards a strong and independent Europe.
Therefore, I appeal to you to maintain international unity on Ukraine. Because this unity is our most effective weapon. It is this unity that Russia fears, and it is this unity that protects Ukraine and protects our countries. Let us be united, strong and determined.
Eglė Saulė Trembo