The Poland-Russia CBC: Great legacy, uncertain future

Katarzyna Maria Bartnik
Ph.D., Head
Joint Technical Secretariat of the Poland-Russia Cross-border Cooperation Programme 2014-2020

Łukasz Bielewski
MA, Director
International Cooperation Department, Office of the Marshal of the Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship

The 24th of February 2022 was the day when Russia attacked Ukraine and started a war that had seemed unimaginable in Europe of the 21st century. As a consequence, the 24th of February 2022 has also become the end of a number of forms of interregional cooperation between institutions from the European Union member states and from the Russian Federation.

Such situation i.e. sudden termination of formal relations was noticed in the Baltic Sea Region as well. The members of the Euroregion Baltic have decided to suspend the Kaliningrad Region’s membership. A similar approach has been taken by the Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation which suspended cooperation with Russian regions for an indefinite period. The Forum of the Parliaments of the South Baltic and its discussion to exclude from further joint works the Kaliningrad Regional Duma is another example of political consequences of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

What one could observed in case of multilateral formats took place in bilateral contacts as well. As for the Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship (region) of Poland, its authorities informed the Russian counterparts from the Kaliningrad Region the agreement between the two regions signed in 2001 was terminated with immediate effect. An interregional partnership which for years offered space for joint initiatives, high-level meetings and numerous contacts engaging Polish and Russian institutions and organizations has hereby come to an end. One of the perspectives this bilateral relation should be seen from is cross-border cooperation within the programme established by the European Union.

The Poland-Russia Cross-border Cooperation Programme for the programming period 2014-2020 has been a mechanism that undoubtedly encouraged Polish and Russian actors to work together on tackling concrete problems and obtaining tangible results. It became the successor to the Lithuania-Poland-Russia Cross-border Cooperation Programme 2007-2013. Before the outbreak of the war, Polish-Russian cross-border cooperation was very successful and raised many expectations for the future.

The Programme set out three priorities for cooperation in the Programme territory (Warmińsko-Mazurskie, Pomorskie, Podlaskie regions in Poland and Kaliningrad region in Russia). The first priority (’Heritage’) focused on preservation and development of historical, natural and cultural heritage. The second one (‘Environment’) supported cooperation for clean natural environment in the cross-border area. Within the third priority (‘Accessibility’), Polish-Russian projects were expected to work on developing sustainable transport and making the Programme area more accessible.

The largest number of joint Polish-Russian initiatives was implemented under the priority ‘Heritage’. With several hundred years of common history of ‘East Prussia’, the areas close to the border between Poland and Russia have similar cultural heritage. On both sides, there are numerous examples of cultural heritage sites, such as gothic castles and historic monuments. Cultural heritage is the driving force for tourism, which is a very significant economic sector of the north-eastern part of Poland and the Kaliningrad region. For this reason, a range of activities carried out by the projects within the priority ‘Heritage’ included infrastructure works in museums, castles and historic buildings, creation of exhibitions, construction of bicycle paths and revitalization of parks.

Many important projects were also implemented under the priority ‘Environment’. Environmental problems are specifically cross-border in nature. In particular, joint protection of lakes, rivers and groundwater is of immense importance as its impact reaches far beyond them and can seriously influence, for example, the condition of the Baltic Sea ecosystem. The environmental projects implemented within the Programme mostly concerned water and sewage management. As a result, a number of sewage treatment plants and water pumping stations were built or renovated, and several water and sewage networks were modernized.

The projects that were carried out under the priority ‘Accessibility’ focused on the improvement of the road system in the Programme territory. As part of the implemented activities, new roads were constructed and a number of road sections that had not met safety standards were upgraded.

Apart from the above-mentioned thematic areas, one of the most important dimensions of the Programme was people-to-people cooperation. Plenty of soft activities and joint events were conducted to integrate the Polish and Russian communities living in the cross-border area. Common implementation of the projects and everyday contacts between the project partners contributed to building trust and friendly neighbourhood.

However, the situation has changed dramatically after the Russian military aggression against Ukraine. For political reasons, many Polish project partners had to cut off cross-border contacts and complete the projects unilaterally. The relationships built over the years of cooperation have been tarnished. In line with the decision of the European Commission, cooperation between Poland and Russia for the new programming period 2021-2027 was suspended, and it seems that even if the war ends and the situation stabilises, it will be very difficult to return to good mutual contacts within cross-border cooperation on the Polish-Russian borderland.

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