Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference after a meeting of the State Council on youth policy in Moscow, Russia, December 22, 2022.
Sergey Guneev | Sputnik | Reuters
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has slammed his Russian counterpart, saying Vladimir Putin is behaving like a colonialist.
“Vladimir Putin wants to enslave Ukraine, he wants to expand his regime across the Ukrainian territory, [to] take away Ukrainians’ freedom. Why? Because Ukrainians decided they want to be part of the community of free nations. They want to be part of the European Union, they want to be part of NATO,” Duda told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday.
Duda, one of Putin’s fiercest critics and Ukraine’s most vocal allies, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February was spurred on by Kyiv and other former Soviet republics moving away “from the old Soviet sphere of influence towards free, democratic countries.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands and hug during their press conference on August 23, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Alexey Furman | Getty Images
He said the “free world” — a Cold War term referring to Western democracies — had to ask itself, “do we allow countries to be enslaved by tyrants like Putin who deny all democratic rules, who want to introduce terror, who try to enslave others and take advantage of their own potential for their own benefit? Or do we think that the free world can progress and every country has the right to self determine?”
“If that’s what we believe in, we have to defend Ukraine,” he said.
Modern-day Russia and Poland share a turbulent history. Poland was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1939 and remained heavily influenced by Soviets until 1989 — when a series of revolutions in eastern Europe ended Communist rule and helped spur on the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Group member Poland plays an instrumental role in the NATO military alliance, effectively marking the eastern frontier of NATO territory with Ukraine and Belarus. It has not been immune to the effects of the Ukraine war, as millions of Ukrainian refugees crossed in to seek local refuge or head into Europe beyond. In November, a stray missile landed on Polish territory, killing two citizens.
The war in Ukraine has prompted widespread concerns among countries that used to be within Russia’s sphere of influence — particularly Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — that Putin aspires to recreate a Russian empire.
Duda said Poland “was fully aware of the fact that these imperial, colonial aims are resurfacing,” adding that Warsaw rejected any notion of coming under “Russkiy mir” — a term that means “Russian world” and refers to Russia’s cultural influence and the notion of “Russianess.”
“Russia is basically behaving like a colonial country. It wants to colonize others, take away their freedoms, exploit their resources. It wants to juice other people’s potential, their economic potential, their natural resources. Today, that’s what’s happening in Ukraine. It would be the same for other countries,” the Polish president said.
Duda described Russia as wanting to extend its sphere of influence for centuries. “Poland was partitioned for 123 years. Parts of Poland were under Tsarist rule, so we’re perfectly aware what is happening. So that’s why we’re defending ourselves. If someone says ‘Russkiy mir’ — ‘Russian world’ or ‘Russian peace’ — we say absolutely no! Anything but Russia, anything but the Russian sphere of influence.”
CNBC has reached out to the Russian foreign ministry for comment.