"At the border crossing in Hrebenne, in front of the Polish barrier, eight trucks are arranged in a "herringbone" pattern on both lanes of the road. They are positioned so that a car or bus can pass between them, but not a truck," Polish volunteer, head of the Pogoń Ruska association Rafał Roszkiewicz tells LIGA.net.

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A tent has been set up near the strikers, where sausages are being fried. Nearby are dry closets. The police are chatting with the strikers and eating sausages – without any attempts to intervene.

Meanwhile, the line of trucks trying to get from Poland to Ukraine stretches for a little over 60 kilometers, all the way to the city of Zamość.

The strike by Polish carriers began on November 6, when they began blocking truck traffic around the clock at the Krakivets-Korczowa, Yahodyn-Dorohusk, and Rava-Ruska-Hrebenne checkpoints. Since then, hundreds of trucks have been stuck at the border. Two Ukrainian drivers died while waiting to cross the border.

On November 23, Polish strikers began a blockade of the fourth checkpoint, Medyka-Shehyni. According to official data, it will be blocked until November 26, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, tells LIGA.net. According to unofficial sources, the blockade may also become round-the-clock after February 26.

The organizers of the strike stated that they do not plan to prevent the import of humanitarian aid or critical cargo to Ukraine.

This protest may be related not only to the demands to change the situation in which Ukrainian truck drivers allegedly "take jobs from Poles." Russian special services may be involved, an intelligence source told LIGA.net.

We look into how the blockade of the Polish-Ukrainian border could be used by the Russians and how this version is perceived in Poland.

WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT THE RUSSIAN TRACE

The connection between the organizers of the rally and the Russians can be traced as part of the usual monitoring of events, Oleksandr Danyliuk, head of the Center for Defense Reforms and former advisor to the Minister of Defense, tells LIGA.net.

REFERENCE. In early 2023, the UK-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) presented a report (co-authored by Danyliuk), which stated that Russia's plan was to invade Ukraine within 10 days and annex it by August 2022.In spite of the breakdown of their initial strategy and the compromise of some covert assets in Ukraine, Russian intelligence appears to still view special operations of its intelligence services as highly important. Protests and trade union strikes may become one of the tools of Russian influence.

The official organizer of the blockade of Poland's border with Ukraine is a representative of the far-right party Confederation Liberty and Independence in the Lublin Voivodeship, Rafał Mekler.

Рафал Меклер (Фото зі сторінки Меклера в Х)
Rafal Meckler (Photo from Meckler's page in X)

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, his transport company Rafał Mekler Transport, together with other companies involved in the blockade (Kam-Trans, Jata-Trans, BOR-TOM, GLT POLSKA, KMS LOGISTYKA and PEO-TRANS), have repeatedly held rallies demanding the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions, analysts at the Center for Defense Reforms note.

The leader of the Confederation's list in this year's Polish Sejm elections, Ziemowit Przebitkowski, is a former leader of the All-Polish Youth movement. This organization has long-standing ties to the Russian Imperial Movement, which, among other things, recruited terrorists for the “DPR” and “LPR” terrorist organizations. And also with the paramilitary right-wing radical group Zadrużny Krąg - Dywizja Słowiańska (ZKDS), which cooperates with the neo-Nazi group Rusich, which is currently fighting in the Russian army.

Another participant in the strike on the Polish border, the owner of PEO-Trans, is a citizen of the Republic of Belarus, Viktor Gordeyuk, who is affiliated with the Belarusian army and is studying at one of the higher military educational institutions of Belarus, the authors of the study stress.

This information is confirmed by the intelligence community.

"These individuals and companies had repeatedly participated in demonstrations demanding the lifting of sanctions against Russia – even before the border blockade," the source said. "They are associated with right-wing radical organizations whose representatives are fighting against Ukraine"

LIGA.net's intelligence source also notes that the likelihood of Russian involvement in this strike is very high indeed.

"Polish law enforcement is aware of all these connections. They also considered transportation firms set up by Russian and Belarusian citizens as a threat to national security," Danyliuk said. "They must understand that not only pro-Russian forces are involved in the strike. There are people from Russia and Belarus who are directly involved in the special services of these countries."

NOT JUST THE ECONOMY. HOW THE STRIKE AFFECTS UKRAINE

In addition to the obvious economic losses caused by the blockade, it also affects the country's defense capabilities.

"When ordinary civilian trucks are stopped, it has become more difficult to smuggle military cargo across the border. For example, military equipment for repairs," says Danyliuk. "First, this logistics is much more complicated. Secondly, we have to disclose the methods of these transportations: the vehicles used, the people involved, and the routes."

The Russians have been working hard to obtain this data since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In order for the strikers to get their vehicles across the border, drivers have to negotiate with them and explain that they are carrying goods from categories that they promised to let through. For example, humanitarian aid, Roszkiewicz tells LIGA.net. Then you have to wait for the blockade participants to allow the vehicle to pass as they let one vehicle through once every few hours.

Пропускний пункт Гребенне (Фото: Tomasz Bartecki)
Hrebenne checkpoint (Photo: Tomasz Bartecki)

It is difficult to visually understand whether a vehicle is carrying humanitarian aid, let alone whether it is aid for the army or for civilians, he says. Moreover, the strikers cannot see some of the vehicles waiting to pass.

But they can see which vehicles are crossing the border.

Even humanitarian aid is not allowed through without problems, says a Polish volunteer. His vehicle filled with medical equipment was allowed through only after 40 hours of negotiations.

"It didn't matter that we were Poles, that we were carrying aid on which human lives depended – TacMed equipment for the army near Bakhmut, medicines for frontline hospitals. We were dependent on the strikers' whims. After the death of the second Ukrainian driver who was waiting for the clearance, I ask myself: how many people lost their health or lives because medical aid and support for the Ukrainian army did not arrive on time?"

The Ukrainian military confirms that equipment, drones, or ordered parts they need are stuck in line at the Polish border.

In addition, the blockade is exhausting the volunteers.

"We are volunteers who travel in our free time and have to return to work upon our return. In addition, after almost two days at the border, we still need to get to the east of Ukraine," says Roszkiewicz. "After such an exhausting wait, it is simply dangerous to move on, even without entering the war zone.

The traffic recorded by Ukrainian border guards at the checkpoints does not ensure normal border crossing for the cargoes that the strikers promised not to block, confirms Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for the State Border Guard Service, to LIGA.net. Over the past day, for example, 150 trucks crossed the Yahodyn checkpoint in both directions. Before the blockade, it was 1,200-1,300 in both directions.

"We see from open sources that the kilometer-long queues of trucks also include fuel tanks. I don't know why they are standing in the general traffic if the blockade participants promised to let them through. But I am more than sure that they cannot ensure normal traffic for these categories of cargo," says Demchenko.

HOW POLAND PERCEIVES THE BORDER BLOCKADE

Despite the fact that Poland earnestly perceives Russia as a threat, neither political elites nor society consider the version of the Russian trace in the border blockade to be the key one, Łukasz Adamski, deputy director of the Juliusz Mieroszewski Dialogue Centre, tells LIGA.net.

"I do not rule out that Russian agents may be involved in these events. But it seems to me that it would be more politically constructive to understand the causes of this conflict," he explains, "especially since we cannot verify this information. Simply accusing someone of being a Russian agent is also an element of psychological pressure."

In Poland, however, the perception of the situation is different. The Confederation party simply used the action of a group of dissatisfied entrepreneurs who decided that only by blocking the border could they change the situation that was unfavorable for them, the Polish expert believes. For the Confederation, this is a convenient excuse to promote its narratives about the need to change messages about cooperation with Ukraine and to receive political dividends.

The Polish state will not actively intervene in the situation for now, Adamski believes. On the one hand, the transition period is ongoing: the old government is essentially gone in Poland, and the new one is still being formed. On the other hand, political elites feel somewhat offended by Ukraine.

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"There is a perception, perhaps wrongly so, that Ukraine has taken political steps that were not favorable to Poland. For the politicians who support Ukraine, this meant that they were paying an unnecessary political price for this support," Adamski says. "So now they are trying to help, but with less energy. They believe that if the blockade lasts longer, Kyiv will talk not only to Brussels or Washington, but also to Warsaw."

The way Russian propaganda is using the blockade is worrisome, said Michał Marek, founder of the Polish Contemporary Security Environment Research Centre Foundation. "Through various platforms, Russians are actively trying to stimulate the growth of Polish dislike for Ukrainians and destroy the positive image of Poland in Ukraine.

Prolonging the blockade is beneficial to Russia in order to increase the economic damage and efforts that both countries will have to make to resolve the crisis.

Coverage of the Russian trace in the blockade of the Ukrainian border also requires efforts, Danyliuk is convinced. "Citizens of European countries also need to understand the nature of these phenomena," he says. "The vast majority of Polish carriers, apart from a few marginal politicians, public figures, and companies, are not involved in the strike. Everyone is well aware of how dependent Ukraine is on this logistics."