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What’s at stake as Kaczynski returns to Poland’s front line

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For the past five years, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the founder of Poland’s dominant Law and Justice party, has been the central European nation’s de facto leader, pulling the strings from a nondescript office in downtown Warsaw, despite having no official role in government.

But on Wednesday, he returned to front-line politics, taking up the post of deputy prime minister in a cabinet reshuffle designed to stifle a power struggle in the ruling coalition. Here’s a summary of what’s at stake:

Why is Mr Kaczynski back in government?

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, right, announces the changes next to Jaroslaw Kaczynski on Wednesday © Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta/Reuters

Since sweeping to power in 2015, the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice has ruled in coalition with two smaller parties: the moderate Agreement of Jaroslaw Gowin, and the arch-conservative United Poland of Zbigniew Ziobro, the hardline justice minister.

In recent weeks that arrangement has been brought close to breaking point by the escalation of a long-running power struggle between prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Mr Ziobro, both of whom are potential successors to the 71-year-old Mr Kaczynski as leader of the right.

Insiders say that one element of Mr Kaczynski’s return is to rein in Mr Ziobro, whose party triggered the crisis by refusing to back two bills put forward by Law and Justice on fur farming and other animal rights issues, and immunity for officials who broke the law in their attempts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t think that [relations between Ziobro and Morawiecki] could get much worse,” said one senior figure from the ruling camp. “This fight’s got nothing to do with [the immunity law] or the fur trade or anything like that. It’s just another battle in the war [to succeed Kaczynski].”

Will the reshuffle end the power struggle?

Zbigniew Ziobro, the justice minister at loggerheads with Mateusz Morawiecki © Adam Stepien/Agencja Gazeta/Reuters

In the short term, the cabinet reshuffle has avoided the collapse of the coalition and early elections, which Law and Justice officials mooted after Mr Ziobro’s party refused to back their bills last month. But few observers think that it has resolved the clash between Mr Morawiecki and Mr Ziobro.

Mr Kaczynski’s return is uncomfortable for both men in different ways. It puts Mr Morawiecki in the awkward position of having a formal deputy who is his de facto boss. The fact that Mr Kaczynski will oversee the defence, interior and justice ministries is a clear attempt to clip Mr Ziobro’s wings.

But the fact that Mr Kaczynski did not eject United Poland from the ruling camp means that the coalition will continue to be marked by the ideological split between its more moderate and hardline wings, as well as the personal rivalry between Mr Ziobro and Mr Morawiecki.

“[Mr Kaczynski’s return] will calm things down for now. But the price of keeping Ziobro inside the tent is that, sooner or later, these problems are going emerge again,” said Ben Stanley, associate professor at SWPS University in Warsaw.

What does this mean for Law and Justice’s policies?

Zbigniew Rau is seen as a more ‘political’ foreign minister © Lajos Soos/MTI/AP

Beyond Mr Kaczynski’s return to frontline politics, the most striking aspect of Wednesday’s reshuffle was the appointment of Przemyslaw Czarnek, a lecturer at a Catholic university, who said earlier this year that LGBT people were “not equal to normal people”, as science and education minister.

Mr Czarnek’s appointment has been widely interpreted as a sign that the ruling camp, which has made a strident defence of traditional Catholic values as part of its platform, is likely to continue with its drive to embed its deeply conservative values in all aspects of public life.

“The intention is to use the reforming of academia as a way for Law and Justice to extend the reach of its culture war. We’ve seen something similar in Hungary with [prime minister Viktor] Orban going after, for example, gender studies,” said Mr Stanley.

As Mr Morawiecki unveiled the new government on Wednesday, he said nothing concrete about policy. But senior Law and Justice figures have previously made clear that the initiatives that have formed the core of the party’s political platform, such as a contested judicial overhaul that has sparked fierce criticism from Brussels, will also be continued.

How will reshuffle affect Poland’s relations with EU?

The technocrat Jacek Czaputowicz was replaced by Zbigniew Rau © AFP/Getty Images

Since Law and Justice came to power, Poland’s relations with Brussels have been frayed by clashes on everything from the judicial overhaul to migrant relocation and the environment. The ruling camp’s anti-LGBT rhetoric has also drawn international criticism and prompted 50 ambassadors and representatives to Warsaw to sign an open letter in defence of LGBT rights last week.

Aleks Szczerbiak, professor of politics at the UK’s University of Sussex, thought the ruling camp was gearing up a period of choppier relations with Brussels and pointed out that the government now had a “more political” foreign minister, following the replacement of the “technocratic” Jacek Czaputowicz with Zbigniew Rau, which took place a few weeks before the reshuffle.

“As far as Law and Justice were concerned, Czaputowicz was insufficiently robust in terms of defending Poland. He wasn’t enough of a fighter,” said Mr Szczebiak. “Someone like Rau is there because [Law and Justice believes] that there is a period of turbulence likely to come up in the international arena and you need political fighters, not technocrats.”



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'It’s more than sport – every day we are fighting for our rights to be equal’

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French pro basketball player and podcaster Diandra Tchatchouang on her role beyond the court



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Emily Dean on how allyship amplifies the female experience on film

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When I was six years old, I decided to be an artist. When I was 12, I decided to be a filmmaker. And instead of saying no, you can’t do that, or it’s not possible, my mum bought me a video camera.

After several years of working in the industry, I’m working with a female director for the first time. And it’s been such a gratifying experience. Women express leadership in different ways. Maybe you don’t have to be the loudest person in the room. But you can have great ideas.

And the best thing about being mentored by women and being a mentor to women is that make friends with women.

There’s something so powerful the women coming alongside other women, especially in a group setting. Because it means that you can and back each other up. You can support each other’s decisions, and you can amplify each other’s voices.

It’s about seeing yourself in your work. Seeing some part of yourself reflected is really gratifying. It’s also important that we speak up for female characters. I want to see girls and women on screen who have the whole cacophony of experience of what it’s like to be female.

I want to see their flaws. I want to feel their struggles. I want to see their joy. That is so important to making a character feel real. And it took me a little while to settle into myself and realise, if the characters I like to come up with are not your everyday run of the mill characters you see in animation, that’s fine. Because this is who I am.

When you walk into a story room, when you’re working on a film, you have to leave your ego at the door. I think that can be interpreted like keep your ego out of the work. But I’d also say for women who are maybe more shy that leaving your ego at the door means you walk in. And your job is to focus on what’s best for the story and for the film.

The story needs you. The film needs you, and it needs your best ideas. It won’t thrive unless you speak up.



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Crimea ‘water war’ opens new front in Russia-Ukraine conflict

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When a cyclone drenched Crimea in rainfall last month, rivers burst their banks and thousands of people in the Russia-annexed peninsula had to be evacuated from the floods.

The silver lining to the deluge was that the rains also filled Crimea’s depleted reservoirs, temporarily alleviating a crisis brought on by an extended drought and a Ukrainian blockade of the Soviet-built canal that previously provided up to 85 per cent of the peninsula’s water supplies.

Moscow’s struggle to supply Crimea’s 2.4m residents with fresh water has become a flashpoint in an undeclared war, seven years after Russian troops seized Crimea from Ukraine. An even longer conflict between Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 14,000 lives.

Russia has accused Ukraine of “genocide” over the building of a concrete dam across the North Crimean Canal, in addition to the existing sandbag and earth dam that was built in 2014. Kyiv fears that Moscow is plotting a military incursion to secure water flows from the nearby Dnipro river.

Coupled with surging food prices and international isolation because of western sanctions, the water shortages threaten to undermine President Vladimir Putin’s promise of a better life for Crimeans under Russian rule.

Though state-run pollsters claim Putin remains more popular in Crimea than on average across Russia, the patriotic fervour that sent his approval ratings to record levels after the 2014 annexation has long since subsided.

Map showing Ukraine and the North Crimean Canal, Crimea

“The water reserves and fields have dried up,” said Viktor, 47, a Crimean who regularly travels to Ukraine for work. “Each year it’s getting worse and worse. We didn’t have this problem before annexation,” he said, adding that most Crimeans blamed Ukraine for the crisis.

A $3.7bn bridge across the Kerch Strait linking Crimea with mainland Russia has become a conduit for trucks ferrying water for locals to take away in plastic containers. Popular Black Sea tourist resorts can turn on their taps for just a few hours a day during peak droughts, while the canal has filled with grass and weeds.

Crimea’s agricultural output has fallen owing to a lack of irrigation, making it all but impossible to grow water-intensive crops such as rice.

Construction of the canal began in 1957 after the Soviet Union transferred the arid peninsula to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to manage rebuilding after the second world war. The waterway allowed for the cultivation of arable land and helped transform Crimea into a haven for tourists.

“The canal symbolises the stupidity of the Kremlin in occupying Crimea. They didn’t weigh the consequences at a moment of electoral euphoria that was fed by their own propaganda,” said Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister in charge of reintegration policies for the occupied territories.

“Why didn’t you think about water?” he asked.

The North Crimean Canal is seen with a low level of water
The severely depleted North Crimean Canal previously provided up to 85% of the peninsula’s water supplies © Pierre Crom/Getty

Workers collect potatoes on the North Crimean Canal
Workers collect potatoes on the North Crimean Canal. Ukraine blocked the irrigation channel after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea © Pierre Crom/Getty

Russia, while pressing Ukraine to reopen the waterway, has launched a Rbs50bn ($680m) programme to bolster Crimea’s supplies, repairing crumbling infrastructure, drilling wells, adding storage and desalination capacity.

Russian prosecutors last week filed a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights accusing Ukraine of “flagrant violations” over the issue. Crimea’s governor plans to file a separate complaint demanding up to Rbs1.5tn in compensation.

“Kyiv has essentially used Crimea’s infrastructure dependence on Ukraine, which came about in the Soviet era, as a weapon of mass destruction against all Crimeans. The water blockade is an act of state terrorism and ecocide, but the international community is failing to notice the Kyiv regime’s crimes,” Sergei Aksyonov, the peninsula’s governor, said in written comments to the Financial Times.

Reznikov said Russia, as the occupation force, was responsible under the Geneva Conventions for securing water and other basic needs for local the population. Ukraine has filed its own multi-billion-dollar claims against Russia, citing losses caused by what it describes as an illegal land grab.

With tensions rising, Russia deployed tens of thousands of troops and advanced weapons to Crimea this spring, as well as to the border of the two breakaway eastern regions where Moscow-backed separatists have battled government troops into an eighth year.

Col Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine’s army intelligence unit, said Russia was looking to seize the canal as well as adjacent territory to connect Crimea with the breakaway regions. Russian troops could advance on Nova Kakhovka, the Dnipro river town where the canal begins.

Some Crimean Tatars, an indigenous ethnic group whose members largely opposed Russia’s annexation, have set up a makeshift camp near the dams to make sure the water flow does not resume.

A Crimean Tatar activist on the North Crimean Canal
A Crimean Tatar activist enters his base on the North Crimean Canal. Tatars have set up camp to make sure the water flow does not resume © Pierre Crom/Getty

A Ukraine military vehicle drives past a Soviet monument marking the entrance to Brylivka
A Ukraine military vehicle drives past a Soviet monument marking the entrance to Brylivka, a village on the North Crimean Canal © Pierre Crom/Getty

“It will be a full-scale war,” said a 55-year-old activist who gave his name as Alibaba. He said he and his fellow activists were willing to take up arms to defend the blockaded canal. “There will be nowhere to hide in these fields. Let them try,” he added.

At the Kalanchak border crossing near the new dam, Russian and Ukrainian troops have dug trench positions a few hundred meters apart.

Tensions have also flared in the Black Sea, not just with Ukraine but also with western navies. Russia fired warning shots in the path of a British destroyer sailing through contested waters off Crimea last month. Sevastopol, Crimea’s largest city, is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

Moscow has insisted it would not go to war over Crimea’s water supplies, even as it conceded that Ukraine was unlikely to restore them. “All these hysterical statements from Ukrainian politicians are completely baseless — they’re just stupid, aggressive propaganda aimed at inciting hatred between the Russian and Ukrainian people. There won’t be any ‘water war’,” Crimea governor Aksyonov said.

Reznikov, the Ukrainian minister, said Kyiv was ready to provide Crimea with humanitarian assistance, including drinking water, which it already does for the separatist-run eastern territories, but no request had been made.

“For Russia to admit they’re weak is very difficult . . . it would amount to an admission that they made the wrong decision,” he said.



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