Original by Stanislav Stremidlovskiy published by regnum.ru; translated from Russian by J.Hawk
The new Polish government formed in November 2015 by the Law and Justice (PiS) party which had won the parliamentary elections is awaiting signals from Moscow. This announcement was made by Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski on the TVN24 TV channel’s Horyzont program. He said that the key to improving Polish-Russian relations is in Moscow.
“Several weeks ago I asked my deputy to meet with Russia’s ambassador in order to propose consultations on the level of deputy ministers in the Russian capital,” Waszczykowski said, adding that he also supported the idea of renewing the dialogue with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council format during the NATO summit. The minister expected some form of an answer, “not a war of monuments, not expulsion of journalists,” however, he said that Russia does not want to notice “Polish signals” and instead it expelled Gazeta Wyborcza correspondent in Moscow Waclaw Radziwinowicz.
Let’s start from the end. This story reflects an important intrigue. On Friday, December 18, Radziwinowicz was summoned to the Russian MFA Department of Press and Information where he was informed his accreditation was being withdrawn which obliged him to leave Russia within 30 days. He was prohibited to submit materials for publication during that time period. Russian MFA spokesperson Mariya Zakharova explained that the expulsion was a retaliation for the expulsion from Poland of his Russian colleague, the RIA-Novosti correspondent-at-large Leonid Sviridov. This act surprised Gazeta Wyborcza which expected precisely the kind of reaction from Moscow that followed, but “we thought that Sviridov’s expulsion would be followed by an expulsion of a state information agency correspondent.” After all, the Russian journalist worked for state media, while Radziwinowicz works for a private newspaper, said GW chief editor Roman Imielski in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant. Poland’s MFA’s official statement signed by its press secretary Artur Dmochowski in connection with “the expulsion of a Polish correspondent from Russia” stated it considered expelling GW correspondent “baseless.” The ministry believes that “Russian authorities’ decision is an act of vengeance. His many years of work as a correspondent in RF is in no way comparable to the activities of Leonid Sviridov in Poland. We’d like to remind that depriving Sviridov of his accreditation and expelling him from Poland were not connected to his journalist activity. The decision to deprive him of the foreign correspondent status was made consistent with Polish law on the basis of the ABW (Internal Security Agency) information.”
If so, than Radziwinowicz’s expulsion can be explained in three ways. The first is that Russian MFA acted disproportionately, but that appears odd since that would give Poland the right to enact additional measures against Russian journalist corps in Warsaw. The second is that the Russian MFA applied logic in the case of Radziwinowicz similar to the phrase in Polish MFA’s announcement claiming that “depriving Sviridov of accreditation and ordering him to leave Poland was not connected to his journalist activities.” In other words, the Russian MFA had similar concerns about Radziwinowicz that Polish MFA had about Sviridov. Then there’s the third scenario which requires additional explanations. During all the years of III RP’s existence, Gazeta Wyborcza was not simply a paper, and its chief editor Adam Michnik was not simply a famous journalist. Especially during the most recent 8 years during which Poland was governed by PiS opponents, the Citizens’ Platform (PO) party. PiS supporters consider Michnik something akin to an “eminence grise” of Polish politics who was the gatekeeper of Warsaw’s political scene and who set priorities. Therefore as soon as government changed, PiS launched attacks against GW by announcing it will no longer place advertisements from the Cabinet of Ministers, ministries, and government agencies in GW. Yet this was a significant portion of Agora publishing house which prints GW. GW, in turn, is an implacable foe of PiS and, together with Newsweek Polska and his chief editor Tomasz Lis, represents the avant-garde of ceaseless media assaults on the PiS. Therefore it cannot be ruled out that when choosing candidates for expulsion from Moscow, Russian government agencies either “caught” signals from Warsaw or decided to seek a compromise with the new government in Poland. If so, what would it mean?
The “reset” in Polish-Russian relations already took place once before, namely five years ago. It was prompted by the tragic crash of the presidential plane in Smolensk in April 2010. The construction of the North Stream gas pipeline, which was earlier protested by the Polish government headed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski but which the later cabinet of Donald Tusk accepted more calmly, began that month. And in March 2009, during then-president Dmitriy Medvedev’s visit to Geneva, the first official meeting between Sergey Lavrov and US SecState Hillary Clinton took place. It began with Clinton coming out to meet Lavrov with a small box in her hands and a mysterious smile on her face. Hillary said: “I want to give you this small present from President Obama, VP Biden, and from me which symbolizes our desire to reboot our relations with Russia. And now we’ll press it together. We hope that we wrote that complex Russian word correctly.” Lavrov, however, clarified that the US “made a small mistake, it says ‘overload’ whereas it should have said ‘reboot’.” But Clinton did not make a mistake. What appeared to be romantic era of Russia-West relations swiftly came to an end during the 2013/14 winter after Kiev riots led to a war on the Donbass and a subsequent civil war. Polish III Republic, following Berlin and Washington, returned to the customary state of tension with Moscow, and the key to improving the dialogue was at that time in Poland’s capital. The Germans were setting the tone, and the ruling PO obediently followed Germany’s lead. PiS competitors were aligning themselves with the Americans, but in any event that too implied a harsh confrontation with Russia. Even though some Russian experts warned Kaczynski’s supporters that in the event of US 180 degree turn Warsaw might be left behind.
That’s how it turned out. As the date of Polish Sejm elections approached, the number of signals suggesting the Moscow-Washington partnership was being restored grew and the economy became more important than security issues. As Waszczykowski himself noted in an interview with the Kresy.pl portal, “unfortunately we don’t see major US economic activity in our part of Europe. We have been calling on the US to increase their presence for many years. We told them more than once that we’re ready to see the US flag fly not only over the embassy and consulates but also over many investments. But as you see, the US is not greatly interested in our part of Europe except for military matters. We are not one of the top-30 US trade partners.”
Then gold took second place to the scimitar and the Poles quickly felt the blast of the hot winds from the Middle East. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel “forgot” Erdogan’s authoritarianism and went to Turkey in November to support the president who was promising to “help” Europe cope with the refugee flood which he provoked himself. Washington, in turn, despite Ankara being its forward position in the region and is a member of NATO, is not guaranteeing Turkey its “territorial survivability.” New geopolitics demand new decisions. No matter what one says about Russia’s “threat” to Poland, a new issue appeared on the agenda of Polish experts and journalists, namely the refugees. It’s no accident TVN24 ran a story in parallel with the Waszczykowski interview on how the inhabitants of Polish Transcarpathia are demanding to build a fence on the border with Ukraine in order to protect themselves from a possible flow of migrants from the Middle East but also from their “brothers” coming from Ukraine itself.
The current government of Poland, which is operating in an aggressive information environment that is being criticized in Poland itself as well as abroad, including in Germany, US, France, and UK, and which still has to respond to the mass anti-government demonstrations by the Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD), will need allies. Or at the very least it will not need new frontlines and tensions. If Warsaw has a newly found desire to improve with Russia, and if the key to such an improvement is located, in its opinion, in Moscow, then one has to approach that matter seriously and demonstrate sincerity in the spirit of “reboot” rather than “overload” of 2010. Ultimately the Russian bear will calmly spend the cold and hungry winter in its lair, while the Polish wolf will have to spend every day scouring the snow-covered Carpathian mountains searching for food.
I believe Stremidlovskiy may be slightly over-optimistic concerning Warsaw’s intentions. Waszczykowski’s reference to “the key” being in Moscow may be interpreted as him saying Moscow needs to make serious concessions to Poland, whereas Poland has nothing new to offer Russia. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the PiS government is taking a less Russophobic bent now that it is in power. Poland’s new Defense Minister Macierewicz, who has long been claiming the 2010 Smolensk catastrophe was the result of a Russian plot, has stated the most important task facing his ministry is “getting to the bottom” of that incident. Then there’s Poland’s desire to join NATO’s Nuclear Sharing program and Duda’s visit to Kiev where he pledged support for the Poroshenko regime. The war on Soviet-era monuments in Poland is continuing, and it is genuinely hard to find any evidence of a desire to warm up the relations with Russia. Rather to the contrary–a major component of PiS ideology is that Poland is suffering from still being ruled by the Communist-era elites who have entrenched themselves in various Polish institutions. Considering the air of an impending purge that is hanging over Poland right now and which KOD is protesting and even threatening to take the matter to EU institutions, heightening tensions with Russia has considerable potential political benefits for PiS which has long accused its opponents of being Russian agents. This is a party and a government which needs an atmosphere of constant crisis and campaign, and what better way to establish such an atmosphere in Poland than by invoking the “Russian threat”? The fact that the outgoing PO government likewise embraced anti-Russian rhetoric and policies following the Maidan coup in Kiev means that the opposition would find it very hard to accuse PiS of demagoguery.
PiS may also be hoping to reap external benefits and might even be working to sabotage any nascent rapprochement between Russia and the West. In that respect, its government is approximately in the same position as Erdogan’s and Poroshenko. It does not like gradual improvement of relations between the West and Russia and might be tempted to provoke a crisis of some sort to discredit the proponents of cooperation with Russia. After all, PiS wants to establish Poland as something akin to “Israel of Eastern Europe” and play the dominant role in setting EU’s policy toward EU’s eastern neighbors, ideally with extensive US financial and political support which might well be forthcoming should the next US administration (for example, headed by Hillary Clinton) is dominated by neoconservatives.