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Digital Archive International History Declassified

March 04, 2008


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    A 2008 Polish Foreign Ministry paper advocating closer relations with Russia and Ukraine.
    "Jaroslaw Bratkiewicz, Polish Foreign Minsitry, 'Main arguments regarding the policy of the Republic of Poland towards Russia and Ukraine'," March 04, 2008, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Polish Foreign Ministry declassification. Translated by Margaret Gnoinska.
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The Department of Eastern Policy

Warsaw March 4, 2008


Main arguments regarding the policy of the Republic of Poland
towards Russia and Ukraine

I. Recently, and especially when the Law and Justice Party (PiS) was in office and when demagogic assessments were frequently popularized by the media, a certain formula has been created and pounded into the popular psyche regarding how Russia and Ukraine, as well as the goals of the Polish policy towards these countries, should be perceived and presented. This formula, which carries all traits of taboo, can be called “political correctness,” since violating such a formula would be subject to political and media attack, as well as accusations that oppose “national interests,” and so on. The fundamental determinants of the abovementioned formula boil down to the following axioms:

1. Russia is Poland’s “eternal enemy.” [Russia], which is irresponsible and unpredictable in its behavior, is guided by the goals of imperialist revival to this day. Some of the proponents of this view (for example, the leaders of PiS) go as far as stating that Russia’s current policy aspires to yet again annex Poland to its sphere of influence. Therefore, conducting any active and direct policy towards Russia is mute, because such a policy would endanger Poland by exposing it to the deceit and deception of Moscow. And, in its extreme form, such a policy would expose Poland to Russia’s blackmail and threats, endangering Polish policy and leading to an inevitable defeat.

2. While creating a distinct civilization and seeking to rebuild its sphere of influence, especially in the post-Soviet region, Russia will invariably come into conflict with Poland, whose vital interests are to encourage the nations in such a region (especially eastern European areas) to become independent by pulling them towards the institutions of the Western world. This is why Poland should support such countries for as long as they exhibit the real or pro forma readiness to oppose Moscow, to strengthen their readiness, unite them around Poland, and to act as their advocate in the West.  

3. Our policy towards Russia, on the one hand, and towards other post-Soviet countries, on the other hand, is a zero-sum game. This is because we support those countries’ independence by attracting them towards Poland, and through our mediation, towards the West. While making contacts with Russia, in reality, we only endorse the imperialist and aggressive policy of the Kremlin. Based on the above summary of ideas, we can say the following: We either bet on Ukraine or we bet on Russia. Tertium non datur.

II. All of the above statements possess, in a general sense, a point of view that is logically, historically, and politically justified. However, these are the so-called general truths or half-truths due to, first and foremost, the narrowing of the contemporary political context, which means that they have not fully acknowledged the fact that we are members of the EU and NATO. Such statements, in particular, do not take into account the fact that contemporary Poland does not stand alone, that is, “one on one” against Russia, but that it belongs to integrated institutions which have their own interests and views regarding Russia, and which take into account Poland’s position and interests only to a certain extent.

In turn, ahistoricity of these statements rests on the absolutization of certain momentous historical conclusions, which have not been corroborated by the realities of contemporary (and historically concrete) conditions and circumstances. In the case of the present Russian Federation, one can reasonably assume that it seeks to regain a great power status which once participated in the decision-making process regarding global matters within the framework of an “international concert of powers.” The creation of the great power status is connected to recreating the Russian areas of influence in the previous post-Soviet countries (in the zone of CIS – The Commonwealth of Independent States).

Does this then mean that Russia has embarked on the path of its previous imperialist incarnations: The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union?

III. The answer to this question must be negative given the following reasons:

- Contemporary Russia is not guided by a messianic ideology (in the sense of universally understood Orthodox, Panslavic or Communist doctrine), which would justify its pan-European or global ambitions;

- Russian society has not entered (due to the lack of the abovementioned suggestive ideology) the state of a “messianic mobilization” which would motivate its people to great historical achievements. Rather, this society is characterized by apathy and struggle with everyday life, as well as internal differences (broad swaths of impoverished society versus nouveau riche elites);

- The political system in Russia, even though it is taking on authoritarian characteristics, is still far from the bureaucratic, police, and military efficiency of the previous Russian and Soviet authoritarian regimes. Current elites, which embody the political system in Russia, are less guided by long-term and far-reaching goals; on the contrary, they are guided by the need to survive in light of disputes and conflicts within their own elites (competing “clans”) and within the society (the anti-Boyar sentiment);

- The material resources of Russia, albeit quite substantial, are not used for the modernization of this country and its rapid development. Besides, the use of such resources would require a substantial intervention of external economic factors, such as foreign capital and know-how. Therefore, the economic power of Russia is still limited;

- The relative weakness of Russia in comparison to the surrounding countries, especially a dynamically developing China, as well as a severe Islamic threat from the south, make Russia orient itself, despite all traditional opposition, towards the West, now the most trustworthy partner;

- Finally, in the eyes of the West, and especially Western Europe, Russia is an important ally when it comes to serious problems coming from the south, especially Islamic radicalism and terrorism, and also a rich reserve of raw resources, which could support the Western world to a large extent.

Having taken into consideration the above points, one should therefore remember that Russia’s expansionist capability, in the economic and political, and all the more in the military, sense, is quite limited. This capability is met with serious obstacles in the CIS nations such as the Ukraine or Georgia; on the other hand, Moscow’s capability to influence (in the sense of gaining “special privileges”) the countries of East-Central Europe, which belong to the EU and NATO, is minimal or overall none.

IV. Russian elites, despite all their assertiveness and panache (typical of the economic and political class of the nouveau riche), are aware of the abovementioned limitations. As a result, their attempts to influence the East-Central European countries boil down to diplomatic intrigue (ascribing Poland with “irresponsible Russophobia”) and economic maneuvers (as the gas pipeline which bypasses Poland). These actions are more motivated by haughtily ignoring and deprecating the role of those countries, especially Poland, than by desire to dominate them again. One could risk a hypothesis that the abovementioned motives were inspired in the case of Moscow’s attitude towards Poland by a specific traditional Russian complex, in which the hegemonic protectionism is tainted by a sense of a certain respect and even phobia. After all, the uniform position of the EU countries during the summit in Samara regarding the Russian embargo showed Russia once more that Poland is able to seriously thwart Russia’s plans. Besides, it is also characteristic that the new national holiday in Russia is the date of liberation of the Kremlin occupied by the Polish army in 1612.

V. If the current Russian authorities are cognizant of the limited capabilities to influence Poland, then the Polish policy towards Russia should take into consideration the abovementioned limitations and conditions. In no way do they justify giving up our active policy towards Russia. Apart from Poland’s enormous economic interests in Russia – which are not reduced to energy issues, but, of course, do play an important role in Russo-Polish relations and relations between Russia and the European Union – as well as a mutual cultural and intellectual interests, one should note that a reinvigorated dialogue with Russia constitutes a voluntary political value for Poland. Not only does it leave any accusations of “Polish Russophobia” groundless, but it also strengthens Poland’s position within the family of Western nations as the expert and interpreter of Russia. Taking into account the West’s lasting interest in Russia – which is incomparable to the interest in any other post-Soviet country, including Ukraine – the Polish know-how regarding Russian affairs constitutes, in the era of informational meritocracy, a key value in the construction of our image and position in the Western world. The more we know about Russia and the more reliable our assessments are, the more we can influence a joint policy of the EU and the entire West towards Russia and the entire post-Soviet area, including Ukraine. This is why there is no organic contradiction in the policy towards Russia and the policy towards Ukraine (as suggested by thesis no. 3 on page 1). On the other hand, Poland’s giving up on or not dealing with conducting policy towards Russia (just as was the case during the government of the Law and Justice Party) should be viewed not as a reflection of “hard diplomacy” but precisely as petty Polish complex, dilettantism, and fear, which is specific of “the butler’s attitude” toward his benefactors. However, as history shows us, Poland with its potential, especially its cultural and intellectual positions, is capable of conducting an ambitious policy towards Russia, all the more since we are strongly anchored in the EU and NATO today.

VI. The relations with Ukraine, which have taken on the form of a strategic partnership, constitute a constant value of Polish foreign policy after 1991. Swaying Ukraine towards the institutions of the Western world, which has been crowned by its future membership in the EU and NATO, contributes to the dismantling of the post-Soviet sphere and, at the same time, towards the final de-imperialization of Russia. However, one must remember that with all of the progress of modernization and democratization in Ukraine (reflected in the recent Ukrainian elections), this country is still reforming itself according to a model of transformation that is different from the Polish and the east-central European one. There are still strong leftovers of post-Sovietism reflected in a specific political culture and provincial politicking in the form of oligarchical cabal (patterned on the Russian “clans”) and unbridled corruption. The political and decision making process in Ukraine is still not yet transparent, making it difficult to assess to what extent the policy of the Ukrainian authorities is serving the construction of the modern nation state and to what extent it is serving temporary coterie and “clan” interests. What is also lacking is the transparency in Ukrainian-Russian relations, which are conducted especially at the level of “clans.”

VII. The abovementioned conditions contribute to a particular ambiguity and prevarication of Ukrainian declarations on the issue of Ukraine’s pro-Western orientation and its membership in the EU, as well as NATO. Based on the hitherto experiences, one could have an impression that such declarations serve the needs of the intra-Ukrainian political battles (as the sign of the West’s acceptance of this or the other political party) rather than the real intentions that have been adjusted accordingly and for the purpose of modernization. It is in this context that the Ukrainian authorities often instrumentally exploit the Polish promotion of and apologizing for Ukraine in the West. The Ukrainians sometimes use disproportionate pressures regarding issues that are evidently or clearly useful for Ukraine (for example, the current question of small border traffic).

VIII. All of this should lead to a fundamental reflection regarding Poland’s actual influence on Ukraine and the readiness of the elites and the Ukrainian society towards siding permanently and strategically with Poland. It seems that our influence is relatively shallow on the Ukrainian soil, and its main axis was a friendship and trust of presidents Alexander Kwasniewski and Leonid Kuchma until 2005. However, when it comes to wider circles of the Ukrainian elites, their relations with Poland are more superficial and temporary than deep and strategic ones. Undoubtedly, the fabric of this relationship is strengthened by the Polish enterprise in Ukraine, as well as the presence of active non-governmental organizations. While reflecting on Polish-Ukrainian relations, one should take into account the fact that in the next five years, and possibly into the future, one should not expect any movements within the EU to get Ukraine formally closer towards its membership in the [European] Union. Given a series of geostrategic circumstances (especially Russia’s opposition) and the particularly unwilling attitude of the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Ukraine towards NATO, Euroatlantic prospects are also not too good for this country. Our reflection should therefore take into consideration the fact that, in the next 5-10 years, our demands for Ukraine’s speedy membership into the EU and NATO, which have been readily and in a certain sense articulated by the Law and Justice Party without giving much thought, will not materialize in any effective results and will only show the futility of our demands.

Conclusions regarding Russia:

* We need to spread the view, which has been mythologized in the political, and especially media, discourse, that as far as the Russia policy is concerned, one must not expect any “breakthrough.” Polish-Russian relations, contrary to appearances, are not burdened by any great disputes purely on a bilateral level. The issue of energy security is notably a multilateral one, and within the context of the Northern Gas Pipeline, we should be directing it to Germany and the EU in general rather than Russia alone. In turn, the issue of the Polish, on the one hand, and the Russian, on the other, influences on the post-Soviet countries, which are also a factor in bilateral disputes, in effect should not become such a factor under any conditions except for one. This means that Poland, while implementing the grand project of getting the abovementioned countries closer to the Western world, will not go it alone as an individual “power” because this approach would actually collide with Russia’s superpower-like reaction (carried out under demagogic slogans of defending “the eastern Slavic brothers against Polish revisionism”). However, if we are going to carry out this project within the wider framework (of the EU and NATO or selected EU nations and the allies of the Weimer Triangle), then we can assume that Russia will be less ready to undertake the risk of colliding with a united Europe (the West).

* One of the key positive goals in our relations with Russia should be a bilateral dialogue, which in itself is very important. This dialogue will legitimize

Poland in the eyes of our Western partners and allies, as a competent expert and interpreter of Russia based on the knowledge acquired through real contacts with Russia. This type of knowledge and competency is especially highly valued in the West, which is aware of Russia’s strategic importance and various vacillations in interpretations of this country which differ depending on the ebb and flow of its politics that have not always been understood. Polish expertise in Russian matters, and of course widely understood eastern European matters, will all the more anchor us in the Western family, which expects such expertise from us. At the same time, this will also facilitate our activity towards Russia, Ukraine, and other post-Soviet nations.

Conclusions regarding Ukraine:

* One could get the impression that Poland in its relations with Ukraine yielded too much to the tactics of Ukraine’s elites, which are eager to receive praise and promises within the context of binding them to the West and when such promises (not always fulfilled or even able to be fulfilled) are treated as the element of prestige and used as arguments for the intra-Ukrainian struggles for power and influence in the privatization process. It is the rhetoric (the promises, praises, encouragement, etc.), which became the main determinant of our engagement in the Ukrainian affairs, as does any criticism of such an engagement which often causes the reaction of the type of the “political correctness” (as explained in point I). Therefore, we must be active in “demystifying” such a “patriotically correct” engagement on behalf of Ukraine, while replacing it with a pragmatic, and when necessary, a constructively critical attitude towards this nation. At the same time, we must realistically take into account the possibility and chance that this country will strengthen its ties with the institutions of the Western world.

* We should seriously take into consideration the possibility that in the long run Ukraine may remain beyond these institutions; especially, it may not gain EU membership. Therefore, it would be expedient to think about implementing quasi-institutional content (using mechanisms of a strengthened neighborly policy, “alliance partnership”) of Ukraine’s links to the West, at least in the next 5 years.

* It would also be expedient to think about the convergence, as well as the divergence, of Polish and Ukrainian economic interests (for example, in the area of agriculture), while keeping in mind the prospect of creating a free trade zone between the EU and Ukraine, and subsequently having Ukraine join the [European] Union.

The Department of Eastern Policy suggests conducting a closed discussion regarding the Polish policy toward Russia and Ukraine within the Foreign Ministry and working out concrete steps by our foreign service in this area.

Jaroslaw Bratkiewicz

[Attached, handwritten note:]

The Secretariat of Minister Cezary Krol

To Minister Radoslaw Sikorski

Dear Minister, please see attached a draft regarding the foreign policy toward Russia and Ukraine (along with the opinion of Minister Kremer). Please accept this draft. Cezary Krol

Under Secretary of State
Andrzej Kremer e5/03

P.S. The date of a meeting – possibly after the Bucharest Summit?

[Attached, handwritten note:]

Dear Minister R.T. Sikorski,

1) I think that the material constitutes a good basis for starting a discussion

2) I strongly support the idea of a conference which would include the participation of the OSW, minister ??? and Minister A. D. Rotfeld in order to work out a strategy

3. Please provide a date so we can organize such a conference.



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