Poland, Relations with
- Polish-Russian relations remain mired in four critical historical events: the partitions of the PolishLithuanian Commonwealth (1772–1795); the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939); the Katyń Massacre (1940), and the Red Army’s failure to intervene in the Warsaw Uprising (1944). With the inclusion of a Communist Poland in the Eastern Bloc, discussion of these and other fractious issues was stanched until the 1980s.With the relegalization of the Solidarnos´c´ (Solidarity) movement in 1989, Poland moved toward ending its subordinated relationship with Moscow, culminating in the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. With the emergence of a genuinely independent Poland, bilateral relations remained frosty, particularly given post-Soviet Russia’s reticence to address World War II–era issues related to Poland. As part of the Visegrád group of east-central European countries, Poland moved quickly to improve relations with the United States and Western Europe, culminating in admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999 and the European Union (EU) in 2004.The rapidity of Warsaw’s embrace of the West unnerved many politicians in Russia; Poland’s new orientation, however, inspired ordinary citizens, especially entrepreneurs who regularly traveled to Poland to import commodities for resale in Russia and witnessed the country’s economic and social changes on the grassroots level. Russian elites condemned Poland for failing to recognize Soviet munificence during the Cold War, particularly in relation to Moscow’s support for the westward shift of Polish borders, economic subsidies, and the country’s status as the “freest barrack in the socialist camp.” The Russian Federation has also condemned the establishment of Chechen information centers in Poland as well as Warsaw’s active support of opposition (and generally anti-Russian) movements in Ukraine and Belarus. Many Russians view this so-called Eastern Partnership as an effort by Warsaw to restore its domination over the territories that once comprised the Rzeczpospolita (the late medieval Commonwealth). Warsaw’s support for the various color revolutions sparked a Russian embargo on certain agricultural products in 2005. Despite the row, bilateral foreign trade is robust at more than $20 billion per year, and Poles invested more than $350 million into the Russian economy in 2007 alone.Under the presidency of Aleksander Kwaśniewski (1995–2005), Poland pursued an ever closer relationship with the United States, including assuming a major role in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, despite strong Russian diplomatic efforts to avoid war in the Middle East. Kwaśniewski also made public his strong desire for Ukrainian admission to NATO, against the explicit wishes of the Kremlin. Poland has been particularly critical of Moscow’s heavy-handed energy policies vis-à-vis its near abroad (particularly Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia). Acting in concert with the Baltic States, Poland has lobbied the EU against agreeing to an undersea route for oil and natural gas from the Gulf of Finland to Germany as such a route would jeopardize “new Europe’s” energy provision and make the region more susceptible to Russian neo-imperialism. If the plans for the Baltic Sea route are realized, Poland stands to lose millions in transit revenue. With Poland and Lithuania’s admission to the Schengen visa-free zone, the issue of the Kaliningrad exclave has also colored bilateral relations with Russia, and special exceptions were made for residents of this oblast.In 2005, relations hit a nadir with assaults on Polish diplomats in retaliation for the mugging of several Russian youths—themselves children of diplomatic personnel—in Warsaw. The latter event did not seem politically motivated; however, Vladimir Putin and other members of Russia’s political elite seized on the robberies as if they were. The atmosphere between the two countries had already been poisoned by Putin’s refusal to apologize for any actions conducted by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in the lead-up to the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in 2005 (by contrast, Boris Yeltsin visited the Katyń site but did not issue a state apology for Soviet misdeeds). The relationship was further harmed by the announcement in 2008 that Poland had agreed to host a portion of Washington’s missile defense shield, including interceptor missiles. Russia proposed moving the site to Azerbaijan; however, this option was rejected by George W. Bush, triggering a hostile stance by Moscow including veiled threats of military action against Poland. Since his election, Barack Obama has slowed the deployment process, and given the post-Kwaśniewski Polish leadership’s reticence, it is unclear if the program will be completed.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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