Poland sees Russia as a pre-eminent threat. This has been the essence of speeches made by Andrzej Duda, the newly appointed President who has called for additional security guarantees from NATO and has plans to create an anti-Russian bloc within the organization alongside other Eastern European countries. Given Duda’s attitude, it would seem that Russian–Polish relations could deteriorate even further, while tensions in the Baltic–Black Sea Region as a whole will increase sharply.
On August 6, 2015, Andrzej Duda was sworn in as the new President of Poland. In the weeks since, he has managed to cause quite a stir with his speeches, the essence of which has been that Russia poses an exceptional threat to Poland to which NATO must respond by providing additional security guarantees to the country. “The question must be raised without equivocation: we need greater guarantees from NATO. Not just Poland, but the whole of Central and Eastern Europe, which has been placed in a very difficult geopolitical situation. We need a greater presence of NATO in this part of Europe and in our country,” Duda said during his inauguration speech.
Appearing on Polish radio on August 19, 2015, Duda admitted that Russian–Polish relations had all but frozen completely, and he placed all the responsibility on Russia for this. “The situation that we have today is the result of Russian policy, the revival of the imperial spirit – a longing for the empire. This policy was targeted at Georgia and then, a few years later, at Ukraine. This is an alarming and worrying signal for Europe, and for the whole world,” the president explained (link in Russian).
Duda’s Law and Justice party colleague, Sejm deputy and former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski has also been vocal about Poland’s foreign policy (link in Russian). “Duda will be more active in foreign policy issues than Bronisław Komorowski was. We will try to assert a more stringent position within the EU and concentrate on convincing Berlin to be less naïve when it comes to Russia. We need to galvanize relations with the Baltic states, Scandinavia and the Visegrad Group and promote solidarity… in the face of Russian aggression.”
As a confirmation of these words, Duda has decided to make his first official visit to Estonia on August 23. The date has not been chosen by accident, as this is the day that Poland and the Baltic states mark the anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Seeing themselves as victims of Soviet (Russian) aggression is the cornerstone of Polish and Baltic foreign policy and part of their historical consciousness.
But the Polish leader’s plans extend much further than this: Duda intends to form a union of former socialist countries within NATO. A meeting on the matter will be held in the autumn in Romania. What is more, the Polish authorities are planning to raise the issue of setting up permanent NATO (read: United States) bases in Central and Eastern Europe at the organization’s summit in Warsaw next year.
Duda did nothing to hide the fact that all of these steps are aimed against Russia. Not that his words and plans are particularly surprising. During his election campaign, Duda was critical of former President Bronisław Komorowski and the soft approach he took towards Russia and aid to Ukraine, openly calling for military assistance to be extended to the latter. As for Russia itself, Duda had said the following: “modern Russia, which openly violates international law, has nothing to do with democracy.” (Link in Russian.)
Andrzej Duda is a relative newcomer to big-time politics and has never held a major governmental post. But we can make certain assertions about his views and approaches based on the fact that his idols are Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński, and that he was a member of their Law and Justice party. Jarosław’s shadow clearly looms over the new Polish leader.
The late Lech Kaczyński spent his entire political career demanding that Russia “seek historical repentance”. He sought an apology for the Katyn massacre of 1940, for communism, and even for the partitioning of Poland in the 18th century. He was an outspoken supporter of the Yushchenko and Saakashvili regimes in Ukraine and Georgia, respectively, in the latter part of the 2000s. Russian–Polish relations reached their lowest ebb during Lech Kaczyński’s leadership.
Bronisław Komorowski and his Prime Minister Donald Tusk appeared to be far more moderate. Until the war in Ukraine, that is, when they came out in support of Ukraine and backed the sanctions against Russia and the deployment of U.S. troops on Polish soil. But these measures proved insufficient for Duda, Komorowski and their Law and Justice cronies, who have called for even more pressure to be put on Russia and greater cohesion alongside the European Union and NATO on the anti-Russia front.
Duda’s behaviour can also be explained by the fact that parliamentary elections have been set for October 25, 2015 and the candidates are eager to show voters that they have the country’s security interests at heart. The anti-Russian rhetoric is all-pervasive in the various pre-election campaigns. And it has found traction across the country. The President is using this to help his fellow party members win additional votes.
The President’s words and actions are unlikely go unnoticed, and Russia will most probably respond by increasing its military presence in the Kaliningrad Region. The Russian authorities will also keep a close eye on Polish attempts to set up a special bloc within NATO alongside Romania and the Baltic states. There is, of course, bound to be speculation about where the majority of the blame lies.
Russian–Polish relations are getting worse, even after a particularly challenging 2014. And they will continue to deteriorate as long as Andrzej Duda continues to follow the line drawn out by the Kaczyńskis. And this will only have a negative effect on security in Ukraine, the Baltic states, Kaliningrad and the neighbouring Polish provinces.
Vadim Trukhachev, Professor of Foreign Regions Chair at Russian State University for Humanities, Expert on history of CEE countries.