The Weimer Triangle is just one of the many prisms through which the EU looks at Russia. After a long break, the heads of state of Poland, Germany and France came together for a meeting of the Weimar Triangle on February 7. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski started the summit off with a bang by inviting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to attend the summit, and all future summits, as a guest.
At the meeting in the Wilanow Palace in Warsaw, both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the Polish president's gesture.
The invitation alone is proof that relations between Moscow and Warsaw are on the verge of a new beginning. To appreciate the significance of the gesture, let's recall what the Weimar Triangle is all about, and how Poland once saw the group.
The last meeting of the Weimar Triangle was attended by the late Polish president Lech Kaczynski in 2006. Foremost on the agenda of these meetings is Poland's relations with its eastern neighbors, especially Russia. To be sure, there are more issues to discuss at this year's meeting, from the recent elections in Belarus and the uprising in Egypt, to the euro crisis and the start of Poland's term in the rotating presidency of the European Union in July. But Russia always figures prominently in the discussions.
The Weimar Triangle was established in 1991, based on a proposal by Germany, and the first meeting was held in Weimer, hence the name. Germany believed that this arrangement would help Poland prepare to join NATO (it acceded NATO in 1999) and the EU (in 2004).
The main goal was to nudge Poland in the right direction after the fall of the Soviet Union, to help it take its place among the nations of Europe. In the beginning, the "triangle" was far from equilateral, despite Poland's best efforts to present it as such (even now its GDP is 6 times less than France's and 7 times less than Germany's).
The Weimar Triangle was designed as a forum for the nations' foreign ministers. Attempts to transform it into something more have not met with success. Poland, especially under President Kaczynski, saw these meetings as a chance to lodge endless complaints against Russia and to position itself as the dominant voice in the EU's eastern policy.
Germany and France saw the Weimar Triangle from a slightly different angle. They saw it as a platform for discussing EU policy and the integration of new members, and as a chance to forge a common position on relations with neighbors. And this is precisely what the Weimar Triangle seems to be doing today.
President Kaczynski attended the last Weimar summit of heads of state in December 2006 (a summit planned for the summer of 2006 was cancelled because the Polish president refused to attend). Poland used this meeting in Mettlach, Germany, to rail against Russia's ban on Polish meat imports. During his presidency, Kaczynski managed to infuriate both Russia and his Western partners. The Weimar Triangle almost collapsed under the weight of Poland's boundless arrogance and uncontrollable, ingrained hostility to Russia.
Poland has been openly criticized in the EU for blocking numerous attempts to improve relations with Moscow. But ultimately, Brussels could not disregard Poland's objections. The Weimar Triangle stopped meeting, because the participants considered it a waste of time.
Poland has always jealously guarded the special geometry of its relations with the "most equal" among EU nations, and would not tolerate even the suggestion that some other country be allowed to sit at the Weimar table and disrupt the symmetry. Requests from Lithuania, Ukraine and the Czech Republic to attend at least some meetings were all turned down.
As former Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld explained, Warsaw thought the Weimar Triangle was "too special" to let others in. Well, the times are changing. Russia attended talks last year, and even Ukraine was invited to the summit as a guest.
A four-sided triangle?
Following Lech Kaczynski's tragic death in a plane crash in Russia and the ensuing presidential elections in Poland last year, the new Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski has tried to revive the summit - not as a platform for airing grievances against neighbors but as a chance to coordinate security, energy and foreign policy.
Last June, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took part in a meeting of foreign ministers for the first time in the almost 20 years the group has existed, which resulted in an agreement to relax visa requirements for travel from Kaliningrad to Poland.
Lavrov made it clear that Moscow would like to see the Weimar Triangle becoming the Weimar Quadrangle. While such talk may be premature, Russia's participation as a guest is very encouraging.
This shape shifting could result in a permanent forum for resolving Russian-Polish issues, with the participation and assistance of Germany and France. For the time being, we are seeing just a semblance of normalization, forged in the tragic plane crash that brought Russian and Poles together in grief. Moscow and Warsaw can still feel the frost from Kaczynski's presidency. And based on Poland's response to the conclusion of the International Aviation Committee, the group that investigated the crash, the temperature may be set to fall. While this is more of an internal issue (the upcoming parliamentary elections, which always require some Moscow bashing), it is not an encouraging sign.
Komorowski himself said that the first summit in the Wilanow Palace will be "restorative." It should be followed by regular meetings that are more about business.