Poland Calls the Bear's Bluff

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by ajtr, Jun 23, 2010.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Poland Calls the Bear's Bluff

    Jeremy Wysakowski-Walters: Poland must redefine its relations with Russia. Continued military provocations and brinkmanship will only lead to Poland’s position worsening. While maintaining its security interests, Poland must embrace the bear. This notwithstanding, Poland should not negate its democratic ideals.

    The deployment of a battery of US Patriot missiles to Poland in May 2010 took place in fulfillment of the agreements reached under the US-Polish Declaration on Strategic Cooperation signed in August 2008. This was from the beginning a symbolic act, as one battery is incapable of defending Polish airspace. This fact was acknowledged by the announcement of Defence Minister Bogdan Klich, who stated that the Polish government has started initial supplier selection for the procurement of ten to twelve Polish-owned batteries costing around $1 billion each. Nevertheless, the deployment brings US-Polish relations to a new level. That fact was not missed by Russia, which in September 2009 rattled its sabre in Operation West: a large scale exercise with Belarus, centred around mock landings on a Polish beach and the mock deployment of nuclear missiles.

    While nuclear war is unlikely to be a realistic scenario in the future, Poland is nonetheless walking a dangerous tight rope in its relations with the United States and Russia. The Smolensk air crash, which killed the Polish president and many top figures in the country, led to a thaw in Polish-Russian relations. Many regard it as a departure point for a new era in relations. However, Poland's continued commitment to plans drawn up with America under the Bush administration may yet prove a sticking point.

    While other countries in Central and Eastern Europe have trodden more carefully since the region's break with Moscow, Poland built upon its 1999 accession to NATO by staunchly supporting the US on various issues, from the 2003 Iraq War to the proposed missile defence shield. Coupled with Poland's vocal support of Georgia in the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, this pro-American stance has greatly irritated Poland's large eastern neighbour. While not suffering physical attack, Poland has suffered economically, as Russia banned meat imports from Poland. The ban was officially imposed for health reasons, even though the EU for instance determined that Polish meat was safe for consumption.

    Poland's goal of placing itself firmly in the 'western' camp following the end of the Cold War has undoubtedly been reached, yet Poland continues to pursue policies which further distance it from Russia. This strategy goes against the geopolitical reality that Poland is faced with, and risks endangering Poland. Even though open conflict is not a likely outcome, Poland's economic interests are threatened. Resource security is a major concern for all countries in the Twenty-first Century, and Poland receives the majority of its gas (approximately 65%) from Russia and other ex-Soviet countries. As the Ukraine found out, Russia can easily turn the tap off.

    Therefore, it is paramount that, as we approach the end of the first decade of the Twenty-first Century, Poland establish a more positive relationship with Russia: one that will add to both its economic and military security. This does not mean that Poland must negate its democratic ideals and relinquish its support of countries like Georgia. However, Poland should try to find its own way and embrace a stance that ensures peace and prosperity for Poland and the greater region it resides in.
     
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  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    What's Next for Poland?

    Anna Nadgrodkiewicz: In all its sadness, the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of many distinguished Poles in Smolensk can open new opportunities for Polish-Russian reconciliation, a less politicized presidential campaign in Poland, and a renewed sense of unity and common purpose.

    Shock. Grief. Disbelief. Those were the emotions that swept Poland and the international community in the wake of the disastrous plane crash in Smolensk, Russia that killed Polish President Lech Kaczyński, his wife, and nearly 100 dignitaries. Many also feel anger and frustration because they believe the tragedy could have been avoided. Although the exact cause of the crash is yet to be determined, it has been abundantly clear for years that the aging fleet of Polish government planes badly needs to be upgraded. Whether mechanical failure played a role or not, it also appears likely that the pilot felt under pressure to land in time for the Katyń commemorative ceremony despite dreadful weather conditions. Finally, as a matter of policy, it is unforgivable that so many important figures, including parliamentarians, senators, and army chiefs were allowed to fly together in one plane.

    This is not the time for assigning blame, as there will be ample opportunity for analyzing what went wrong after the forensic investigation concludes. But it is time for reflection on what this tragic event means for Poland's future. As candle-carrying crowds fill the streets of Poland and well-wishers lay wreaths in front of Polish embassies around the world, one is hard-pressed to find a silver lining in this senseless tragedy. Yet, there are a few important implications to consider. In an ironic twist of history, those who died in the crash laid their lives in the ultimate service to commemorate the Soviet massacre of thousands of Polish officers in Katyń forest 70 years ago. That was the purpose of their trip, which turned out to be their final calling.

    Russia had not formally acknowledged the responsibility for the killings until 1990 and continues to refuse to declare the Katyń executions a war crime, casting a shadow over Polish-Russian relations. Prime Minister Putin's attendance on Wednesday at the first joint commemorative ceremony was an important symbol in setting the record straight and represented a significant step toward reconciliation. President Kaczyński was on the way to pay his respects on Saturday when the plane crash occurred. However tragically, this event seared Katyń anew into the collective memory of Poles and reminded the rest of the world what happened there in April 1940.

    The immediate aftermath of the catastrophe also testifies to the strength and maturity of Poland's democratic institutions. Although the loss of the head of state and key figures in the country is certainly shocking, no power vacuum or chaos ensued. In accordance with constitutional provisions, Speaker of the House Bronisław Komorowski took over the functions of president, Prime Minister Donald Tusk continues to head the government, and deputies - from army generals to the governor of the National Bank of Poland - swiftly stepped into the positions of power vacated by their deceased superiors.

    It is also noteworthy that the outpouring of mourners that followed the tragic news wasn't simply an expression of personal grief after Mr. Kaczyński's death. In fact, many Poles who took to the streets to mourn him were not planning to vote for him in the upcoming presidential elections. Still, the mourners showed up in force to honor the office as much as the man, proving that the country's strength rests in the resilience of its people and in lasting institutions, not particular individuals in power. The presidential elections will proceed as planned some time in June.

    A horrible tragedy happened, but in all its sadness it can open new opportunities on several levels: Polish-Russian reconciliation over a historical grievance, a less politicized and more issue-focused presidential campaign in Poland, and a sense of unity and common purpose as the country deals with the void left by those who perished. The outpouring of international sympathy shows that Poles are not alone in this hour of national sorrow. Hopefully, that painful experience can help ensure that something so basic as putting the safety of the most important people in the country first will no longer get lost amidst politics as usual.

    Anna Nadgrodkiewicz is a member of Washington DC-based American Polish Forum, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing issues of significance to the United States and Poland in the 21st century.
     

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