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.