17th Apr 2021

Diplomats mull practical impact of Polish air disaster

  • Flowers lie on a street in central Warsaw after a cortege carrying Mr Kaczynski's body passed by on Saturday (Photo: matchbox_pl)

A senior Russian diplomat has said that the emotions generated by the Polish plane disaster could help the two sides to work together in future.

"Of course, I wish we had a different opportunity in which to improve relations. But the expression of deep sorrow and condolences from the Russian side, both by the government and by ordinary people ... these are being appreciated," the Russian ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told EUobserver on Monday (12 April).

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Asked if the new atmosphere in bilateral relations could have practical consequences, Mr Chizhov said: "I certainly hope so. There are issues that we could work on jointly, issues related to regional co-operation in the Baltic Sea zone, issues related to transport links, to energy - provided there is political will.

"Poland produces over 90 percent of its energy from coal, which is not very environmentally friendly. So we could jointly consider how to address other options, be it gas or be it nuclear power."

"Swinoujscie could be another issue. I don't know if it's economically viable but technically, it's possible," he added, referring to earlier proposals to build a branch line from the Nord Stream gas pipeline to the Polish port of Swinoujscie rather than bypassing Poland.

Mr Chizhov spoke two days after a plane crash in Russia killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 members of his delegation en route to solemnities in Katyn, where Soviet agents murdered 22,000 Polish officers 70 years ago.

The Russian diplomat appeared to rule out the possibility that Moscow will open up its Katyn archives in order to help the reconciliation process, however.

"Apart from the symbolism [of the 2010 deaths and the 1940 deaths], I don't think there's any direct link with Katyn," he said. "Russian-Polish relations have a long and difficult history. I could mention the 1920 Soviet-Polish war and the fate of the 20,000 Soviet soldiers captured by the Polish army, prisoners of war, most of whom died in captivity."

Polish diplomats are also keen for relations with Russia to normalise. But they remain hard-headed about the political consequences of the tragedy itself.

"In practical terms, Polish-Russian politics is unlikely to change. We are in the EU, so we cannot unilaterally open our borders with Russia. Nord Stream is still going to go ahead and will still pump gas to Germany, probably without any special branch to Swinoujscie," one Polish diplomat said.

"Policy is not built on one-off tragedies."

Analysts are also sceptical as to whether the outpouring of sympathy from Poland's EU partners will translate into goodwill in practical terms.

Looking at the issue of the EU's 2014 to 2020 budget, where Poland will be battling to retain EU cohesion funds, Janis Emmanouilidis, from the Brussels-based European Policy Centre said: "This is something which will be high on the agenda in 2011. The way the modern world ticks, there probably won't be much memory of what happened. Hard considerations will play a role in the budget discussions. There will be no bonus for Poland because of this."

With Poland slowly returning to normality on Monday, Polish diplomats in the EU capital also went back to their desks after a feeling of paralysis over the weekend.

"We came back to work. We met friends. All of them mourning, quiet and focused. We found flowers hanging on the fences of Polish missions and candles lightning the way to their doorsteps. We found mails and condolences pouring into our mailboxes," one contact said.

All meetings at the EU Council began with a moment's silence. EU flags hung at half mast on the institutions' main buildings and Nato called an extraordinary ambassadors' meeting to express empathy. Senior EU officials from other member states also attended a special Polish mass in Brussels on Saturday.

Poland is to hold snap presidential elections before 20 June. Mr Kaczynski is expected to be buried on 17 April, with German leader Angela Merkel already saying she will come.

In terms of filling other top posts left vacant by the crash, General Stanislaw Koziej has been installed as the new head of the National Security Bureau. But the acting president, parliamentary speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, is yet to name the new chief of the army and of the Polish Central Bank.

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