5th Jul 2020

Polish government deeply fearful of Russia, US cable shows

  • Sikorski: defended arms sales to Georgia, pushed through EU policy on Belarus to create a 'buffer' (Photo:

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski believes that Russia poses a long-term military threat to the West and sees the EU's Eastern Partnership policy as a way of turning Belarus into a "buffer zone," a leaked US cable says.

Sent in December 2008, four months after the Russia-Georgia war, by the US ambassador to Warsaw, Victor Ashe, the cable describes what it calls "the Sikorski doctrine" on foreign policy.

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"Foreign minister Sikorski told US officials the GoP [government of Poland] used to think Russia would be a danger in 10-15 years, but after the Georgia crisis, it could be as little as 10-15 months," the cable says. "According to the 'Sikorski Doctrine,' any further attempt by Russia to redraw borders by force or subversion should be regarded by Europe as a threat to its security, entailing a proportional response by the entire Euro-Atlantic community."

"The Eastern Partnership and other Polish policies in the region aim to counter a resurgent Russia," the cable adds, referring to a Polish-Swedish initiative to relax trade and visa rules for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Noting that Poland "pushed through" an EU decision to suspend travel sanctions on the "dictator" president of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenka, it says: "In the Poles' view, an isolated Belarus could become completely ensnared by Russia, with or without Lukashenka in power. Russian domination would jeopardize democratic transformation and - more importantly, in Warsaw's view - would dash hopes that Belarus could become a buffer state between Poland and Russia."

Mr Ashe noted that Mr Sikorski was even more hawkish on Russia than the Bush-era US administration by selling portable "Manpad" rockets to Georgia "despite USG [US government] objections."

He added that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk shared Mr Sikorski's post-Georgia-war fears: "Tusk emphasized Poland's sense of vulnerability when he asked high-level US officials, 'Now do you see why we wanted the Patriot missiles and further security guarantees?'"

Poland and Russia have opened a new chapter in relations following the Smolensk air tragedy in April this year, in which the then Polish president and over 90 senior officials died in the highly symbolic location of Katyn, where Soviet soldiers murdered 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in 1940.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on a rare visit to Warsaw on Monday promised to open more Katyn archives and to hand over all the files on Russia's probe into the Smolensk crash. "The visit to Poland clearly had a positive impact on our relations," he later wrote on his Twitter account.

The US cable indicates that the Russia detente is skin-deep however, with the Sikorski-Tusk administration trying to appear less Russia-hostile for pragmatic reasons only.

"Convinced that the EU has greater leverage with Moscow than do individual Member States, the Tusk Government has shed the confrontational rhetoric of its predecessor and sought to build coalitions among EU members," the US cable says on Poland's diplomatic strategy.

Commenting on the political usefulness to Mr Tusk of the late president Lech Kaczynski, the cable said: "President Lech Kaczynski, the Prime Minister's top political rival, takes a more confrontational approach to Russia ...To a certain extent, Kaczynski's lurching east takes pressure off the Tusk government to be tough in public with Russia."

In a sign of the lingering distrust toward Russian authorities among the families of the Smolensk victims, Mr Kaczynki's daughter, Marta, at a hearing in the EU parliament on Tuesday called for an international enquiry into the air crash.

"The only hope for a genuine clarification of this horrible catastrophe is to convene an international committee, which could determine in an independent manner, why the president and his wife, my parents, and 94 other representatives of our country, had to perish," she said, the Polish press agency, PAP, reports.

A spokesman for the Polish foreign ministry told this website that: "The core of the Sikorski doctrine was already made public at a speech in the Atlantic Institute [in Washington] in November 2008, before the cable was issued."

The address came hot on the heels of a harsh speech by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Ukraine which raised Polish concerns about Russian neo-imperialism.

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