Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Opinion

Know your enemy

  • The Moscow State Institute of International Relations has been singled out by the Polish foreign ministry (Photo: Wikimedia)

How can you hit your adversary where it hurts?

Poland recently made an ostensible move against Russian interests in Warsaw by sidelining Soviet-era graduates of Russia's most prestigious academic institution - the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) - from its foreign ministry.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Gradual dismissal of MGIMO alumnae from senior positions at home and abroad has been underway since the Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to power in 2015.

Rather than diminishing Russian influence - purportedly exercised through MGIMO graduates - the move weakens vital expertise at a time when Russian-speaking specialists with the necessary regional knowledge, appreciation of current events, and contacts across the region are most needed.

Although the new personnel policy is believed to have affected Soviet-era graduates of all Russian universities, MGIMO alumni have been singled out in the foreign ministry's public statements.

As stated by foreign minister Jacek Czaputovicz, "the management changed almost 100 percent. In particular, currently in management positions there are no persons who were members of the communist services, or graduates of the Moscow MGIMO".

According to Czaputovicz, such a personnel turnover was "necessary for the effectiveness of the ministry".

The reshuffle of personnel in Poland is flawed for three reasons.

Brightest and best

First, if rotation is necessary for effective work, as claimed by the foreign ministry, why do official statements single out Soviet-era graduates of MGIMO in particular?

As one Polish diplomat admitted: "Since they were trained in the Soviet Union, it is undesirable they should hold leading positions in the foreign ministry."

As one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the former Soviet Union, MGIMO attracted the best and brightest minds from all across the Soviet space, and provided access to a vital network of contacts across the region.

Some of its well known European graduates include Miroslav Lajcak, outgoing president of the United Nations General Assembly, or Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission's vice-president for the energy union, to name but a few.

Because MGIMO is known to serve as an important channel of Russia's unofficial political dialogue with many countries, the new personnel policy can also be interpreted as a pre-emptive move to prevent diplomats - believed to hold 'pragmatic' views towards Russia - from pioneering a Polish-Russian rapprochement.

Some would go as far as to argue that the move was motivated by fears of infiltration of diplomatic ranks through the university graduates.

Second, rotation of senior staff inevitably leads to the loss of knowledge and continuity (which is hardly unique to Poland).

Relations between Poland and Russia have hit a rough patch and senior diplomats consider both diplomacy and unofficial communication between the two countries to be difficult in the current environment.

Should Poland seek rapprochement with Russia in the future, personal contacts its MGIMO-educated personnel developed throughout its academic and professional career would be of great value for diplomatic and business relations alike.

Take Ukraine as an example: Despite its de-communisation legislation and growing anti-Russian sentiments among the population, Ukraine continues to maintain both formal and informal dialogues with Russia, and so should Poland.

Third, at a time when much attention in Poland focuses on the threat emanating from the East, the government should invest in people who understand the Russians, instead of firing them.

In order to understand and interpret Russian foreign policy accurately, it is necessary to be able to follow the debates in Russia, also on social media, in Russian, as well as to appreciate historical, social and cultural context in which communications take place.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West believed Russia would jump from communist rule to democratic consolidation relatively easily.

As a consequence, much of the knowledge infrastructure has been dismantled, many Slavic studies centres have been closed down or otherwise downscaled, and much of the scale of existing expertise has been drastically reduced.

It was not until the crisis in Ukraine and the downing of MH17 when Western countries realised how insufficient their knowledge and capacity for collecting and interpreting information on Russia has become.

Having dismissed the 'old school' personnel, is Poland doing enough to train new specialists who not only have the necessary language skills but also sufficient experience to appreciate current trends and developments in Polish-Russian relations?

Fresh blood is good, but according to some sources, the qualification level of new personnel, as well as entry requirements, have been lowered.

With regards to knowledge on Russia, Poland has a competitive advantage, which the country should leverage to constructively influence decisions taken by the European Union and Nato alike.

Lastly, sidelining Soviet-era MGIMO graduates not only weakens Poland's knowledge base on Russia, but it also undermines the name and the quality of education MGIMO continues to offer.

Polish leadership should avoid that its efforts to de-communise Polish society, which have strained Polish-Russian relations further, do not turn into a witch-hunt of Soviet-era MGIMO graduates.

Katarina Kertysova is a strategic analyst at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) and studied in 2013 at MGIMO. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of HCSS

Poland to face EU top court on rule of law

The EU commission is expected to refer Poland to the EU's top court over firing supreme court judges, but Warsaw refused to commit on Tuesday that it will implement future EU court rulings.

On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?

If the European parliament votes in favour of the new Morocco agreement without knowing that it complies with the European Court of Justice judgement, how can it demand that other countries respect international law and their own courts?

Trump's wall vs Europe's sea

Though we would never admit it, the only difference between Trump and the EU is we don't need a wall - because we're 'fortunate' enough to have the Mediterranean.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish PM calls for EU gender equality strategy
  2. Farage says bigger Brexit majority if second referendum
  3. Macron starts 'grand debate' tour after yellow vests protests
  4. Barnier: up to London to take Brexit forward
  5. Stimulus still needed, ECB's Draghi says in final report
  6. May's Brexit deal defeated by 230 votes
  7. German economy hit by global economic turbulence
  8. MEPs narrowly call for end to 'tampon tax'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party
  2. On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?
  3. UK parliament rejects May's Brexit deal in historic defeat
  4. EU suggests majority vote on digital tax by 2025
  5. MEPs redouble appeal on sexual harassment
  6. Trump's wall vs Europe's sea
  7. Centre-right MEPs want transparency vote to be secret
  8. Germany scorns 'unusual' US threat on Russia pipeline

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us