Home

Baltic States no longer counting on Poland

Poland’s Baltic neighbours are observing the Civic Platform administration’s foreign policy with unease. The days when Poland served as the region’s leader, while President Lech Kaczynski mobilized Intermarum to defend against Russia’s aggressive policies, are long gone. Komorowski officially joined in the construction of a new Russian security architecture in Merkel’s and Sarkozy’s presence on 7 February. The following day, Lithuania called for the withdrawal of Russia’s nuclear weapons from the Kaliningrad region, while Estonia signed a defence cooperation agreement with Sweden, the Polish Gazeta Polska paper wrote on 9 March.

The meeting of the so-called Weimar Triangle in Wilanow was taken note of in Vilnius, with Lithuanian commentators viewing it as evidence of a change in the direction of Poland’s foreign policy. “Lithuania is threatened with the prospect of remaining on the margins of Polish foreign policy” – political scientist Tomas Janeliunas stated.

Lithuania is particularly concerned about Warsaw’s drive to pursue a further “thaw” in relations with Russia, a policy that has earned it the praise of France and Germany. “States do not carry equal weight. In the event of a conflict, Poland would most likely decide to maintain good relations with large countries, such as Germany or Russia, and not with Lithuania,” the political scientist believes.
 
 
Back to Vilnius

Is it a coincidence that the pro-government media and members of the ruling coalition are publicizing the problems of the Polish minority in Lithuania right now? No, it is definitely not – this is a convenient excuse to turn our back on Vilnius. The situation would be different if Warsaw really was doing something for our fellow countrymen in Lithuania. But this is not the case – the aim is to create a problem. The fact that this fits in perfectly with Moscow’s perennial strategy towards Poland’s eastern borderlands, namely fomenting conflict between the nations that inhabit the region… this seems to have the slipped the attention of the Civic Platform defenders of Polish identity Tusk’s campaign trips to meet with the Polish minority in Belarus come to mind – today, we can see just how instrumentally the government and ruling party are treating the Polish Diaspora in the East.

The Poles in Lithuania have authentic problems, which, at any rate, the Lithuanian authorities are mostly to blame for. This does not mean, however, that we should completely forget about the strategic consequences of the conflict between Lithuania and the Republic of Poland. It is very convenient and easy for the Tusk government to blame Vilnius for everything and take offence. We have experienced similar problems in the past, but the previous government and president at least tried to overcome them. Our current foreign policy towards the Baltic States is one big failure – and this is probably exactly what the Civic Platform intended. Our neighbours predicted this would happen shortly after the Civic Platform came to power. At the time, Lithuanian political scientists were already saying that Sikorski was realizing Berlin’s policy.

When Bronislaw Komorowski was playing host to the French and German leaders in Wilanow, Lithuanian Defence Minister Rasa Jukneviciene publicly addressed the issue of the presence of Russian short-range nuclear warheads in the Kaliningrad region: “We want large countries to begin negotiations designed to reduce the number of these missiles.”

Why is this issue a top priority for Lithuania but not for Poland, which also shares a border with the Russian enclave? If Poland, as the current administration claims, has truly become an important player in Europe, then why not use this to lend diplomatic support to the efforts of the Baltic States, which are lobbying Washington to begin disarmament talks on short-range nuclear weapons? The reason is probably that Russia has no desire to hold such talks. On 7 February, shortly after the START treaty on long-range weapons went into effect, Moscow announced that it was too early to set a date for a new round of talks on short-range missiles.
 
 
Scandinavian alternative

Estonian Defence Minister Jaak Aaviksoo and his Swedish counterpart, Sten Tolgfors, signed a framework agreement on defence cooperation in Tartu on 8 February. The agreement defines the priorities of Swedish-Estonian cooperation, with special emphasis given to military training. The two countries’ defence ministers also discussed relations between Nordic and Baltic States in the context of regional, cybernetic, and energy security, as well as the Nordic Battlegroup.

Although the Tartu meeting received little media attention, its implications stretch beyond the region. While the world media and great powers are focused on the revolutionary wave in the Arab world and the Iranian threat, the Baltic States are chiefly concerned with their immediate surroundings.

Estonia is already part of the EU’s Nordic Battlegroup. Lithuania would like to join the group before 2014. A Nordic-Baltic security policy agreement, covering everything from preventing natural catastrophes in times of peace to jointly responding to military threats, will most likely is signed in April. What is more important, Great Britain is interested in becoming a part of this arrangement. This would be a big step forward given the United Kingdom’s military potential.

The NATO summit in Lisbon last November produced a new strategic concept that confirms – on paper – the alliance’s obligation to defend its members’ territories. At the same time, it defines Russia as a “strategic partner,” which is a fundamental contradiction from the Baltic States’ perspective. Vilnius and Tallinn would like to see concrete actions taken to strengthen the security of NATO’s eastern boundary. Meanwhile, they are witnessing the sale of Mistral-class helicopter carrier ships to Russia by France, one of NATO’s founding members. While Moscow has affirmed that the ships will not be stationed in the Baltic, this does not mean that they would not be able to be diverted to the Baltic from the Black Sea if need be.

Meanwhile, Poland, formerly a chief ally of the Baltic States in opposing Russian expansion, is joining Moscow’s Franco-German fan club in Europe. Moreover, given America’s involvement in the unstable Middle East and the fact that NATO is ceasing to be a military alliance, this leaves the Baltic States with only the Nordic countries to turn to.

The Estonian-Swedish agreement is only one of several steps recently taken by the Baltic States to strengthen cooperation with Sweden, Finland, and Norway. The alliance with Norway (a NATO member) and Sweden is extremely important for security reasons. This is especially true regarding the latter country, which, in spite of its official neutrality, is the largest Western military power in the Baltic with a strong army and large defence industry.
 
 
The Lithuania Tribune
 
 
18.04.2011