Poland in “Baltic Dimension” of European Integration

By Jan Nalepa

In the end of this March the Minister of Foreign Affairs reported to the Sejm on the program “Priorities of Polish Foreign Policy for 2012-2016”. The list of the main principles, Warsaw is going to follow in its international activity, included a higher level integration into the bodies of the European Union, strengthening of Poland by determination of the common defense policy and accomplishment of the program “Eastern Partnership”, privileged relations with Germany. Among other specified priorities – the liability to maintain own line inside the EU in the number of decision-making countries, enhancement of common defense policy and partnership with the states of Eastern Europe.

The Head of Polish Foreign Affairs Ministry also stated, that in order to use favorable environment, Poland needs stable relations with partners, especially with neighbors. In this respect he outlined interaction with the Czech Republic and Hungary, which is quite understandable, as they have long-standing traditions, starting with the so-called “Visegrad Group”.

And cooperation with the states of Baltic region, including Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which, should call not less significant interest, wasn’t mentioned at all somehow. How do relations of Poland with Baltic States develop today?

The process of the EU extension introduced significant changes into geopolitical priorities of Brussels and conditioned the establishment of a new regional initiative, which obtained the title “North Dimension”. Adoption of this program reflected the growing significance of Baltic region in European policy. The key role in the accomplishment of the program is given to the organizations of t Baltic region, such as the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation organization and others.

Among the projects, accomplished in the region under the aegis of the “North Dimension” program, the greatest significance is given to the initiatives in the sphere of energy infrastructure development. Important is the establishment of Baltic Oil Pipeline System (BOPS), the objective of which is connection of the oil pipelines network of Russia with the EU markets through Finnish port Porvoo and Russian port Primorsk. It’s also worth to mention study programs on energy networks development, including natural gas and electric power (Baltic ring) and the project of the establishment of the Baltic System of Power Transmission (BALTEL), which suggests formation of the common power market in the region.

In Polish foreign policy two concepts always competed: Jagiellonian, directed at accomplishment of policy targeted at East and Piast, directed at the union with West. The first of them gained its development in the shape of Prometeizm ideology, formulated in 1918-1922, during the Second Polish Republic, by the group of Josef Pilsudski upholders. Prometeizm became the ground of policy, the aim of which is accomplishment of Federative organization of political area of Eastern Europe between Baltic and Black Sea.

The new Federation should have oriented at Poland and turn into a peculiar buffer, softening threats, coming from Russia. Sometimes this concept is also called “Inter-Sea project”. The former President of the country Lech Kaczynski put many efforts to unite the Inter-Sea to defend from aggressive policy of Russia.

It’s not a secret that to assure fulfillment of its interests Moscow strives to get back the control over the states of Central and Eastern Europe. The last ones evidently lack of material to counteract the kind of intentions (financial, technical, military, human resources). That is why they attempt to assure their safety and independence due to joining western organizations and attraction of potentially anti-Russian states to its territory of military presence.

In particular, Vilnius and Tallinn wished to see definite events on strengthening of Eastern border of NATO, while they are the witnesses of selling to Russia of helo-carriers of “Mistral” class by France, one of the NATO founding states. Although Moscow declared, that these vehicles shall not locate in the Baltic Sea, this doesn’t mean that in case of the need they can’t be shipped to Baltic from the Black Sea.

But with the victory of the party “Civil Platform” Poland focused its attention on interrelations with France and Germany, which worries Baltic neighbors of Poland, who with concern follow the process of Warsaw joining to French-German fan-club of Moscow in Europe. On February 7th this year during the summit of the so-called “Weimar Triangle” in Wilanowie the President Komorowski in the presence of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy publicly joined the establishment of new Russian architecture of security.

Lithuanian analysts evaluated this as obvious proof of change of Polish foreign policy course. They express concern with the prospects, when Lithuania can remain at the margins of foreign policy of Poland. And the President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite, during the meeting with American Lithuanians in course of her visit to Chicago, severely criticized Polish policy: “We faced a very complicated situation. I don’t know, but due to some reasons some Polish politicians decided that in near future it shall be better for Russia to be a friend, and other states, smaller and not that significant can temporary become scapegoats.

Nevertheless, formally Warsaw wants to proceed playing the role of a regional power pole, consolidating all Baltic and East-European region states, not excluding of joining to the Visegrad group of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. To discuss this idea, Polish authorities arranged this April meeting with their Baltic allies, intending to develop a common point of view at strategic situation in the region. Tallinn and Riga strive for the same thing.

However, the situation is aggravated with the fact that recently within the relations of Warsaw and Vilnius there has been serious tension due to different approaches towards the situation around Polish minority in Lithuania. They consider history from different points. Poles consider that the period of the union of Lithuania and Poland was the top of geopolitical power of Polish state, Lithuanians consider this epoch as the time of suppression of everything Lithuanian by everything Polish – from the language to state laws.

In this respect with this they try to exterminate among Lithuanian Poles their Polish “imperial” manners. And they in their turn observe Poland as more powerful, than Lithuania and don’t wish to say good bye to their Polishness.

There is an opinion, that the turning point within bilateral relations was Smolensk tragedy, in which favorably treating Lithuania Polish elite died, and the power in the country came to new leaders. In its turn, Dalia Grybauskaite became the President of Lithuania, who from the very beginning criticized foreign policy of her predecessor Valdas Adamkus, active supporter of good, strategic relations with Poland.

In all appearances the change of the US President – coming of Barak Obama to power also played it role. For many years strategic partnership of Lithuania and Poland grounded on mutual intention to the EU, on support by Poland of the intention for Lithuania to join NATO, as well as the joint counteraction to the return of dominating role of Russia within the territory of the former USSR, which was supported by the USA. After the coming to power Obama came to conclusion that it’s better to agree with the dominating role of Russia within post-soviet area.

In this context all diplomatic nuances and details turn into too significant and sensitive. As a result Grybauskaite ignored the mentioned meeting of Baltic States Heads with the President of Poland.

We can hardly doubt that the given situation corresponds fully with the century strategy of Moscow – to play on the conflicts between nations, existing in the region. Negative results of such policy may be observed also now. Thus, according unofficial information Lithuania received from Poland a broad hint on that in case of Lithuanian authorities don’t change their policy towards Polish national minority, Warsaw can revise its line towards support of NATO Mission on defense of Baltic air area.

Meanwhile Bronislaw Komorowski welcomed in Wilanowie the leaders of France and Germany, the Minister of Defense of Lithuania Rasa Juknevičienė publicly sounded the problem of presence in Kaliningrad region of Russian nuclear short-range missiles: “We want for big states to start cooperation in the direction of reducing the number of these armaments”.

It is strange that this problem is the one of priority for Lithuania, but not for Poland, which also has border with this enclave of Russia. If Poland really considers itself a significant European player, then why doesn’t it reveal diplomatic assistance to the attempts of Baltic states within their lobbying towards Washington of the need to start negotiations on reduction of the number of short-range missiles?

Probably the reason is that Warsaw has changed the priorities. A big response gained a recent statement of Bronislaw Komorowski, that its country needs to establish its own air defense system, which would be the element of the same system of NATO, and not to give its territory for the accomplishment of American project. As some Mass Media claim, especially Russian ones, he called worng the participation in the plans to establish American anti-missile system in Europe.

The Poles are worried with the reload of American-Russian relations, whatever sense is implicated. As a result Warsaw now stresses the strengthening of relations with European NATO members. This course found its reflection in the interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Radoslaw Sikorski to German weekly Spiegel. Sikorski said that the USA remains to be an important ally for Poland. But Poland is situated in Europe, and its route interests also belong there.

There are grounds to suggest, that the expressions of the President Komorowski demonstrate these new lines of Polish international policy.

It’s worth to remind that in Autumn in the USA there shall be Presidential elections. And if Romni wins, then anti-missile system program shall change. As the experts consider, the USA shall once again insist on the plan of Bush about location of strategic missiles. Poland in due time agreed with this plan. Then the President Obama came to power, and the USA presented new suggestions. Poland agreed once again.

Komorowski worries that Poland can once again find itself in a ridiculous situation. Iran has never been of concern for Poles. They think that Russia is the threat. Worries are heated by the statements of Russia on possible location of “Iskander” missiles in Kaliningrad region.

Poland tried to be the most devoted ally of the USA in Europe. And as a result it turned into some appendix. This is what about its wish to revise its line.

The Polish President received from Vilnius unexpectedly fast reaction on its support of national missile defense system.

Lithuania welcomes the intentions of Poland to develop missile defense, which can assist promotion of security in the region, declared Vice-Minister of Defense of Lithuania Vytautas Umbrasas.

“We support the intentions of Poland to develop missile defense, which can assist strengthening the security of the region. Capacities of Poland together with the contribution of other NATO states can become a significant step within development of missile and air defense system”, - commented Umbrasas.

The administration of the previous US President George Bush gr. developed primary plans to found European Missile Defense System, and locate in Poland 1 missile system and radar in Czech Republic.

Barak Obama substituting Bush in 2009, introduced corrections into suggested architecture of anti-missile system in Europe. According to the new strategy, Poland is planned to be included into the system only in 2018.

In June 2012 the President of Russia Vladimir Putin during the press-conference on the results of the Summit G-20 declared, that the problem of missile defense shall not be solved independently from whether the current US President Barak Obama wins at the elections in November. Putin added that Russia has all capacities to react adequately on European Missile Defense System.

As western observers suggest, the decision of Grybauskaite not to go to the initiated by the President of Poland April meeting with the Heads of Baltic states, naturally, also doesn’t look useful for regional cooperation. As political analysts of the both states consider, NATO’s agenda is a question in which the interests of Baltic states and Poland coincide in essence, and the contradictions having nothing to do with it shouldn’t be involved.

Foreign policy of Poland shouldn’t be the hostage of demands of polish national minority in Lithuania, however the hardness about the issue of names spelling is the mistake of Vilnius.

It’s hard not to agree with the Director of Estonia Foreign Policy, professor of Tartus University Anders Kasekamp, who said that “if evaluating it in the scale of the region, then the dispute of Lithuanian and Poland is not favorable for anyone, excluding some extreme nationalists in both countries.” Obviously, constructive relations of Vilnius and Warsaw are important for the whole region in the sphere of safety, as well as development of joint energy projects”.

Unfortunately, there is no clarity also about the prospects. According to some forecasts the break in Polish-Lithuanian conflict shall take place when in both states the powers change. This autumn Lithuania shall have parliamentary elections with almost inevitable change of Parliamentary majority. Others are afraid that if Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his party win the coming elections in Poland, then the situation shall be even worse, as his party grounds on far more nationalistic principles that current leaders.

At this background the relations with Latvia and Estonia look like almost perfect. For example, during the last year working visit of the Head of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski to Estonia, its President Toomas Hendrik Ilves noted, that Poland, being an influential country in the region of Baltic Sea and in Europe, in a broader aspect is for Estonia a reliable and responsible partner in significant for their both parties spheres in the European Union, as well as in NATO. Talking about economic relations between Estonia and Poland, he characterized Poland as a foreign market attractive for Estonia, having noted its size, geographic nearness and purchasing power, which suffered less than in neighbor states.

The same, on May 31st the President of Latvia Andris Berzins in Riga Castle met with the Chairman of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland Eva Kopacz. The both parties noted that interstate relations between Latvia and Poland at the top level are very good, which gives ground for even greater development of cooperation in entrepreneurship also at interregional level. It was noted that the cooperation should be extended exactly in the sphere of energy projects, as for this there is a good basis, as Latvia has Inčukalns gas storage, and Poland builds a terminal in the port Świnoujście for condensed gas from Qatar, supply agreement for which has already been signed.

Thus, Latvian diplomats admit that due to currently tensed relations between Lithuania and Poland Latvia also can suffer. That is why it is pretty possible that Riga can attempt to become a mediator within regulation of these disagreements.

Severe reality for Europe is about it has to import the main scope of energy carriers from abroad, by this a pretty significant part from Russia. At the same time for the states, possessing energy reserve, typical is political tension around the issue on resources possession and their use.

For example, Moscow prefers to hold talks with 27 EU member-states individually, and they not always manage to agree on common point. The most part of European governments support such cooperation with it. Only some Eastern countries attempt opposing the Kremlin, however their influence is small yet.

Thus, a negative event has been the recent commissioning of the gas pipeline “Nord Stream”, directly connecting Russia and Germany, bypassing Poland. Many politicians and analysts in Europe agree that this project can threat energy security of Central Europe. Except for that, Poles worry that in a shallow Baltic Sea the pipes of “Nord Stream” can impede the movement to the mentioned terminal of big gas tankers.

Moreover in the end of July Russian information agencies reported that in December they launch construction of “South Stream” gas pipeline, which shall assure supply of energy resources from Caspian region bypassing Ukraine, which can hardly be good news.

Nevertheless, contradictions remain also in the issues of energy security. Let’s say, the specialists of Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and Estonia with one voice declare that the nuclear power plant in Visaginas (Lithuania) shall become the guarantor of energy independence of the region. At the same time the country assess economic profitability of the project differently. Thus Poland has suspended its participation. Together with that, some Polish experts underline, that Warsaw doesn’t refuse of the participation in Lithuanian project, but only refrain from the talks, as time is needed to make a final decision. The reason of doubts is a high price of the project (more than five billion USD), and also the fact that Lithuania plans to construct only one block of the nuclear plant of 1300 mWt capacity, and Poland counts on greater amount of energy.

There are also other mismatches in views. For example, a coalition of the three Baltic states formed and lobbies the interests of their farmers in the issue of European subsidies to farmers for the next financial period. Poland doesn’t participate in it, as its farmers already now obtain 90% of average level of payments in the EU.

Periodically recommendations appear in Polish expertise environment to strive for the construction of “geopolitical bridge” Poland - Sweden. It’s impossible not to recognize that individual elements of such structure were created. The most vivid example is a joint initiative of Warsaw and Stockholm under the program “Eastern Partnership”. But recently it has evidently lost its rate, and yet there have been no common ideas.

Thus, the change of paradigm of Polish foreign policy doesn’t really look persuasive. The problem is that it’s dangerous to rely only on the union with leading European states, which pretty openly prone to coordination of European order with Russia, and that is why there is always a risk that Polish interests shall not be taken into consideration. Paris and Berlin have always revealed an intention to normalize relations with Moscow, resulting into non-readiness of the European Union to support Polish projects, targeted at weakening of Russia.

Naturally, at the moment Poland has no tiny need to choose between Jagiellonian and Piast concepts. On the opposite, in relations with the leading EU states it shall be in more favorable situation, if it manages to become a real regional leader and have constant support of not only Visegrad Group, but also Baltic states. But for this, the last ones should give more attention and regulate occurring disagreements with maximum goodwill.