Are Russian and Polish relations getting warmer?

By Aivaras Bagdonas

On 29 October Russia and Poland signed the agreement on deliveries of natural gas until 2022. Under the agreement, from 2011 Poland committed to purchase 11 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia annually.

On 29 October Russia and Poland signed the agreement on deliveries of natural gas until 2022. Under the agreement, from 2011 Poland committed to purchase 11 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia annually (this year it purchased 9,7 billion). The agreement was also reached concerning the transit of Russian gas to Western Europe via the gas pipeline Yamal-Europe-Poland. Russia invited Poland to participate in the construction of a nuclear power plant in Kaliningrad Region, and the Polish Prime Minister D.Tusk said that countries will sign the memorandum for the development of these energy networks. During the visit in Poland on 6 December, Russian president D.Medvedev reminded that Russian business subjects are interested in investing in Poland and that they are most interested in the possibility to acquire the controlling block of shares of the second largest Polish oil refinery “Lotos Group”.

These and other decisions between Russia and Poland demonstrate that relations of Moscow and Warsaw in the sphere of energy have improved. However, this is hardly a delayed attempt to create friendly relations between the two Slavic states. Both states pursue their own strategic interests.
Russia’s goals

By consolidating positions in the Polish energy market Russia seeks to strengthen its  influence in the European energy space. One of the examples is its ambition to develop energy links with Kaliningrad Region. The first block of the Kaliningrad nuclear power plant should be launched in 2016, the second - two years later. Thus, in the second half of this decade huge amounts of cheap energy will reach the European market. According to J.Karpovicz, from the Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw, the economic crisis revealed the shortcomings of Russian business model based on the stocks export. This made Moscow to search for new possibilities of consolidating its positions in Europe. In this respect Poland is a very convenient intermediate for Russia.
Map Of Poland
In January 2009, when Russia terminated the supply of natural gas to Europe via Ukraine, EU highlighted the importance of diversification of imported energy sources. However, if Russia manages to realize its energy policy in Poland, the EU’s energy policy might lose its effectiveness in the near future. At the same time this would be a precedent for non-transparent Russian energy transactions with other EU Member States.

By increasing dependence of Poland on Russian energy sources, Moscow also increases political dependence of Warsaw. According to Russian ambassador in Poland A.Alekseyev, Poland is perceived in Russia as an influential member of NATO and the EU. Therefore Moscow might ask support from Warsaw in the sphere of international policy in exchange for discounts in the energy sector.

When Poland and Russia agreed on the use of the gas pipeline Yamal-Europe, Russia obtained another leverage over Kiev. About 80 percent of Russian gas exported to Europe normally goes through Ukraine, thus, by “shifting” transit flows to the West Russia might enforce Ukraine concerning privatization of its gas transportation system.

These examples reflect a general trend. By using energy arguments for solving its political problems, Russia tries to enhance this trend, thus Moscow’s dialogue with Warsaw is not an exception. Strategic interests of Russia hidden under this “energy filter” go beyond the Polish borders, therefore Moscow should develop energy cooperation with Warsaw.
Poland’s goals

Determination of Poland concerning development of energy dialogue with Russia might be based on pragmatic arguments. One the one hand, for Poland, which uses 14-15 billion cubic meters of gas/year, it is important to retain stable supply of these resources. This could hardly be possible without Russia. Shale gas prospects and preparation for extraction might take a decade in Poland, and construction of a nuclear power plant might require even more time. Thus, upon the expiry (on 20 October) of the gas delivery agreement between Russia and Poland  energy dialogue between Warsaw and Moscow could be considered as an inevitable.

The oil supplied by the big neighbor is still an important Moscow’s leverage over Poland. According to the portal „European Dialog“, next year Russia should increase the use of the oil pipelines BVS-1 and BVS-2 within the Baltic pipeline system. These pipelines can shift oil export flows to sea roads, and in the future Moscow could press Warsaw in the negotiations concerning gas price and privatization of the elements of its energy infrastructure. Therefore, the current “friendship” of Warsaw and Moscow could be evaluated also as Poland’s attempt to prevent from the above means of pressure in the future.

Finally, Poland becomes an important actor in Russia’s relations with the EU. By manipulating of the card of relations with Russia, Poland might expect Moscow’s support in the sphere of Polish foreign policy, seek to increase its influence in the EU, involve other Community’s states in solving energy security and other important issues (among them – the ambition to protect from a possible Russian energy pressure). Most probably, Warsaw will retain its cautious attitude toward energy cooperation with Moscow.

Experts evaluated energy agreements between Moscow and Warsaw as warming relations between Russia and Poland. However, we shouldn’t overestimate this “warming”.  Although strategic energy interests of Russia and Poland have many contrapositions, the turning point in the energy dialogue was predetermined by the mutual need for urgent decisions. Therefore development of energy relations between Moscow and Warsaw could be evaluated as a chain of compromises achieved under a favorable political context.