Poland Wants Friendly Ties With Russia, Notes Difficulties

By Marcin Sobczyk

Poland wants friendly relations with Russia despite recent disagreements and a history of conflicts between the countries, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Friday.

“Poland and Russia deserve to have friendly relations,” Mr. Tusk told reporters on the final day of this year’s parliamentary election campaign. “Both these great nations can live together in friendship…If I get the chance to govern another four years, I will be working for the best possible Polish-Russian relations, being aware, however, of all the difficulties that our history and some actions create.”

Relations between Poland and Russia were tense for much of Vladimir Putin’s two terms as president of Russia from 2000 to 2008, when the countries disagreed over economic and military issues, international relations in the eastern European neighborhood between them, and the interpretation of historical conflicts.
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A rapprochement came after Mr. Tusk’s election victory in the 2007 election, when he replaced Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the conservative leader of the Law and Justice party. Mr. Kaczynski was dealing with a resurgent Russia that banned Polish meat from its market, made plans for a gas pipeline with Germany that now circumvents Poland, and threatened to direct warheads at Poland after Mr. Kaczynski signed up to participate in the Bush-era U.S. missile shield in Europe.

Mr. Kaczynski’s party is second in most public opinion polls ahead of the parliamentary election set for Sunday. Mr. Tusk’s Civic Platform is first in those polls, but, with an agrarian coalition partner, may fall short of majority in the Sejm, lower house of parliament.

Despite the rapprochement, Poland and Russia continue to differ and “not everything is going as it should be,” Mr. Tusk said.

Russia’s handling of the investigation into the Polish president’s plane crash in Russia last year was one of the obstacles that “didn’t facilitate a full reset” of relations, Mr. Tusk said. He also said Poland “won’t reset its memory” of wars, occupations and atrocities committed against Polish nationals at various times by Russia and the Soviet Union.

Poland and Russia differ on the view of the reasons behind last year’s plane crash. Both sides have said a pilot error was the ultimate cause of the accident, but Poland insists Russia’s controllers and airport also played a role.

Poland’s presidential delegation — which included president Lech Kaczynski and his wife, the country’s central bank governor and top commanders of the army — died in April 2010 when the Polish government’s Russian-made Tupolev aircraft crashed on approach in thick fog near a retired airport in Smolensk, western Russia. The delegation was headed to an event commemorating a World War II Soviet massacre of Polish prisoners on Josef Stalin’s order.

The massacre has long poisoned Polish-Russian ties. Moscow initially blamed Nazi Germany with the crime, refusing to acknowledge Soviet blame until 1990. Russia’s parliament last year acknowledged Stalin’s personal responsibility, but Poland wants Russia to go further by accepting legal responsibility and declaring it an act of genocide.