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Adriel Kasonta

London-based political risk consultant and lawyer. Former chairman of the International Affairs Committee at Bow Group, postgraduate of London School of Economics and Political Science, RIAC expert

Stanisław Bieleń

Professor at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies, University of Warsaw

Professor Stanisław Bieleń is employed at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies, University of Warsaw. Author, co-author and editor of several books covering Russia’s foreign policy, Poland’s eastern policy, as well as identity issues and negotiation processes in international relations. His most recent book is Eastern policy of the Republic of Poland — between geopolitical fatalism and the curse of powerlessness (pol. Polityka wschodnia RP – między fatalizmem geopolitycznym a klątwą niemocy (2019)).

Professor Stanisław Bieleń on the role of Poland between Russia and the European Union and how to achieve the geopolitics of peace in Europe.

Professor Stanisław Bieleń is employed at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies, University of Warsaw. Author, co-author and editor of several books covering Russia’s foreign policy, Poland’s eastern policy, as well as identity issues and negotiation processes in international relations. His most recent book is Eastern policy of the Republic of Poland — between geopolitical fatalism and the curse of powerlessness (pol. Polityka wschodnia RP – między fatalizmem geopolitycznym a klątwą niemocy (2019)).

What do you think of historical revisionism in Poland? Is it the Law and Justice party’s (PiS) domain or is it a cross-party trend among political elites in Warsaw?

Revisionism can have different meanings. In most cases, it means a deviation from established rules or versions of events, from what is considered legitimate or true. It is an attitude that questions certain ideas, narratives or postulates. Well, in relation to historical revisionism we are dealing with the official denial of the current version of history. This is a negation not only of the historical narrative formed by previous generations. It is imposing a new version of history that has little to do with facts. It is, in fact, falsifying history and manipulating facts for the purposes of new ideologization and political propaganda.

The sources of current historical revisionism date back to the turn of the eighties and nineties of the last century, when the Eastern Bloc was dismantled and the state of “real socialism” transformed peacefully into a democracy-building state. The new political elites of the Solidarity’s origin have naturally denied the historical narrative built by the communists. However, they quickly divided themselves into various factions, unable to understand that the participants in the process of dismantling the communist system were not only themselves, but also the forces of ancien regime. It was not only Poland’s “Solidarity”, but also many external factors, starting from Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, which contributed to this great historical change.

Because not everyone in the new Poland felt its beneficiaries, the fighting within the victorious camp took place quite quickly. Each of the factions tried to get the legitimacy of a legitimate winner over communism. These fights led to the outbreak of the “Polish-Polish war”, which has been going on for nearly three decades with varying intensity. Its effect is not only hatred between the ruling party and the opposition. It is also a growing revanchist tendency, consisting of the desire to retaliate, to play on political opponents whenever the appropriate opportunity arises. Authoritarian tendencies become strong in the ruling camp to reinforce the belief that only one political camp is right. There is a syndrome of “besieged fortress” and ruthless protection against loss of power.

What is the cause of simplification of the complex and important themes of foreign policy among political elites and various media outlets on the Vistula River, considering the fact that our nation is extremely educated and people are intelligent — though I may be wrong, taking into account the subjectivity of my assessment?

Perceptual errors and cognitive simplifications apply to every sphere of social life, regardless of people’s education and intelligence. All the more so they refer to the sphere of foreign policy and international relations, which belong to the most complex and mysterious one. Their proper recognition, based on prudence, knowledge and experience, conditions the effective correlation of one’s national interests with those of other participants. It also means an adequate response to various challenges and countless threats arising from the international environment. The reasons for the simplification of the problems you are talking about are due to several deficits. First of all, it is a deficit of knowledge and experience of contemporary ruling elites in Poland, a lack of the ability to independently and assertively diagnose the Polish national interest. The ruling elites, regardless of their ideological provenance, opted for unconditional cooperation with Western countries - the USA and the European Union, not counting on either asymmetry of power or the ability to compete. This resulted in the adoption of a semi-peripheral role against the richest countries, with no chance of shortening real civilization distances. This is connected with a deficit of courage and independence. Servilism towards new paymasters is expressed primarily in the uncritical acceptance (from left to right) of neoliberal prescriptions for building the Polish economy, which affects the course of the Polish transformation. Poland’s ruling elite have become extra-steer, and there is no shortage of judgments that they are comprador in nature. They are the executor of the will not only of Western decision-making centers, but also hostages of the game of the interests of large corporations.

What is the purpose of educating Polish youth in the spirit of Russophobia? Is this enemy narrative, maintained in the spirit of Carl Shmitt’s philosophy and fueled by revisionist aversion to Russia and the Russians, playing in favor of Poland’s image in the world and its contacts with the Big Eastern neighbor in the long run?

Disastrous visions about Russia’s aggressiveness, spread in the speeches of politicians and in the media, not only lead to an increase of Russophobic sentiment, but also motivate the authorities to undertake mobilization activities, justify the militarization of the state and urgent search for “hard” allied guarantees. The fear of having a common enemy is “political karma” for a costly Polish-American alliance. It is known for a long time that it is in the interest of many Western countries to fight Poles with the Russians. Deterring Polish exporters from the Russian market has primarily an economic dimension. In this way, the Polish economy reflects the field of expansion for Western companies. Polish Russophobia is official and almost institutionalized. Government forces and mass media are closely guarding the position so that no one has a dissenting or explicit opinion about their anti-Russian policy. Whoever dares to think and speak against the current doctrine is stigmatized and labeled as “Putin’s agent”. The epithet “useful idiot” is also used. If we take a closer look, whom the officially decreed Russophobia and hostility towards Russia really serves, it turns out that the rulers themselves and their helpful advisors and the butler media really deserve to be called “useful idiots”. They do not know, or do not want to know, that they are uncritical executors of the will of politicians from Berlin, London or Washington. They do not acknowledge that in the long run, they act to their own detriment – to the detriment of the state and society, that they create the image of a state conflicted with neighbors, unable to pragmatically shape relations, and thus guarantee stability and peace in Eastern European borders of the Western institutions.

It is known that every self-respecting democratic state respects its legal and political continuity. In this regard, what should we make out of its attempted assassination in Poland when it comes to the Polish People’s Republic? Are we not a democratic state? In what direction are we heading?

The doctrine of Poland’s foreign policy must be subordinate to its international status, above all to the legal and political continuity of the state. This is connected to the identity of the state as a subject of international law, which lasts irrespectively of political or territorial changes. In the light of the political decree that the Polish People’s Republic (PRL) was a “black hole” in our history, there is an escalation of harmful argumentation from the lips of the highest state dignitaries who undermine the raison d'être of modern Poland, which is in the legal sense (and in the material one as well) the successor of the infamous predecessor. In order to prevent further damage caused by such enunciations, political doctrine must, as soon as possible, compromise in understanding the post-war Polish state with limited sovereignty and defend this continuity in the name of the national interest as one of the important assets of Poland’s international status in the 20th century. These are rudimentary elements of Polish geopolitical identity. If the Poles themselves, led by the prime minister of the government, undermine the permanence of statehood under the banner of the fight against “communist and Soviet usurpation”, they also create a convenient field for attack on today’s Poland from all sides, even from the least expected — allies and partners. Subsequent ruling teams in the Third Polish Republic had and still have problems with the definition of Polish state identity, mainly due to opportunism and ideological obstinance. First of all, they lack a realistic understanding of the national interest. They do not know what role Poland played even during the “Kruschev Thaw” (ros. хрущёвская о́ттепель), during the de-Stalinization period, in the détente era, normalization of relations with Federal Republic of Germany and recognition of the border on the Oder and Lusatian Neisse, or convening the CSCE and disseminating its standards. History textbooks are less and less covering these achievements, which in total means acting to your own detriment. This phenomenon proves a kind of “split personality” among contemporary Polish decision-makers, because on the one hand they recognize certain achievements in international politics (for example, activity in the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member), and on the other they question the very existence of the People’s Poland.

As a nation, do we have a problem with identity (I would call it East-West dichotomy)? If so, does this state of affairs affect our thinking about international politics and inhibit the conscious direction of Poland’s civilizational development?

Yes, we have a problem with our historical and geopolitical identity. Until recently, we were actually dealing mainly with Europeanization of opposing the East. The old sense of civilizational and cultural superiority towards Russia has revived in post-PUWP (The Polish United Workers’ Party) and post-Solidarity elites. At the same time, however, the inferiority complex towards the West has not disappeared. And worst of all — there is a sense of alienation in the modern world.

In Poland, which regained its independence in 1918, there was never a re-evaluation of what was the heritage of the past, i.e. Sarmatian megalomania, romantic messianism and conservative nationalism. In the Second Polish Republic of 1918–1939, however, attempts were made to use the entire achievements of the partitions period — not only insurrectionary, but also positivist one. The Reborn Poland tried to use all Poles in the service of the state, not dividing them into the better and the worse patriots. The Third Republic, shaped since the overthrow of communism in 1989, with a harmonious chorus of post-Solidarity politicians, but also post-communists, negated the achievements of the Polish People’s Republic (PRL), although the country had full international recognition and enjoyed respect from the West, including the USA (as evidenced by visits of many prominent West European and American politicians in Warsaw). Ordinary honesty towards millions of Poles rebuilding the country from the damages of war requires to conclude that the Polish state of the PRL era, although vassalized by the USSR and having limited sovereignty, not only existed, but also constituted a quite real basis for the current state of possessions and even prosperity. The cornerstone of the Third Polish Republic was the “1989 Round Table Talks”, which marks a great historical compromise between the “old” communist power elites and the political movement originated from the “Solidarity”. It is the peculiar blindness of today’s political leaders of the Polish right who fail to see the very origins of their rule. The legitimization of political power in today’s Poland has more complex sources than many politicians may think. This state of schizophrenic political awareness undoubtedly affects the constant search for those who are guilty of historically suffered wrongs.

It is not a secret that the European Union in its current form is somewhat dysfunctional and is facing many internal and external problems. On that note, do you think that Jaroslaw Kaczynski can be called a sinister manipulator who, by using the language of war reparations from Germany, is diverting our attention from an important issue regarding how Poland could contribute to the EU’s constructive reform? Finally, it should be remembered that after the Second World War, the USA, France and Great Britain gave up reparations from Germany in order to maintain peace and stability in the region.

The issue of reparations from Germany for the destruction made during World War II is an example of diverting attention from today’s problems, which are at the heart of European policy. Especially when facing new threats, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and its numerous consequences, there is no constructive plan how Poland could contribute to improving the functioning of the European Union. Nobody has an idea on how to build joint action strategies so as not to leave anyone alone in emergency situations. How to identify real sources of danger? How to break free from the captivity of the old geopolitical concepts of the enemy, located in Eastern Europe, but not in the ruling minds and in the indolence of one’s own political systems?

Directing attention towards reparations also means avoiding discussions about the crisis of democratic institutions in Poland, limiting pluralism and tolerance, as well as citizens’ rights. I perceive the emotionally fueled reparations rhetoric as a revision of Warsaw’s current position towards the economically most powerful neighbor, and also the most important country from Poland’s point of view in the European Union. If Jarosław Kaczyński and people from his close circle aim to rewrite the current normative standards, they are either not aware of the possible consequences of such actions or are guided by the motives hidden from us. After all, neither in the international legal, political, nor even in the moral sense, we will understand what Law and Justice party’s politicians are talking about.

Do you think that the current ruling party (evoking the appeal of the well-known geopolitician Georg Friedman) should lead other countries against Russia and Germany - in fact our largest and most powerful neighbors? Is this grounded in the logically reasonable approach towards our national interest or international law? Do you agree with this postulate?

I disagree with this postulate. This is not a realistic approach, nor a compatible one with the Polish national interests. In order to arouse leadership ambitions in the Polish ruling elite, the Three Seas Initiative was launched across the ocean, which, although it relates to the abstract formation between the Adriatic and Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, corresponds to building a zone of American influence as a counterweight to Russia and Germany in this area. Poland, despite being the largest country in the region, in terms of geography and demography, is not able to independently build a countervailing position and play the role of a leader. American prescriptions and instructions — as shown by George Friedman — tell Poland that she would be able to achieve the status of a regional power. However, it is worth remembering the U.S. instrumental approach to this concept, especially in the aspect of opening the gas and arms market. Not only the old geopolitical concepts of Halford Mackinder are useful in assessing instrumentality of this approach, but also the geopolitical thought of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who treated the “Eurasian chessboard” as a field of competition for the great powers of the 21st century.

Referring to these ideas, the U.S. makes no secret that their most important goal is to defeat Russia as the largest gas exporter and producer. In this sense, American liquified natural gas (LNG) is becoming not only a tool for limiting the geopolitical influence of its rivals, but also for making American allies and partners in Europe solely dependent on them. The paradox of the U.S. strategy is that, by seeking to eliminate Russia from its traditional sphere of influence, it harms the interests of European companies and allied countries. At the same time, the process of de-sovereignitization of European countries in favour of American protection is underway. If Western Europe, especially Germany and France give in to American pressure, it will once again prove that the hegemonic power in the Western Alliance imposes its solutions, neglecting coordination and consultation mechanisms. This may cause further crises in the Euro-Atlantic community. You do not need any extraordinary perspicacity to notice that as a result of opening new areas of confrontation in the East, international order will be exposed to further sources of tension and misunderstanding.

Giving the logic of the Monroe Doctrine, can we say that for the United States, the biggest problem on our continent is Germany and that it is in its vital interest not to allow our Western neighbor to become the leader in Europe?

Against the backdrop of the decomposition of current balance of power, Washington’s determination to maintain its hegemonic position is clearly visible, at the price of destroying standards that were favorable to the entire Western world, and above all, to the US itself. Donald Trump’s presidency illustrates a transitional period in which current values, norms and institutions are being undermined, but not much is offered in return. Ideological confusion leads to disturbances in the understanding of the criteria for assessing our own and other countries’ interests. Building one’s strategy based on winning in trade wars and converting each transaction into profit results in turning away from allies and partners. Complaining about the “brutality” of the European Union and the “ingratitude” of NATO allies for their protection “under the umbrella of America”, shows a radical change in priorities. Disturbances in the perception of reality allow to call the greatest tyrants “great personalities” (as in the case of Kim Jong-un). Nationalistic and xenophobic attitudes, looking for scapegoats and demonization of arbitrarily appointed enemies, are taking the lead.

Germany with its largest economy in the European Union (and being the fourth largest economy in the world) not only sets the tone for integration processes in Europe, but is also able to conduct independent policy towards Russia. European countriees maintain a critical distance from Putin’s political moves (in Ukraine and Crimea, as well as in Syria), but they consistently defend the Russian direction of energy supplies (Nord Stream 2), participation in Russian investments and trade. The intra-steer power of Germany’s political leadership, as well as the growing anti-American sentiment expressed both on the left (Die Linke) and on the right (Alternative for Germany — AFD) of the political scene strengthens the country’s competitive bargaining power towards the USA. Poland in this balance of power is a low-ranking player, even when American propaganda assigns it the role of a “strong wedge” — in the words of George Friedman — driven between Germany and Russia. Because, according to the Washington’s elite, the German economy is too strongly associated with the Russian one, Poland should be focused on becoming an important buffer, which is at the same time the main playground for American operations in this part of the globe. All this indicates the instrumental treatment of Poland. On the one hand, it will remain a contractor of American orders, being at conflict with Germany, but anyhow subordinated to the interests of the German economy.

Is it in the Polish national interest to be in conflict with Russia and deprived of real partners in the European Union? In the era of globalization, is it not the time for a new geopolitical thinking in Warsaw?

It is in the Polish national interest to re-evaluate relations with Russia, both at bilateral and multilateral levels: Western-Russian divide. It is about realizing the convergent points on each side in the most important matters. The confrontation of positions and escalation of demands that cannot be met are taking a long time. When the stalemate gets complicated, it is time to reject existing strategies. The vital security interests, understood on many dimensions, even in the context of epidemic threats, require pragmatic cooperation in the name of survival. I am of course aware that it is a long way from tenacity to mutual recognition of my arguments by way of compromise. However, the time is coming for a new look at many issues from the point of view of common challenges and threats, and this has nothing to do with the current policy of grievance, obsession and phobia.

The dominance of great powers has been hampering independent Polish strategic thinking for many centuries. The burden of history and geopolitics means that Poland, and especially its ruling elites, is unable to break away from the past addictions and suffered harms. Through the very parameters, our elites are defining their identity, friends and rivals, psychological distance and attitudes towards neighbors. Meanwhile, the situation is changing and it is clear that the old geopolitical determinants of Poland’s international status cease to have a rational justification. Poland does not have to be a buffer or a bulwark, much less a frontier country. Its geopolitical functions have always been the result of cynical external influences. By regaining introvertility, Poland has a unique opportunity to move to the role that is a logical consequence of its location in the center of Europe — a “prudent intermediary” in the Euro-Atlantic-Eurasian system. In the Atlantic system alone, it remains, at most, a zealous and uncritical exhibitor of American interests in Europe, and this does not bring her any glory. The sooner Polish rulers read the sense of ongoing changes, the more they will gain from strengthening the status of the state, distancing themselves from “geopolitical fantasies” created overseas and assigning Poland the role of the “bolt” of the West towards Russia. In essence, this role means harnessing Poland into a chariot of hegemonic U.S. policy, which does not intend to give up arranging the world in its own fashion. The Anglo-Saxon powers enjoy Poland as a “salesman” of their interests, and even a “saboteur” in the East. It is even strange that such treatment is not the subject of public debate, sober reflection of decision-makers, or an independent intellectual reflection.

Does ‘Putin’s Russia’ really threaten Poland and Europe? Is it true, repeating after some analysts on both sides of the Atlantic, that current Russia is driven by “imperialist ambitions”?

No, ‘Putin’s Russia’ is currently not a source of danger for Europe or Poland. It is well known that after the disappearance of the Cold War confrontation, the West began to expand its geopolitical domain by entering the area of the former Eastern Bloc. This irritates Russia, which, after returning to a superpower game, is perceived by the North Atlantic Alliance as a serious obstacle to its further expansion, especially in the post-Soviet space. His determination to defend vital security interests of Russia is expressed in the form of various pressures, including counter-interventions, a drastic manifestation that took place in Georgia and Ukraine. As a consequence, on the West’s side, especially in the US to which her European allies succumbed to, the logic of the external enemy has revived. Arousing ‘red panic’ again, this time against ‘Putin’s Russia’, has become the task of American strategy, against any rational premises. As Dan Kovalik wrote, “Russia was cast and categorized as a villain, antagonist and total opposite of ourselves, who can be freely blamed for all our collective failures.”

It is clear that “the U.S. war lobby definitely overestimates [Putin’s] ability to influence the course of events abroad”. The caricatured image of the Russian leader is to be a symbol of the rebirth of its imperial power and the desire to confront the West. In fact, America, including first and foremost the losers in the 2016 presidential election, is looking for a scapegoat which is guilty of its own defeat. We are dealing with one of the largest anti-Russian propaganda campaigns in the history of the United States, which has already been shown in many publications of American authors. Polish political scientists avoid this topic so as not to expose themselves to the ruling and mainstream media. However, the most interesting aspect of this phenomenon is the hiding of the real perpetrators of this new war and the creators of fear related to Russia. This real, yet hidden power, ruling the United States has been called the ‘deep state’. Its strongest elements are the military-industrial complex and global financier. These are environments that do not have democratic legitimacy, often operating in secret, but pretending to direct US policy. In fact, they are non-systemic, but they are extremely influential and not subject to anyone’s control.

Despite the persistent propaganda, one can risk to say that in the current geopolitical situation there is no country close to Polish borders, which would want to destabilize Poland. Scaring Poland with Russia is solely the result of an aberration in its perception. Although Russia dissociates itself from any aggressive intentions towards Poland, politicians of almost all options and mass media create the greatest threat on its part. In this way, the intensification of Russophobia eliminates Poland from the game in Eastern Europe for many years to come, but what is even worse, is that it also deprives it of participation in many projects to rebuild the West’s relations with Russia.

Distancing Poland from Russia does not diminish the gravity of the Russian problem in Polish politics. Russia is still one of the most important strategic challenges and benchmarks for Poland. Without it, Poles are not able to define themselves or define their place in Europe. All the inefficiencies of the ruling classes and misfortunes in social life are easily explained with the help of ‘Russian interference’. The paradox is also that the more Poland separates itself from Russia, the more it becomes dependent on American protection. The affective attitude towards Russia, represented in black and white colors, serves to construct Polish identity as a state vassalized towards the US. From the enunciations of Polish politicians visiting the United States, it can be concluded that the most important goal of Polish diplomacy is to base American guarantees for Poland’s security on an anti-Russian alliance.

Would it not be more beneficial for the image of Poland and its raison d'état to play the role of an intermediary between Russia and the West? After all, objectively speaking, we are culturally close with each other and at the same time we perfectly understand the West. Doesn’t that put us in an ideal position to reconcile these two (currently) feud worlds?

Poland is a country which has gained a lot in the new geopolitical situation after 1989 by joining Western structures. After all, it can lose a lot by its inability to match the expectations of partners and allies, often differing from each other, but also competitors and rivals with whom relations must be based on a peaceful modus vivendi, and not on a war crusade paradigm. Asymmetry in the division of powers and the rank system in international relations dooms smaller and weaker states to remain in the position of subordination, although none of them admits it. Depending on the strategies adopted — competitive, accommodative or cooperative — the boundaries of a sense of confidence vary, guaranteeing safety and relative independence. This issue is particularly intriguing in the discussions around the armaments program in Poland, whose individual military potential will never be able to counteract Russia’s military potential, which is called an “enemy” in political rhetoric. No maximization of armament expenditures (by the way, at the expense of developing other areas, for example, science or health care) will lead the conviction that full safety comfort has been achieved.

There will always remain a sense of fear and uncertainty, conditioned by the lower status of the state in relation to the strongest powers. After all, these are the countries which guarantee the allied readiness for collective defense. Therefore, it is worth looking for other solutions in the doctrine and practice of foreign policy, which take into account cooperative rather than confrontational strategies. Especially when it comes to neighbours, one must learn to build compromises and conciliatory behaviors. We should get rid of the satellite mentality and open to international dialogue not according to other people’s preferences, but follow our own interests. As the experience of the Scandinavian countries teaches, especially when it comes to Finland, much more can be achieved through diplomatic means and accommodation strategies than by betting on competition or confrontation. Constant reference to geopolitics conflicts Poland with the largest neighbor in the East and vassalizes it towards the United States. Poland, which is in conflict with Russia and deprived of understanding and real partners in the European Union, is the dream partner of the USA. Polish political elites, without much intellectual effort, agree to the offer of American protection, forgetting that the boundless gratitude to the oceanic patron also leads to uncritical addiction as a client, deprived of his own opinion.

How do you think the process of normalization of relations between Warsaw and Moscow could look like? What would each of the parties, assuming good will on both sides, had to do to make it work?

The most important challenge in Polish-Russian relations is the return to stable normality, which should be based on sovereign diagnosis of interests and psychological reassurance. Conflicting parties must — first of all — change their attitude towards the subject of the conflict, the way they express their claims and mutual perception. Therefore, the basic question concerns the political will of each party, but also the impact of external factors. The latter are associated with the attribution to Poland, by subsequent US administrations, of the role of “bolt” towards Russia, and not a catalyst of rapprochement. The biggest problem in Polish-Russian relations, therefore, is the collision of own interests with those defined by the American protector. Secondly, the restriction on normalization in Polish-Russian relations results from the “Ukrainization” of Polish eastern policy. There is no shortage in diagnoses that the Polish policy towards Ukraine is created by influential groups lobbying for the benefit of Kiev oligarchs. The anti-Russian blade of Polish-Ukrainian cooperation is intended to justify amnesia towards the crimes of Ukrainian nationalists (Volhynia, Eastern Galicia, Lesser Poland, 1943–1945), which are attempted to being covered in historical memory with Soviet crimes. Meanwhile, the expectations of Polish society are quite different. Contrary to appearances, the average Pole is not such a Russophobe, nor such Ukrainophile, as the mainstream media and politicians portray him to be. Polish society is tired of primitive anti-Russian propaganda, winding psychosis of war and suspicion, as well as the rising costs of economic sanctions. I am also deeply embarrassed by the attempts to win World War II by Polish political elites 75 years after it ended. It is time to acknowledge the complexity of the historical conditions of this war and leave disputes about whose fault is greater (or lesser) to professional historians, who neither practice propaganda nor irrational chutzpah.

Does supporting the initiative of the new Silk Road, in the context of constructive support for cooperation between Germany, Russia and China in our region, serve Polish (or more broadly European) raison d’état? If so, what might be the geopolitical implications of this choice?

Poland is in the position of a state without a clear policy towards the Chinese New Silk Road initiative. Maneuvering between the US and the European Union, Poland tries to pretend to be open to cooperation with China. On the one hand, Poland is in solidarity with the American strategy of “containing” China.On the other, it adopts the EU point of view that without China — the future hegemon — a new version of international order cannot be built. The attitude towards Russia is not without significance here. Together with the European Union and NATO, Russia may radically change the geopolitics of Eurasia, marginalizing regions like Central Europe. The North America-Russia-European Union “axis” (with Japan joining it along the way) can be a geopolitical challenge of the coming era. Russia is not able to face the growing power of China alone, and none of the elements of this “axis” wants to enter into an alliance with China against Russia. The game is therefore about balancing the Chinese power in the perspective of the coming decades, not only in Eurasia but on a global scale.

Should the alliance with the U.S. prevent Poland from having good relations with Germany, Russia and China? Should we fall into the trap of a stronger ally? Does it serve Poland and Europe?

Polish political decision-makers must consider whether, in the event of a possible loss of guarantee by the American protector, Poland can maintain its position and defend its rights in a relatively hostile direct neighborhood. Basing the security strategy, as well as gas supply, solely on the U.S. guarantees carries a high risk of uncertainty due to the unpredictability of the U.S. administration’s policy. Experience teaches that Americans primarily pursue their interests, and are not guided by sentiments, as it is sometimes perceived in Warsaw. So, fear has different faces. It is not only one source of danger. Sometimes, even a close neighbor and ally, which is Germany, can be the cause of a rebirth of phobia and anxiety. Especially the threat of German-Russian economic cooperation, including energy supply, is treated as the main source of threats. The U.S. plays a significant role in creating an atmosphere of fear, as it promotes its own LNG in Central European markets, and is afraid of Germany’s increasing independence and its rapprochement with Russia. Avoiding Russian gas transit by countries such as Poland or Ukraine not only deprives these countries of their profits, but also marginalizes them against major sources of supply.

The tragedy of Polish political thought is its inconsistency and tendency to basing it on idealistic notions, but not on reality. Yet another time, lack of understanding of political realism in Polish geopolitical thinking is revealed. The consequence of this approach translates into falling into the trap of a stronger ally. It is based on the assumption that a smaller state is often under the illusory conviction that it has “special” relationships with a great power that allegedly ensures equal treatment by its leadership. Meanwhile, the apparent asymmetry of interests and the great difference in potentials lead to forcing the ration of a stronger partner at the expense of a weaker one. The latter may, of course, demand, if he has enough courage and determination, greater concessions on the part of a strong ally, but it risks being accused of disloyalty and lack of credibility.

The fear of such judgment paralyzes political decision-makers, who treat the “falling out of favour” of a powerful protector as the greatest danger, primarily for themselves. This example relates to Polish-American relations after 1989. No Polish ruling team was able to determine the price for an unconditional support for the U.S. Polish politicians, regardless of their ideological provenance. They have become hostages to the belief that any opposition to the U.S. would mean a return to pro-Russian affiliation. Such mental climate was created (both in political salons and in the media) to show that, in fact, Poland has no room to maneuver in relations with the Americans. The ruling teams in Poland did not get rid of the inferiority complex towards the U.S. and they do not understand the need to use pragmatic and not ideological arguments.

The case of Poland shows that it is much more difficult for weaker countries to implement various plans against the interests of stronger players. That is why it is so important to wisely correlate your own visions of international order with the ideas and vision of countries with the recognized status, which have then a greater chance of implementation. In this context, participation in various contact, initiating, consulting, steering, management and decision-making groups on many geopolitical vectors is crucial. Only through good preparation and specialization in specific areas or issues, Poland still has a chance to develop an interesting international offer. However, the basic condition to achieve this goal is to get rid of the ethnocentrism and egocentrism of those in power. Politicians in a democratic state change in power due to the alternation of political forces, and a state that puts on permanent commitment and demonstrates the will to participate in solving difficult problems not only gains more and more respect and prestige, but also raises sympathy in the international environment. It is worth remembering about this fact when designing Poland’s international status in the future.

Interviewed by Adriel Kasonta.

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