poland

Polish foreign minister in an interview with Kommersant

"We are grateful for the liberation from the fascist occupation of 1945. But then for the next 45 years the Soviet army dictated who would rule Poland - and it was not a leadership chosen by Poles," says Polish FM in an interview with Kommersant.

Kommersant: A few weeks ago, television screens around the world broadcast images from Warsaw showing Donald Trump's visit and his first "European speech". At that time, the Polish leadership also announced its intention to purchase several Patriot missile batteries from the United States - in addition to the ten whose delivery began already in 2010. Do you know when and for what delivery the agreement will be signed?

Witold Waszczykowski, Polish Foreign Minister: For now it is not known. We signed a preliminary agreement and expressed our expectations regarding the specification of these batteries, radars and other accompanying equipment. We are now waiting for the US response regarding technical details and pricing. We do not expect the delivery to arrive tomorrow.

Does the number of batteries depend on the price? Polish media reported that there would be eight of them.

Approximately. Actually, price is not an issue when buying the weapons. It is important for the anti-aircraft defence systems to defend at least three points: First, the capital, secondly, part of the country through which additional NATO forces can be sent to Poland to support our defence, and thirdly, the main or other significant defence positions – here the decision lies with the military. Usually, three batteries are required to defend each of these points.

Speaking of additional NATO forces, are you referring to their fixed deployment?

No, I mean an emergency situation. We do not need additional NATO units at this time: we already decided in the past year to defend the eastern flank of NATO through four battalions, one of which will be deployed in Poland. In addition, our defence is guaranteed by a separate initiative on the part of the United States, which at the beginning of this year deployed its brigade. We now have about 5,000 allied soldiers in total.  

But at the same time, you say, of course, that this additional weapon that Poland would like to deploy at home is only defensive and cannot be used for a preventive strike?

Naturally. One cannot attack anyone with 5,000 soldiers. This only helps to avoid a local low intensity conflict, a situation we observed three years ago in the Crimea where suddenly unmarked soldiers suddenly appeared. I would also like to remind you that the NATO doctrine is defensive in nature.

But, for example, the Russian side also talks about the defensive nature of its military operations.

The Russian war doctrine officially provides for a "preventive nuclear attack". There are no such things in NATO documents.

So am I correct in understanding that Warsaw's desire to deploy additional Patriot batteries is related to the plans of the Russian side to bolster the missile brigade in Kaliningrad Oblast?

I will answer yes: Russian rockets are already located there, and we still do not have air defence systems in order to be able to defend ourselves in the event of a possible attack. It is not we who take action first - we respond to what we see. All the more, Patriot missiles do not allow any country to attack - in this sense the system is useless. "Iskanders" can, however, be used to attack, by equipping them with nuclear warheads.

Are you ready to deploy medium and small range missiles at home if the US Congress considers the INF Treaty and wants to send such missiles to Europe?

For now, this is mere speculation: US proposals have not been received, and the decision to deploy such weapons would depend on NATO. As far as I know we do not foresee such a possibility for now.

In these troubled conditions, do the defence ministries of Poland and Russia maintain direct relations with regard to military matters?

Since 2014, these contacts have been significantly reduced.

Meanwhile, diplomatic relations are maintained: in July, bilateral consultations were held in Moscow with the participation of Undersecretary of State Joanna Wronecka and Deputy Minister Gennady Gatilov in relation with Poland's UN Security Council membership. Does this imply that in the present circumstances this is the only field of cooperation between Poland and Russia?

Unfortunately yes. The Polish side is ready to cooperate: at the beginning of 2016, almost immediately after taking office, I sent Deputy Minister Ziółkowski to Moscow to discuss the issue of bilateral cooperation and security. I hoped it would produce a breakthrough. After that, the deputy minister went to Moscow again for multilateral consultations. And now in July, Deputy Minister Joanna Wronecka went over. But we do not see reciprocity: for now no one has made use of the invitation sent to Moscow for deputy ministers to come to Warsaw.

Furthermore, several months ago we tried to resume the work of the Group for Difficult Matters by appointing a new co-chairman, Professor Miroslaw Filipowicz. Also in this field we do not see reciprocity and readiness for dialogue.

As a positive sign, I regard the congratulatory words sent by Minister Lavrov, which I received in connection with Poland’s non-permanent membership of the the UN Security Council, with the proposal to conduct these consultations in Moscow (upon which I sent Deputy Minister Wronecka to Moscow). I hope that in September I will meet Sergey Lavrov directly on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

Have you directly proposed a meeting with the Russian minister?

Let's say that diplomatic channels have expressed our willingness to continue cooperation: deputy ministers have already met, I think now it's time for a meeting between ministers.

Returning to the Group for Difficult Matters: Do you know who is currently the co-chairman of the Russian side?

There is no co-chairman. The former co-chairman Anatoly Torkunov resigned from the post, and the Russian Ambassador in Warsaw recently confirmed that the Russian side is not ready to resume this cooperation.

According to one account, which I heard in Moscow, a major grievance was the substitution of Adam Rotfeld, an influential and respected former minister, a representative of the academic community.

And who was Mr Torkunov, the Dean of MGIMO? Professor Rotfeld resigned as he felt that there had been no reciprocity on the Russian side for several years. Of course, I can change the co-chairman, but regardless of this, the Russian side has not been prepared to continue the dialogue.

Do you think that some sort of progress can be made on this subject within the framework of the UNSC? To somehow alleviate the differences of opinion?

Next year, there will be many representatives of Europe in the Security Council: Sweden, the Netherlands and Poland, in addition to France and Britain, one third of the Security Council will be members of the EU. I hope this will allow us to cooperate and move forward.

In another interview you announced that Poland’s priorities also include the Syrian conflict as well as the crises in the Middle East and Ukraine...

There is no such notion as the "crisis in Ukraine". What there is the "Russian-Ukrainian conflict", triggered by Russia. And we will strive towards contributing to finding a solution. But of course we do not intend to undertake anything on our own: first and foremost everything depends on the readiness of Russia and Ukraine to implement the Minsk Agreements as well as the participants of the Normandy format.

Kiev has called for UN peacekeepers to be sent to the Donbas. Would you support this initiative in UNSC debates?

The idea of ​international forces controlling the Russian-Ukrainian border is contained in the Minsk Agreements and an OSCE monitoring mission is in place for this purpose. So it is necessary to first define what the UN mission will be, and secondly, to assure Russia's consent. This would be good, but for now Russia does not agree to border monitoring missions and continues to support the separatists of the Donbas, and military contraband can flow freely across the border, including weapons, ammunition and personnel. 

So it is too early to talk about the conflict being frozen?

It does indeed seem like a frozen conflict, but we prefer to talk about a low intensity conflict. According to OSCE SMM data, people are still dying every day, shots are fired several times a day.

From both sides?

The irony is that the monitoring mission has no right to indicate which side the shots were fired from. But according to our data, the shooting is mainly carried out by Russian-backed separatists.

One of the arguments put forward by supporters of the volunteers in the Donbas is the following: look at what is going on in western Ukraine, look at the rise of Ukrainian nationalist tendencies, do you want them to affect the Russian population in the Donbas?

I will not agree with this. One of my deputies was in Lviv a few days ago. We have no information about the growth of nationalism in Ukraine. The conflict undoubtedly stokes anti-Russian sentiment throughout the country. But we have noted the growth of nationalism, including anti-Polish nationalism. I also have to refer to the term "volunteers" that you use - I once again stress that these are "separatists", how else does one call people who act against the legal leadership?

What about the UPA's heroism? You yourself recently stated that "Ukraine will not enter Europe with Bandera”.

This is another matter. Ukraine instinctively tries to formulate, to feel out its historical identity, to build the foundations for patriotism - although one might call it nationalism. This is a normal tendency. But our advice is this: do not build a historical identity for example on the figure of Shukhevych.

The European aspirations of Ukraine may suffer. After all, OUN/UPA officers participated not only in crimes committed against Poles, but also in the Holocaust.

But can one not draw the conclusion from this that your advice does not work? Just look at the change of street names in Ukraine in honour of Bandera and Shukhevych.

You're right, there are problems. In December last year, when President Poroshenko was in Poland, we discussed the issue and proposed a solution: Let us try to use the experience and example of Israel, which gave new meaning to the Holocaust and built a memorial site for Yad Vashem. Let's begin to recognize those who survived, let us distinguish Ukrainians and Poles who actually saved people during World War II and after.

So you want to find new heroes?

They do not need to be found. After all, in the common history of Poland and Ukraine there are individuals who did a lot of good.

And what about the Ukrainians?

The response was positive: the initiative was addressed to the Foreign Ministries, ie to Pavlo Klimkin and myself, with a recommendation to investigate implementation possibilities. It is true, however, that for eight months I have received no news on this matter from my colleague Pavlo.

When you repeated this, were you not upset as a result of the harsh reaction from the  Ukrainians?

Let's say yes, problems did exist. But I am still waiting for the possibility of resuming this discussion with the Ukrainians. After all, we have the experience of reconciliation with Germany. We are waiting for Ukraine's response.

At the same time I can say that for Poles, although they know this problem, it is not crucial. We remember and will not forget the Volhynia massacre. We know that UPA glorification takes place. However, this does not mean, that we will forget how important an independent and sovereign Ukraine is for the security of our part of Europe. We are still ready to cooperate with and support Ukraine.

As regards support, it seems that Poland's position is the most principled in the EU. Is this really the case?

Yes, because among the EU Member States and NATO we are the only country neighbouring aggressive Russia and the victim of its aggression - Ukraine. We are close to both countries and we are also affected by this conflict.

In what sense?

As a result of migration. Only last year we issued more than 1.2 million visas to Ukrainians. Almost a million of them decided to stay in Poland. In the first six months of this year alone we have issued 750,000 visas - so this number is growing.

But if the numbers are growing and the conflict is freezing, then perhaps the problem does not lie in the conflict?

The problem does lie in it: the conflict inhibits economic transformation. The national effort is directed at the defence of the country. Less time and resources are available to carry out urgent internal reforms, which are crucial for the future of Ukraine.

Do you think this is a convincing excuse for not reforming?

We do not hide the fact that we advise our Ukrainian partners to speed up reforms. Poland is actively supporting this process.

But this also does not work? We talked to you before you were appointed foreign minister MFA in 2015 and you said then that the reforms are ongoing but are slow due to military spending. It appears that in fact no European can influence Kiev?

I think so. But no one is happy about it, Ukrainians are not satisfied with the rate of reform. This is a complex process, especially for a state that has been under the influence of the Soviet economic model for so many years.

In your opinion, did at least some reform succeed?

There is progress, I saw it while in Ukraine a few years ago and in March this year. For our part, we try to help, for example by sharing our experiences in local government reform, which we successfully managed many years ago. They are now also trying to copy this model. Economic reforms are slower. And finally, the problem is that throughout the history of Ukraine there are very few periods when it was an independent state, which for Kiev is an additional problem.

This is not the main topic of our talk, but I have to ask: my cousin’s grandfather was killed during an uprising in a German concentration camp in the north of Poland and buried there. My grandfather on the other hand was injured in Poland and miraculously survived - in the family they say that a Polish woman saved him. Do you really think it is so important to destroy this common history by demolishing the monuments of the Red Army in Poland?

Please do not mix these issues. Nothing will happen with the graves and cemeteries: they are protected by international law, the Polish state and bilateral agreements. We do not destroy monuments on graves. But the local authorities can tear down the signs of Soviet domination: red stars, the sickle and hammer - and the like.

Are you convinced that such symbolism will be destroyed rather than monuments of soldiers?

If they are monuments in the cemetery - they are under protection. If not - why should we worship them? It was the Soviet Union that contributed to the start of World War II through the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and attacking us in September 1939 from the east.

We are grateful for the liberation from the fascist occupation of 1945. But then for the next 45 years the Soviet army dictated who would rule Poland - and it was not a leadership chosen by Poles. This was the leadership that worshiped Soviet symbolism in Polish cities. And the democratic government – did not.

Have you discussed with your Russian counterparts the threat of the Russian Federation's Foreign Ministry about the introduction of "asymmetric actions" should the demolition of the monuments proceed?

We have not received any official information from Russia on this subject, but we have only read about these developments in the mass media. Once again: no international laws or bilateral agreements protects such monuments.

In September, the European Commission intends to discuss with the EU states the final parameters of the mandate for talks with the Russian Federation on the legal status of Nord Stream 2. The Polish leadership has repeatedly stated that they are opposed to this project. What do you think is the meaning of similar talks, taking into account the extreme positions of supporters and opponents of the project?

We have maintained the same position for many years: Nord Stream is a political instrument to first circumvent Central Europe, and then, possibly, turn off gas. Gas supplies have already been used as a political weapon against Ukraine and Belarus, and we have often suspected that it could also be used against Poland. The price of gas supplies to Poland is already much higher than in Germany, although we are closer.

But this is business: the Germans have the opportunity to buy gas elsewhere, and you do not.

Yes, we are now dependent on Russian gas, but we have decided to diversify our supply: we have completed the construction of an LNG terminal and we have already imported gas from other regions, for example from Qatar and the US - if we are satisfied with the price. In June, we already accepted one tanker from the USA. Technically it is possible so we are waiting for their price quotes. I have already signed an agreement with Denmark and Norway to build the Baltic Pipe. This means that in about five years we will be less dependent on Russian gas, and perhaps completely independent of it: nowadays one third of our demand is able to cover our own production, the second third we intend to receive through the LNG terminal and the remaining gas pipeline from Norway. Nevertheless, we are still ready to buy gas from Russia - but at a competitive price. Returning to Nord Stream - we strive to convince our European partners that Nord Stream is a political instrument. We use the opportunity to challenge this project in European courts. We also support US sanctions against European companies that will support the construction of Nord Stream 2.

Meanwhile, Germany and Austria have already threatened to retaliate if their companies are affected by US sanctions. And won’t you have to choose between the US and European partners if the issue comes to the stage of discussing retaliatory actions in the European Union?

Talking about this is still premature, everything needs to be discussed. After all, our position is unchanged: you (i.e. the EU) ask for solidarity in migration matters, in the refugee crisis, but you are not ready to show solidarity with us and disregard our security.

Is Poland planning to extend the contract for the transit of Russian gas to Germany through the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, which ends on January 1, 2020?

Maybe, but only when Russia offers a price much lower than it is today.

But the talks on extending the contract have not even started yet, even though Gazprom sent the query over a year ago.

We continue to build infrastructure for the diversification of supply. And maybe it will be completed just when the contract ends. And then maybe we will agree proposal put forward by the Russian side, but on the condition that the price will interest us.

But if you had a lot of gas, would you not have tried to sell it so as not to pay for transit and free yourself from political risks?

Of course, if we had such opportunities. I understand Russia's position - they want to sell their gas. Questions arise regarding the position of the EU and its individual members, which make us dependent on unstable and politically motivated Russian gas supplies. We know the experiences of those that have been blackmailed: Belarus, Ukraine and other countries. We want to avoid this ourselves.

It appears that you do not see the chance for the warming [of relations]?

I can honestly admit that being in the same neighbourhood with Russia is tough: because of military threats, because of provocation in the Baltic Sea, in the Black Sea. But on the other hand, this is a very promising neighbourhood: Russia is a huge market. If Russia had a democratic government and was ready to cooperate with the EU - this would be an ideal situation for us. But unfortunately, the current Moscow leadership has imperial ambitions and undermine international order, questioning the necessity of NATO, trying to build a "new security architecture."

Russia does not want to recognize that we Europeans have created privileged conditions for cooperation with it: the NATO-Russia Council, partnership with the European Union, which Russia has rejected, the UN Security Council, G20, G8, discussions on all regional issues: PRC, Iran, Syria ... What else? What else should we do to get Russia to cooperate on partner terms?

Does it not seem to you that the criticism you direct at Russia is similar to the way some European politicians criticize Poland? What else does Warsaw need - and you do not even want to take in refugees?

We want to. But I say to my European colleagues: you want us to accept tens of thousands of refugees from Libya, while we have received over a million Ukrainians. In what way are migrants from Ukraine worse than migrants from Libya.

But you know that Warsaw is being criticized anyway for the position on migration as well as for controversial legislation. Maybe Russia and Poland are similar in terms of "privileged conditions"?

We do not ask for privileges. We are pleased with the decision made at the NATO Summit in Warsaw. We have deployed NATO troops in our country, and we like being in the EU. And despite everything there is no ideal democracy: every EU country has its own special features.

Source: Kommersant

09.08.2017