Timofey Bordachev: Poland’s job is to be a US ‘spoiler’ in the EU
Poland’s rise in the European Union’s political firmament is in itself vivid evidence of the bloc’s declining importance in world affairs. This is seen in the merely ceremonial role Brussels plays in the discussion of almost all contemporary crises and its inability to offer an alternative to American policy.
Since its “return to the European family,” Poland has consistently played the role of spoiler in any attempt to make the bloc stronger or to negotiate with Russia. In other circumstances, in the kind of EU that Paris and Berlin dreamed of 30 years ago, Warsaw would have remained a silent appendage of the Franco-German tandem. The fact that the country now plays a disproportionate role not only means that Western Europeans have lost the initiative but also reveals the true extent to which the bloc’s politics has become provincial.
For Russia, it is not Poland itself that matters, but rather the new conditions in the geo-strategic game we are playing with the West. We do not care which party will be in power in Warsaw because any government there is nothing more than functional, whose only way of survival is to represent US interests and maintain transatlantic unity. This, of course, nips in the bud any hope of a sustainable European order. After all, the strategic disposition of our confrontation with the West has always been determined precisely by its internal divisions.
If the new Polish government is formed by the Civic Platform party, which was previously in opposition, the country will face a crisis of dual centers of power, as a representative of the former regime will remain president. This will temporarily weaken the power of Warsaw’s foreign policy, causing confusion and discord. Of course, it is not impossible that its American patrons will become more active in managing internal Polish contradictions in such conditions. In any case, the struggle with Russia will remain a mainstay that unites Polish politicians, regardless of their other positions.
Poland’s conflict with Germany will probably subside for a while, and demands for war reparations will be off the agenda for a while. The degree of confrontation between Warsaw and Brussels over differences in values will be reduced.
It is, however, unlikely that Poland’s strategic position as an American outpost within the EU will change seriously. Nor will the change of power in Warsaw lead to an about-turn in its policy towards Ukraine. Moreover, it is likely that a liberal government will prove to be a more convenient partner for the authorities in Kiev. In any case, the territory of Poland will remain a transshipment point for weapons and mercenaries traveling from the West to its war-torn neighbor.
We should not expect the liberals in power to become more treaty-compliant regarding border relations around Russia’s Kaliningrad region. Another factor is that the militarization of Polish foreign policy may become less demonstrative.
The essence will remain the same, but there will be less shouting and fewer outrageous statements. However, I don’t think that the very extremist nature of the right-wing populists from Law and Justice has been a problem for Russia. Nor for Germany, which is Warsaw’s second most important foreign policy adversary. The reality is that Poland is too insecure about its survival to become a truly sovereign state.
The country’s independent history ended in the middle of the 18th century. Two attempts to revive it – between the world wars and under Communist rule – were unsuccessful. Today’s Polish state is a product of unique global circumstances resulting from the victory of the US in the Cold War. And its future – under whatever government – depends on the continued American presence in Europe. Therefore, on the crucial issue that divides Poland and Russia, and Poland and Germany (if the desire for independence is ever revived there), the change of parties and even ideologies in Warsaw is of little consequence.
Timofey Bordachev, Valdai Club Programme Director