Benefits of rapprochement would be enormous, but the short-sightedness and vanity of Poland's political class make it unlikely.
The election defeat in Poland suffered by Polish President Komorowski has come as a shock for the Polish and European elites.
It was no surprise to me.
Poland gets a glowing press in the Western media, reflecting the strongly favourable view Westerners have of Poland.
Komorowski’s party, the Civic Union, with its strongly pro-EU stance, is very well regarded in Western capitals, especially by comparison with the prickly relations many Western leaders had with Poland’s previous leaders, the Kaczynski brothers.
This strongly favourable press has however disguised problems that in the West are rarely discussed.
Though Poland’s economy is well regarded, the stubbornly high jobless rate (twice Russia’s level, with youth unemployment especially high) suggests deep-seated structural problems, belying the rosy image. This high unemployment has led in turn to high emigration by young people, who it seems are unlikely to return.
Basking in Western praise, the Polish elite has shown little interest in addressing this problem. This sense of complacency must create a feeling for many Poles that their governing class is remote and uninterested in them, which cannot have helped Komorowski. Though he is hardly alone in this, the fact that he was the incumbent would inevitably have caused resentment to focus on him. The fact that he has recently been linked --- perhaps unfairly --- to corruption allegations also cannot have helped him.
That the complacency of the entire governing class is the problem is confirmed by the low turnout (48% in the first round) and the startlingly high 20.8% scored in the first round by the independent candidate Pawel Kukiz.
Unfortunately there appears to be little prospect of change. The winner of the election, Andrzej Duda of the opposition Law and Justice Party, is as much a part of the political class as Komorowski. On the big issues, to an outsider at least, he differs little from Komorowski, other than being perhaps rather more wary of the EU.
On policy towards Russia it is impossible to see any fundamental difference between Komorowski and Duda. Both share the same antagonism to Russia. If anything Duda is likely to be more hardline than Komorowski. When Poland was led by the Kaczynski brothers (Duda’s predecessors as leaders of the Law and Justice Party) relations with Russia hit an absolute low.
Moscow is doubtless pleased to see the back of Komorowski. However the claim Moscow actually wanted Duda to win is farfetched.
This abiding Polish antagonism to Russia is both tragic and represents a missed opportunity.
In the immediate term, it is causing Poland to play a role in the Ukrainian conflict and in eastern Europe that can only antagonise Russia and which is far beyond Poland's strength, leaving Poland exposed if Western policy towards Russia changes, as it now seems it might.
That even Poland’s hardline former foreign minister Radek Sikorski, in a brief moment of insight, seemed to grasp the risks for Poland of the sort of Atlanticist anti-Russian policy he usually advocates, shows how unwise this policy is for Poland.
It is also a major distraction from the serious domestic issues that ought to be the Polish political class’s priority, a fact reflected in the recent election outcome, which Duda won on domestic issues.
The reality is that there has never been a better time for a fundamental rapprochement between Poland and Russia than now.
Whatever grievances Poles may have about the past, Russia today poses no conceivable threat to Poland and seeks only good relations with Poland. The vexed issue of Poland’s eastern border, which so bitterly complicated relations between Poland and Russia during the interwar period, has been settled. Moscow has no interest --- and absolutely no desire --- to control or occupy Poland, or any part of it, or to have any say in its government, or to have bases or a military presence there.
Moreover Russia has in Putin a strong leader who seems to be personally very well disposed towards Poland.
To those familiar with both Poland and Russia, and who are favourably disposed to both countries, it is obvious that the two countries are natural partners and friends, sharing much in common and complimenting each other.
No single development would better stabilise the situation in eastern and central Europe, or secure peace there, than a genuine rapprochement between Poland and Russia. A good parallel is with the transformation of the situation in western Europe that took place following the reconciliation between Europe’s two other historic adversaries, Germany and France, which took place in the 1960s.
Unfortunately the political situation in Poland, as the recent election shows, for the moment promises none of that.
Putin, Russia’s Adenauer, still awaits his Polish De Gaulle.
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