Radek Sikorski (who I met at the American Enterprise Institute briefly after he moderated a a 2003 debate between Niall Ferguson and Robert Kagan) is in the news again. Sikorski, who is married to the Washington Post reporter Anne Applebaum, is back in government as Defense Minister for the newly elected Law and Justice conservative coalition. Mr. Sikorski's "neocon" credentials from AEI have drawn considerable comment in European political journals, and contributed to speculation that he is Warsaw's go-to-guy for dealing with Washington.
Today's International Herald Tribune covered a press conference at which Mr. Sikorski described declassified Warsaw Pact archives from 1979 - a time when Poland was growing restless under Soviet domination and a Polish Pope was being elected in the Vatican. The IHT implies that the conservative government is sincere about wanting to tell the whole truth about the Communist past, but that the timing might be a slap at Russia for freezing Poland and the the rest of the European Union out of recent negotiations between Moscow and Berlin over a new gas pipeline under the Baltic.
It's no secret that there has been centuries of animosity between the largely Catholic Poles and the Eastern Orthodox Russians, or that the territory Poland lost to the Hitler-Stalin Pact which Russia kept after WWII is still a sore subject for Poles of the older generation. Marian Tupy, a Slovak scholar at D.C.'s Cato Institute once told me the joke, "If Poland is invaded both by the Germans and Russians, who do you fight first? The Germans, of course - business before pleasure." Dripping gasoline on simmering old feuds, Russians and Ukrainians tend to be subjected to bigotry and stereotyping as criminals in Poland. During my trip to Poland in the late summer 2003, Ukrainian prostitutes were a common site along the highway between Warsaw and Krakow.
But most of the unfinished business between the two countries is just business. The Law and Justice government has promised better relations with Germany and Russia, with the natural hope that this will lead to greater trade across Poland's borders with both neighbors. Unfortunately for everyone, while Russia's oil and gas sector is booming, demand is slack in Western Europe outside the British Isles, with higher worldwide gas prices largely driven by demand from the U.S. and Asia and instability in the Middle East and West Africa. Poland also had hoped for a pipeline from the Caspian Sea oilfields thru Ukraine to terminate at expanded Polish refineries near the Ukrainian border. What connection this might have with the Krasniewski government's enthusiasm for the Orange Revolution, I will leave to our informed readers to comment/speculate, but in my opinion it was a natural turn given Poland's pro-U.S., pro-Western overall orientation.
At the risk of sounding like I am engaging in German-bashing, Germany's own historic motives for a Baltic pipeline might have something to do with Kaliningrad, the enclave formerly known as East Prussia. Though the borders are set in the new EU some older Germans would like to invest in the revitalization of regions that formerly belonged to Germany. The Polish mention of old chemical arsenals possibly decomposing at the bottom of the Baltic posing a threat to the environmental safety of the pipeline (the two likely have little to do with eachother) is another veiled dig at the old foe.
Clearly in the long term, as with the ridiculous dispute between Russia and Georgia, Warsaw and Moscow need each other. Poland needs Russian raw materials and Russia needs Polish and Western capital. But Poles continue to be wary of what they see as a either a dominating neighbor (hence the calls for U.S. bases to move to Poland from Germany). Perhaps the Poles should be more concerned, like Poland's best friend the U.S., about Russia's weaknesses rather than strengths. The biggest long term threat to Poland's national security and prosperity is not terrorism or aggression, ironically enough, but the demographic anemia of ancient foes Germany and Russia and its own sagging birth rates.