“Eastern Flank” or monkey in the middle? Warsaw grasps at too many straws

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May 22, 2016 – 

Stanislav Stremidlovsky, News Front – 

Translated by J. Arnoldski

Preliminary preparations for the NATO summit to be held in Warsaw in July of this year have been completed on the level of coordinating strategic decisions. This was reported by the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Witold Waszczykowski following the meeting of the foreign ministers of the North Atlantic alliances’ member states which took place on May 19th-20th in Brussels. The USA, UK, and Canada, according to the minister, “foresee a presence of their forces on the territory of the Eastern Flank.” He added that they assured him that there will be a military presence of soldiers and equipment in Poland: “We received an assurance that Poland’s security interests will be taken into account through a military presence, both NATO as well as American.” However, Waszczykowski refused to speak about the details, explaining that, as the Foreign Service of Polish Radio broadcasted, “all the joy” of sharing the details of the agreement will go to the Minister of Defense of Poland, Antoni Macierewicz, following the June 14th meeting of NATO member countries’ defense ministers in Brussels. 

However, judging by everything, there will be little joy. Despite all of Warsaw’s attempts to put itself and the Baltic states on the frontline of “fear”, force the alliance to strengthen the so-called “Eastern Flank” of NATO by placing permanent military bases in Poland, presenting Russia as an “existential threat,” and blaming Moscow for playing a “geopolitical game” against Poland, the main focus of the alliance remains the south, the geography of which stretches from Libya to Afghanistan including the Mediterranean Sea. It is exactly to this southern flank that a large part of discussions and speeches of the participants of NATO’s member countries’ foreign ministers meeting was dedicated. Warsaw will participate in strengthening this front. As Waszczykowski confirmed, Poland will support the international coalition against Daesh (ISIS) by sending several F-16’s on patrols, although earlier the Poles wanted to limit their involvement to humanitarian missions and logistics. 

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Thus, the minister had to have a good attitude in a bad game. According to the head of Polish diplomacy, the decision to deploy several NATO battalions to Central and Eastern Europe “as earlier is not satisfactory” for Warsaw, but it is hoped that “for now this is enough.” Responding to the question as to whether or not he is afraid that strengthening the southern flank of the alliance would come at the expense of the “eastern,” Waszczykowski said that this is not a problem. “NATO should be in all areas and be able to see danger from 360 degrees,” the minister remarked. However, he believes that the threats emanating from the south – migrants, refugees, and terrorism – entail “considerable risks, but not such existential threats as those from the east.” However, Waszczykowski’s position is not so much shared by the alliance as a whole as it is by Washington. If NATO does not intend to play the “Russian factor” in the question of the “eastern flank,” then this potential zone of conflict is still connected to the desire of the alliance to establish a foothold in Georgia.

Military threats are usually closely intertwined with political ones. The question is which rhetoric and ideological instrument should be chosen in order to present something troubling for security in a media language. The previous Polish government, the coalition of the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) resorted to “democratic values” in confrontation with Moscow and appeals to NATO. Russia was habitually accused of suppressing the democratic opposition, harassing the press and dissenters, and authoritarianism. Hence the need to “defend” Poland with NATO forces. However, the new Polish government headed by the Law and Justice Party (PiS) which has taken control of the cabinet of ministers, the Sejm, the Senate, and the presidency and has paralyzed the work of the Constitutional Tribunal could not use this technique because Warsaw itself could now be blamed for everything for which Warsaw earlier reproached Moscow.  

Motley anti-government demonstrations of the disparate opposition united around the Democracy Defense Committee (KOD) periodically occur in Poland. The government is purging state and public media, first and foremost television and radio, for which PiS has been criticized by its own allies. Recently, Warsaw was rebuked by former US president Bill Clinton for building “Putinist authoritarianism” in Poland, which provoked a strong reaction from the leadership of Law and Justice as well as from the American organization Polonia. Around 100 people with Polish flags and banners reading “Hands off our democracy” picketed an election rally in support of Hillary Clinton in Chicago and promised that Clinton would not get a single vote from US citizens of Polish origin. 

A “second front” has also been opened against PiS by Brussels. As the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita (The Republic) writes, the European Commission has set a clear time frame for Warsaw to show progress in resolving the crisis with the Constitutional Tribunal. If the situation does not change before May 23rd, then the deputy head of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, will send Brussels’ official warning to Poland. The Polish government will then have two weeks to respond. If the Polish side’s response does not satisfy the European Commission, then it will move to the next stage of the procedure which will propose a specific solution and a deadline for implementation. If Brussels’ recommendation is rejected, then it could impose sanctions on Poland or deprive it of voting rights in the Council of the European Union. The statement of Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo that “the Polish government will not submit to any ultimatum and will now allow anything to be imposed upon Poles” did little to improve the situation. 

In the end, it turns out that Warsaw does not have sufficient tools to fight with Moscow on the “eastern flank,” on which a fictitious war has not broken out. “Democratic values” are not suitable due to the fact that they have acquired a double-edged nature. And Poland cannot afford to wage a “geopolitical game” against Russia….Poland’s allies in the US, NATO, and the EU, where the nerve of world politics is today, think quite differently than Warsaw does. If the West will not wage its bet on the eastern flank, as one might expect to be decided at the Warsaw NATO summit in July, then Poland will need to rethink its priorities and update the focuses of its foreign policy. Otherwise, Warsaw is once again destined to play the role of a proxy-server over and through which leading powers will face off. 

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