By: Andrew Korybko
he Center for Syncretic Studies is pleased to present another original academic piece, in full, from our Russian collaborator, Mr. Andrew Korybko. This analytic monograph was a previously in-house submission to the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. The subject of Russian-Polish bilateral relations is a significant one, and has been one of the focuses of the work of CSS. Mr. Korybko’s original dedication read as follows:
“This report is dedicated to all Poles and Russians in the hopes that they and their governments may one day have the brotherly and fraternal relations that both sides deserve.”
“The thesis holds that Poland is developing and exploiting these two concepts within the institutions of the EU and NATO in order to advance its policies in the region at Russia’s expense. Poland is using Russian Guilt to normatively justify Polish Exceptionalism in the court of international opinion, thereby also damaging Russia’s soft power potential. It will be seen that an objective investigation into the topic will reveal that the moral bases of Russian Guilt and Polish Exceptionalism are extremely subjective and manipulated for self-serving interests. In all actuality, the aforementioned concepts will be exposed as being mental and emotional constructs that, although being expected to serve as highly effective ideological weapons in advancing certain foreign policy priorities, have little relevance to historical facts. Perceiving the Polish-Russian experience through a neutral perspective will undercut the moral foundation of the theories to the targeted audiences and present vulnerabilities that could be harnessed to defend the Russian Federation from this new form of intangible aggression.”
Part 1: From World War II to the End of the Cold War
Section 1.1: Poland Before World War II
The Munich Agreement and Poland’s Ultimatum to Lithuania
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Katyn Event
Poland’s Post-War Border Changes
Poland’s Eastern Border
Poland’s Western Border
Analysis of Poland’s Post-War Border Changes
The Emergence of Communist Rule in Poland
Chapter 1.1.7: Western Betrayal
Poland at the End of the Cold War
Pope John Paul II
The Pope’s Influence over Poles
The Pope’s Anti-Communist Beliefs
The Precedent for Papal Involvement in Polish-Russian Relations
The Pope’s Contribution to the Theory of Cold
War Ideological Competition
The Pope in the Context of Ronald Reagan and the Mujahedeen
The Round Table Talks and the End of Communism
in Eastern Europe
Solidarity’s Contribution to the End of the Cold War
Poland in the Post-Cold War Period
The Russian Military Withdrawal from Poland
Poland’s Invitation to NATO
Poland’s Invitation to the EU
Poland in the Post-9/11 Period
Introduction to Events
Introduction to Social Perceptions
Poland’s Involvement in Afghanistan & Iraq
The Loophole in Article 5
Poland’s Overseas Missions and NATO Interoperability
Characteristics and Context of the Kaczynski Presidency
Early Career through 2001
American Think Tank Work
Poland’s National Security Strategy of 2007
Poland’s Placement in NATO’s Security Architecture
The Promotion of Polish Interests Abroad
Poland’s Special Relationship with the US
The Katyn Film
The Psychological Symbolism Behind the Katyn Film
The Russian-Georgian War of 2008
The Consequences for Polish Foreign Policy
The Missile Defense Shield
Description of the Issue
Missile Defense Strategy
Missile Defense as a Tool to Promote Article 5
The Limits of the Polish-US Alliance over Missile Defense
Russia’s Responses to the Missile Defense Shield
Russia’s Initial Statements
The Polish Perception of Russia’s Initial Statements
Russian Tactical Breakthrough
Analysis of Rogozin’s Statement
The Significance of Russia’s Tactical Breakthrough for Poland
Modifications to the Original Strategy and Poland’s Domestic Missile Defense Shield
The Modified Strategy
The Consequences for Poland
The 2010 Katyn Catastrophe
Immediate Consequences of the Event
Russian Society’s Response
Plane Crash Conspiracies
The Consequences of the Plane Crash Conspiracies
The Consequences of the Plane Crash for Polish Foreign Policy
The Actual Consequences of Poland’s Foreign Policy ‘Repositioning’
2013 – The Return of Poland’s Eastern Assertiveness (Hard and Soft Polish Exceptionalism) and Russia’s Reactions
The Symbolism Behind the Domestic Missile Defense Shield Announcement
The US’ 21st-Century Reagan Doctrine
The Choreographed Collapse of the Polish-American ‘Reset’ with Russia
The Consequences of Poland’s Domestic Missile Defense Shield on Polish-Russian Mutual Perceptions
Russia’s Two-Stage Countermeasures
Russia’s Air Base in Belarus
The Significance of Steadfast Jazz
Why the US Laid Back in Bed with Poland
Poland and America’s Win-Win Situation
Polish Involvement in the Ukrainian Destabilization (Soft Polish Exceptionalism)
Russia’s Reaction to the Ukrainian Destabilization
Soft and Hard Polish Exceptionalism
Poland as NATO’s Largest and Most Important Frontline State
Sikorski – The Western Middleman and his Future NATO Role
What is to be Done?
Polish-Russian relations are one of the most contentious political issues in Eastern Europe today. Stretching back centuries, the memory of the past still influences the policies of the present. The modern era, beginning from World War II, provides a useful starting point in better understanding the current state of political affairs between the two states. The research will examine three distinct time periods in mutual relations:
- 1939-1989: World War II and the Cold War
- 1990-2000: The post-Cold War period
- 2001-Present: Post-9/11 developments
The half-century long period from 1939-1989 was largely responsible for many of the experiences that currently complicate the Polish-Russian relationship, as well as for creating the psychological framework of insecurity and mistrust that Poles feels towards Russia. This places a heightened importance on objectively analyzing those events and later exploring how they influence present-day politics. The decade from 1990-2000 was Poland’s first foray into independent decision making since 1939, and it provides evidence as to the pro-Western course of development that Poland decided to commence. Importantly, the analysis will allow one to identity the influence of the past fifty years on affecting Poland’s choices during this critical juncture. The post-9/11 developments most immediately affect the current state of affairs, and accordingly, this will be the period most critically analyzed. The research will conclude with a summary of the current state of Polish-Russian relations and a forecast about their future course, as well as policy prescriptions for Russia to undertake in order to place itself into the best possible position vis-à-vis Poland.
Aside from analyzing the history of mutual relations and forecasting their development, a dual objective of the research is to explore the complementary concepts of ‘Polish Exceptionalism’ and ‘Russian Guilt’ as theorized by the author. The author defines ‘Polish Exceptionalism’ as being ‘the sphere of influence and exceptional status that Poland feels it is entitled to in Eastern Europe due to the legacy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the perceived history of unbalanced and unjust relations with Russia.’ The idea of ‘Russian Guilt’ justifies ‘Polish Exceptionalism’ in that it is identified from the Polish perspective as ‘the collective feeling of guilt that Russians and their government should feel due to the history of injustice perpetrated against the Polish nation, and that the only way to correct this imbalance of historical relations is to enact positive concessions to any and all Polish foreign policy demands’.
The thesis holds that Poland is developing and exploiting these two concepts within the institutions of the EU and NATO in order to advance its policies in the region at Russia’s expense. Poland is using Russian Guilt to normatively justify Polish Exceptionalism in the court of international opinion, thereby also damaging Russia’s soft power potential. It will be seen that an objective investigation into the topic will reveal that the moral bases of Russian Guilt and Polish Exceptionalism are extremely subjective and manipulated for self-serving interests. In all actuality, the aforementioned concepts will be exposed as being mental and emotional constructs that, although being expected to serve as highly effective ideological weapons in advancing certain foreign policy priorities, have little relevance to historical facts. Perceiving the Polish-Russian experience through a neutral perspective will undercut the moral foundation of the theories to the targeted audiences and present vulnerabilities that could be harnessed to defend the Russian Federation from this new form of intangible aggression.
Part 1: From World War II to the End of the Cold War
The relationship between Poland and Russia from World War II until the end of the Cold War can be broken up into two distinct parts: 1939-1947 and 1978-1989. The former deals with the state of Poland immediately prior to World War II, the wartime Katyn incident, the territorial changes enacted in post-World War II Poland and their aftereffects, and the official establishment of a communist government in Poland. All of the previously mentioned led to an increase in Russian influence over Polish affairs. The latter period, 1978-1989, reversed all Russian gains and removed Moscow’s direct influence from the country. Significant events include the selection of Karol Wojtyla as Pope, Solidarity and the subsequent enacting of martial law, and the 1989 elections that promoted the first non-communist party to power in Eastern Europe.
Section 1.1: Poland Before World War II
Chapter 1.1.1: The Munich Agreement and Poland’s Ultimatum to Lithuania
By 1939 and the advent of the Second World War, Polish foreign policy had positioned the country into an uncomfortable position. Warsaw was engaged in simultaneous non-aggression pacts with both the Soviet Union (1932) and Nazi Germany (1934), although relations had by now grown tense between Poland and the other signatories. The year prior, Poland had exploited the Munich Agreement in order to take part in the dismantling of Czechoslovakia by occupying the small area of Zaolzie. This is an element of the infamous Munich Agreement that is commonly left out of public discussion on the topic. Seeing as how Poland’s annexation of Czechoslovak territory began on the day that the Munich Agreement was signed (30 September, 1938), it is probable that outside parties such as the Soviet Union could view Poland’s actions in the same aggressive light as they viewed Germany’s, and quite possibly, it may even appear as though both Warsaw and Berlin had coordinated their actions.
This is especially likely considering that earlier during March 1938, Poland issued an ultimatum to Lithuania that coerced it, under the threat of implied military force, to restore diplomatic relations with Warsaw. Relations had been frozen for over a decade as a result of the Polish-Lithuanian War, whereby Warsaw occupied Vilnius, the city which Lithuania continued to lay claim to as its official capital. What is most interesting about the 14 March ultimatum to Lithuania is that it occurred one day after the Nazi annexation of Austria. Five days later, on 19 March, Lithuania accepted the Polish ultimatum and forwent with its previous claims to Vilnius. The perception that Poland and Germany had coordinated their actions isn’t merely the realm of the hypothetical, as even the New York Times headlined an article on 16 March, 1938 that “Reich-Polish Deal Feared in Geneva; Cession of Part of Corridor and Warsaw Annexation of Lithuania Envisaged”. It can now logically be concluded that Polish actions prior to World War II may have filled the Soviet leadership with anxiety about the future intentions of its newly confident neighbor, whose recent forays in diplomacy had yielded relative gains alongside Nazi Germany’s, while the Soviet Union had no such zero-sum gains to show for at the time, thereby resulting in perceived relative losses.
Chapter 1.1.2: Prometheism
Before commencing a discussion about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it is necessary to highlight an under-researched foreign policy objective of Poland: Prometheism. Josef Pilsudski, the Polish hero of World War I and the leader of the Second Polish Republic until his death in 1935, was the first head of state in modern history to officially decree a foreign policy based on supporting ethnic, religious, historical, and regionalist separatism in a targeted nation. This was the policy underpinning behind Prometheism, and it was directed solely against the Soviet Union. Prometheism completely violated the 1648 Peace of Westphalia’s policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state. Although it went through ebbs and flows of support within the Polish government, it was practiced in one way or another until 1939. It aimed at encouraging the multitude of non-Russian nations and identities to embrace their differences with Great Russian culture and to agitate for independence. The eventual aim was not only the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but also the disintegration of the historical body of Russia among the many titular national minorities.
Prometheism was not successful in achieving its stated goal, although it did have some instances of minor success, such as brief cooperation with independent Georgia prior to its incorporation into the Soviet Union. The primary idea of the Prometheist policy was to utilize media and propaganda outlets to stir up separatist resentment against Moscow, thereby inciting a series of Hobbesian ‘wars of all against all’ for self-determination that would result in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and even Russia itself. Collaborationist military officers that were trained by the Promethean state would potentially assist in this endeavor after the rebellion had begun. Prometheism was therefore a constructivist means to achieve a realist end. In terms of constructivism, it sought to dislodge distinct identities from their unified loyalty to a diverse state as a prelude to a large-scale uprising, and regarding realism, its objective was the dissolution of the targeted state through internal warfare and the extension of outside influence into the newly founded entities. Poland was never to directly intervene in a military campaign against the Soviet Union, but rather was to grow its influence among the newly independent states that would be borne out of the wars’ ashes. All in all, Prometheism was an existential threat to the Soviet Union, and if successfully implemented, it would have completely destroyed the state.
Chapter 1.1.3: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
After having explained the background context leading up to World War II, it is now time to scrutinize the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This pact is extremely polarizing in both Polish and Russian society, and it may even serve as the most divisive and controversial event in the entire history of mutual relations. The Soviet Union signed the agreement with Germany largely in order to promote what it felt were its national interests at the time. As was previously explained, the Soviet Union had no relative gains during the period of German and Polish expansionism and perceived aggression. In the competitive international environment of the late 1930s, the Soviet Union may have felt compelled to compensate for any perceived zero-sum losses in the region by entering into the Pact.
Additionally, although legally engaged in a non-aggression pact with Poland, the case can be made that the Soviet leadership perceived that Poland and Germany were coordinating aspects of their foreign policy hitherto Germany turning its expansionist energy against Poland itself. Considering Poland’s previous policy of Prometheism, which in effect is a pro-separatist policy, Warsaw’s then-recent foreign policy advances may have emboldened it in the future to return this ideology to the forefront of its relations with the Soviet Union. Of course, an effective implementation of Promtheism (unlike the failings of its past applications) would have had devastating consequences for the unity of the Soviet Union, and this is especially true in the border regions of Belarus and Ukraine, of which significant numbers of either ethnicity inhabited both sides of the frontier. This presented a strategic vulnerability (yet at the same time, potentially an opportunity) that Moscow could not ignore. It can thus be argued that although the Soviet Union was in a non-aggression pact with Poland, it decided to act during an opportune time (the German military involvement) to neutralize any further threat of separatism that may emanate from its neighbor. The Soviet Union also wanted to reunify what it felt were the forcibly divided (via Poland’s counteroffensive gains during the end of the Polish-Soviet War) nations of Belarus and Ukraine. In an ironic twist, Pilsudski’s policy of dismembering a state along ethnic lines came to home to roost in the nest in which it was born, as the Belarusian, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian minorities of Poland would no longer live under Warsaw’s control after the war. In this way, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact can be interpreted as a defensive agreement that sought to pre-empt any future Polish aggression against the western regions of the Soviet Union.
Chapter 1.1.4: The Katyn Event
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the subsequent incorporation of the former eastern regions of Poland into the Soviet Union set the stage for the Katyn incident of 1940. The purpose of the following writings are not to excuse the killing of nearly 20,000 Polish officers, police units, intelligentsia, clergy, and civilians, but merely to explain the circumstances in thinking that led up to the event. With that being established, the Soviet Union leadership entered into a situation that mirrored that of the Russian Empire after the Polish Partitions, in the sense that a sizeable Polish minority was now residing under its domain. In the past, Polish rebellions, especially the one during 1863, endangered the stability of the Russian Empire and proved formidable military challenges. The Soviet Union was obviously aware of this history and may have even anticipated a future Polish rebellion in the newly acquired regions.
The events of 1 September, 1939 are recognized as having been the opening salvos of the Second World War, however, war had not yet erupted in Western Europe by this time, although France and the United Kingdom did issue a formal declaration of war against Germany. Sensing that a larger war was inevitable, and having just finished its military operations in Finland, the Soviet Union obviously wanted to place itself in the best possible position for when full-blown hostilities would erupt on the continent. The scenario of a Polish rebellion in the spirit of 1863 would prove a military vulnerability for the Soviet Union should Germany eventually decide to shift its expansionist tendencies ever more to the east. This could have served as a motivation for the Soviet Union to engage in the intellectual and military cleansing of segments of the Polish population that it viewed either as threats or as rallying points for future civil disobedience. Thus, it was with these considerations in mind that the Soviet leadership carried out the Katyn event of 1940.
One should now be reminded that even more Poles were killed by Ukrainian nationalist insurgents in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia near the end of the war (1943-1944) than were killed during the entire Katyn event, yet it is Katyn, and not these previously mentioned events, that garners the most widespread attention. It is probable that the emotional impact of Katyn on the Polish psyche was likely so pronounced as a result of the event taking place within such a short time frame when compared to the relatively more lengthy time that the Volhynia and Eastern Galician events took to transpire. Additionally, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) was not a state actor, whereas the Soviet Union was, and the UPA did not enter into or retain power after the war. Therefore, Poles likely attribute more attention to the Katyn event than to the Volhnia and Eastern Galician events because they feel that they can achieve some form of ‘justice’ either through official state acknowledgement and condemnation (as occurred respectively in 1990 and 2010) or through some type of future concessions, all of which are impossible to attain from a non-state actor which no longer exists.
Ironically, the Soviet Union also no longer exists, so since the Russian Federation is the official successor state to the Soviet Union, any future concessions would be enacted on the behalf of Russia, a recent political entity which was not party to the Katyn event. This raises questions about the intentions of Poland in previously pressing forward with its insistence that the Russian Federation condemn the Soviet-era Katyn event. After all, in 1990 the Soviet Union already acknowledged the fact that Stalin ordered the Katyn event to be carried out, so one should wonder what objective benefit Poland stood to gain (aside from the promotion of Russian Guilt) by the Russian Federation condemning this action after the fact. It therefore appears as though political and normative objectives may have been the motivating factor behind the Polish government’s 20 year insistence to have this past Soviet event condemned by contemporary Russian authorities.
Chapter 1.1.5: Poland’s Post-War Border Changes
Subsection 126.96.36.199: Poland’s Eastern Border
The Soviet Union formally annexed the regions of Eastern Poland after the 1939 intervention in the area, but this action was not finally internationally legitimized until the Potsdam Conference of August 1945. The territorial changes that were implemented were the separation of the Belarusian and Ukrainian portions of Poland and their incorporation into the Belarusian and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics. Additionally, Vilnius was permanently detached from Poland and returned to Lithuania, albeit by then the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. In this sense, regions that Poles had come to identify with their country and history were now no longer part of their state. Western Ukraine, particularly Lvov, occupies a special and idealistic part of the Polish psyche, and its separation from the Polish state was therefore especially hard for Poles to accept. Vilnius was a prominent city during the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and its removal from Poland dashed any hopes for a symbolic restoration of Poland’s historical hegemony. Furthermore, population transfers ensured that many of the Poles who were previously living in the newly incorporated Soviet territories were no longer present in those areas after the war. This morally dubious policy did however serve a strategic objective: it made it extremely difficult for Poland and Poles to project any strong eastward influence in the near future, and it reunified the previously divided Belarusian and Ukrainian people under one state. By the same token, it weakened the Polish state vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and it guaranteed Moscow’s security in the same way that similar developments in Germany neutralized a future threat from Berlin.
Subsection 188.8.131.52: Poland’s Western Border
The eastern borders of Poland were not the only ones affected by the Allies’ decisions for post-war Europe’s political landscape. Importantly, Poland’s western borders were also expanded to include former German territory up to the Oder and Niesse Rivers. Whether or not this territorial expansion of Poland’s borders was ethnically and historically legitimate is a topic for further research and discussion, and it is not within the scope of this work to expostulate on that subject. Of prominence to mention, however, is the population transfer of ethnic Germans from these territories and back to Germany as it was politically defined by its post-war borders. What is of crucial significance is that Poland experienced two large-scale population transfers simultaneously – that of ethnic Poles out of the newly incorporated Soviet regions and back to Poland, and the expulsion of ethnic Germans from the newly acquired Polish territories. In some understandings, population transfers (such as the previously mentioned) are even controversially identified as “ethnic cleansing”.
Subsection 184.108.40.206: Analysis of Poland’s Post-War Border Changes
It is understandable that any pressured population transfer would bring with it negative emotions and connotations on the side of the removed population, but what is of interest is the relative emphasis on guilt directed towards the Soviet Union concerning the removal of Poles from the USSR, but the reluctance to recognize the extent of Polish complicity in the removal of Germans from Poland. Poles cannot have it both ways – they cannot ‘ethnically cleanse’ Germans from the West, but then be upset that they themselves were ‘ethnically cleansed’ from the East. Thus, there does not appear to be any moral or normative consistency in Poland’s approach to this topic. It does, however, need to be underscored how influential these population transfers were in creating the current identity of Poland, as their resultant ethnic consequences have led to Poland being one of the most ethnically homogenous countries in the world today. For better or for worse, post-war ethnic homogeneity allowed the Poles to rebuild their state identity independent of the influence of any prominent ethnic minorities (Lithuanians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Germans). This strongly reshaped state identity would later aid Poland in fortifying against Soviet influence and eventually set the stage for the landmark revolutions of 1989. In this understanding, the population transfers, which are typically looked at in a negative light, did have some positive unintended future consequences for Poland and its history. In a cynical sense, U.S. Major Ralph Peters may have been right when he wrote of a “dirty little secret from 5,000 years of history: ethnic cleansing works”.
The irony is that in accordance to socialist ideology, nationalism and borders were not supposed to take on the emotional significance that they later came to have. The change of borders was not supposed to mean anything in an ideological bloc which did not recognize the importance of nationalism in identity construction and which believed in the socialist solidarity between peoples. In this line of thinking, it was not important that the borders were redrawn, as society’s emphasis was now to be diverted to economics, not nationality. Nonetheless, the point can be made that the border changes were a long-term strategic miscalculation caused by ideological blindness to the influence of nationalism. Although at the time there was little that Poland could do to protest what it felt was the unfair dislocation of its eastern provinces from the state, contemporary Poland has an opportunity, aided by the normative influence of the EU, to attempt to project influence into Western Ukraine and work on re-establishing its cultural and historical hegemony there (soft Polish Exceptionalism). This means that the decades-old border decisions have now resulted in the development of Poland as a possible emerging rival to Russia in terms of influence in different regions of Ukraine. Whereas Russia holds important influence over the East, the EU, via Poland, occupies influence in the West. This leads to confusion over Ukrainian state identity, let alone among the peoples themselves residing in the opposite parts of the country. Such analogous inroads are difficult to make in Belarus as a result of the ‘cold war’ between the two states and the relative lack of emotional importance (when compared to Western Ukraine) that the formerly Belarusian areas of Poland hold. Considering, however, that Poland quite often brings up what it views to be the plight of ethnic Poles in Belarus and its support of the Belarusian opposition, it can be seen that Warsaw is continuing to play its ethnic and historical cards, albeit in a different fashion, in an attempt to affect the domestic affairs of yet another neighboring state.
Chapter 1.1.6: The Emergence of Communist Rule in Poland
Alongside from the post-war territorial delineations and large-scale population transfers, the emergence of a communist government in Poland had far-reaching implications for Polish identity and mutual relations with Russia. Although the People’s Republic of Poland wasn’t officially declared until 1952, de-facto communist rule over the country began after the 1947 national elections. Seeing as how nationalism was especially prevalent in Poland prior to the Second World War, it can be suggested that that the establishment of a pro-Soviet government in Warsaw would seem an unlikely choice for the country. This is indeed plausible, and it is worth noting that the communist government came to power after Soviet troops were already positioned in the country. The Soviet Union also had external security threats with which to consider, specifically in light of the disastrous experiences of the two world wars and Germany’s complicity in beginning them, which motivated Moscow to build a buffer zone between it and Germany via the Central and Eastern European states after the war. To some Poles, this makes it seem as though the new government was imposed on the country via external pressure from the Soviet Union, especially considering that the 1947 election was marred with controversy. As with the instance of Poland’s post-war territorial enlargement in the West, it is not the focus of this report to explore the specifics of this development. Instead, what is important is to acknowledge the negative perception that certain segments of Polish society hold about this event, as well as the fact that it was in practice acquiesced to by the West via the Potsdam Agreement.
Chapter 1.1.7: Western Betrayal
The de-facto acquiescence of the West towards the communist government in Poland contributes to the idea of ‘Western Betrayal’ among Poles. This concept posits that the West betrayed Poland by not sufficiently assisting it in the opening stages of World War II. Although France and the UK were legally bound to assist Poland by treaty, they did not carry through on their obligations when Poland needed them the most. Compounded with the aforementioned acceptance of communist rule in Poland by the West (and bringing with it such a degree of Soviet influence that Poland was even referred to as a Soviet satellite state), it is understandable why Poles would feel this way towards the countries that they had formerly believed were their diplomatic and military allies.
After having explained Western Betrayal, it is important to dig even deeper into the concept to identify why Poles would believe that the West’s failure to prevent a communist government in Poland (and the subsequent increase in Soviet and Russian influence) would constitute a betrayal in the first place. After all, had not both Poland and the Soviet Union fought against the same foe, Nazi Germany, and did they not both suffer immensely during this experience? One would even at first be led to believe that the shared suffering from a common enemy would lead to the reinforcement of friendly bonds after the conflict. Therefore, it is important to investigate why this was not the case. As was explained in the paragraphs above, certain controversial events occurred between 1939 and 1947 that had subjectively reflected negative perceptions about the Soviet Union and Russia in Poland. The influence of Polish nationalism over the collective populace before and during the war also should not be understated. Conclusively, it can be ascertained that the combined influence of Polish nationalism and certain Soviet actions undertaken in the period of 1939-1947 powerfully contributed to overriding the popular feelings of national solidarity that one would expect between Poland and Russia after the joint suffering of World War II and fertilized the ground for the concepts of Western Betrayal and Russian Guilt to grow.
Section 2: Poland at the End of the Cold War
The period 1978-1989 in Poland was marked by an increase in Polish nationalism and attempts by the population to lessen, and then remove, Soviet influence over the country. The foundation of the anti-Soviet movement in Poland (besides pre-existing anti-Russian hostility and the presence of Russian Guilt) was the selection of Karol Wojtyla as Pope in 1978. This in turn provided the anti-Soviet sentiment in Poland with normative and moral justification, which then led to the formalization of the Solidarity movement. Solidarity’s civil disobedience heralded in the brief period of martial law, which was instrumental in destroying any remaining emotional links between the Polish people and the Soviet Union. Finally, the 1989 Polish elections conclude this epoch, as they ushered in the first non-communist government in the Eastern Bloc and were the first stage of the 1989 Revolutions that destroyed Soviet influence in the region.
Chapter 1.2.1: Pope John Paul II
Subsection: 220.127.116.11: The Pope’s Influence over Poles
The 1978 selection of Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II was a watershed event in Polish history. Poland, a country with a strong tradition of Catholicism ingrained within its identity, had received its first ethnic pope, and Catholicism received its first non-Italian pope in over four centuries. As the Catholic theology goes, it is widely believed among congregants that God Himself influences the choice of the Pope through the intercession of the Holy Spirit. Thus, connecting the logic, one could state that Catholics, especially Catholic Poles (of which the overwhelming majority of them are), believed that God influenced the choice of Karol Wojtyla, a Pole, as His representative on Earth. Expanding upon these beliefs, if the Pope is recognized as God’s representative on Earth, then his viewpoints on important topics are also held to be extensions of God’s as well. Hence, the Pope holds immense influence over the moral and ethical beliefs of his Catholic flock.
Subsection: 18.104.22.168: The Pope’s Anti-Communist Beliefs
In this way, placing into context the already existing concepts of Russian Guilt and Polish nationalism as antagonistic forces against the Soviet Union and Russia, one can better understand how having a Polish Pope would embolden anti-communist (with communism being seen as a tangible manifestation of Soviet/Russian dominance over Poles) sentiment in Poland. The Pope provided subjective normative justification for Poles to rally and organize against the institutional atheism dictated by communism, thereby in some way forming a peaceful and non-violent ‘Holy War’ of sorts. Pope John Paul II’s first visit to Poland in 1979, and the overpouring of support and emotion from the millions of Poles that saw him in person, demonstrated the high regard that his ethnic brethren held him in. The Pope was vehemently anti-communist and strongly supported the Solidarity movement after its creation and, after having briefly explained how the Pope’s words can be seen as extensions of God’s beliefs by Catholics, it is very likely that Poles at the time interpreted the Pope’s words as instructions to overthrow the communist government via the soon-to-be constructed social vehicle of Solidarity.
Subsection: 22.214.171.124: The Precedent for Papal Involvement in Polish-Russian Relations
Not coincidentally, this is not the first time that a Pope had gotten involved in the complex dynamics of Polish-Russian relations. Pope Pius IX in 1863 had requested special prayers from Catholics all over the world in support of the Catholic Polish Uprising against the Orthodox Russian Empire. Although the uprising was later quelled, it is important to note the Pope’s involvement in trying to influence the domestic developments of another state, let alone that of the Orthodox Russian Empire. Pope John Paul II’s support of Solidarity and his anti-communist rhetoric can be seen in a similar fashion, albeit this time against an atheist government supported by the Russian-dominated Soviet Union. The difference, however, is that Pope John Paul II was advocating a peaceful approach, whereas Pius IX supported armed rebellion and violence. Pope John Paul II’s peaceful advocacy of Solidarity’s resistance to communism was a tactical consideration that ensured that his views would meet scant opposition, and receive maximum acceptance, from the West. This assisted in raising awareness of the Pope’s personal ‘crusade’ in Poland, as well as helped link together Catholicism, anti-communism, and Solidarity into a unified movement. The association of anti-communist sentiment and Solidarity with the Catholic Pope gave them moral legitimacy in the West and among Catholics worldwide, and it also provided encouragement to other peaceful European anti-communist movements that they had the Pope’s blessings in their activities.
Subsection: 126.96.36.199: The Pope’s Contribution to the Theory of Cold War Ideological Competition
On the level of theory, the Pope’s decision to become personally involved in the anti-communist movement in Poland greatly affected the ideological competition between the two Cold War blocs. Up until that point, the competition was largely between two economic systems, capitalism versus communism. Although each had their respective views concerning religion (capitalist states generally allowed freedom of religion, whereas communist states placed various restrictions upon it), this topic was not at the forefront of global conversation in this regard. The relative ‘rightness’ of either ideology over the other primarily concerned the fairness of material distribution and opportunities, but Pope John Paul II shifted the discourse by inserting the role of theology into the ideological debate. It was now possible to redirect the conversation from that of a free economy versus a controlled economy to that of the God-fearing versus the godless. The normative implications of such a shift in discourse are enormous, and considering the height of the emotions involved among those of one religious disposition or the other (or none whatsoever), this increased the intensity of the Cold War rivalry on a personal level.
Subsection: 188.8.131.52: The Pope in the Context of Ronald Reagan and the Mujahedeen
Pope John Paul II’s ascension to power interestingly correlated with two important contemporaneous developments: the election of Ronald Reagan and the Mujahedeen guerrilla war in Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan was a rabid anti-communist, and during the beginning of his Presidency, Détente was abrogated and the Cold War appeared once more to be building in crescendo. Reagan was so adamantly opposed to the Soviet Union that he once referred to it as an “Evil Empire”. Considering that both Pope John Paul II and Reagan were against the Soviet Union and communism, it is not difficult to understand why they would have joined forces to combat Moscow. Carl Bernstein wrote extensively about the strategic Cold War relationship between the Pope and Reagan in Time Magazine’s cover story, “The Holy Alliance”, in June 2001. The specific details of this pairing are not within the scope of this work (one can reference the footnote for additional information), but it is important to be cognizant of the fact that the leaders of the US and the Vatican were in cahoots against the Soviet Union.
Ronald Reagan, the active anti-communist that he was, also entered into an anti-Soviet alliance with another world religion, Islam. His administration was aiding the Islamic Mujahedeen in their resistance against the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. These fighters coincidentally justified themselves and their guerrilla campaign by criticizing the communists as being godless and anti-religious. Pope John Paul II and the Mujahedeen never ever had any contact with one another, but through Ronald Reagan, both Christianity and Islam were brought together to combat the atheist Soviet Union, each in their own way.
As one ‘Holy War’ was being peacefully waged in Eastern Europe, another more violent one was being fought in South Central Asia. Therefore, when taken together, this ‘trinity’ presented a varied multi-front campaign against Soviet influence worldwide. Ronald Reagan was applying external global military pressure through the Reagan Doctrine and the Star Wars military buildup, the Mujahedeen were involved in a violent counterinsurgency bloated with religious connotations on the southern belt of the Soviet Union’s exposed Islamic borderlands, and Pope John Paul II was leading the West in providing religious, normative, and moral justification for peaceful anti-government movements (at the time, principally only Polish Solidarity) within the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.
Chapter 1.2.2: Solidarity
Subsection: 184.108.40.206: Solidarity’s Beginnings
Pope John Paul II’s anti-communist views were not lost on the movement itself, because soon after his visit to Poland, Solidarity was created and it began its campaign of widespread civil unrest within the country. The movement originated as a labor organization among Polish dock workers in Gdansk, but it soon spread throughout all elements of society. Solidarity was instrumental in bringing together diverse elements of Polish society and presenting a unified anti-communist front against the ruling authorities. It was notorious for staging large-scale strikes across the country, and the economic and political destabilization that this caused (compounded with Poland’s then-already stagnating economy) motivated the government to declare martial law in 1981 in order to fend off a potential regime change and a further descent into chaos. One of the other goals was to destroy the Solidarity movement and eliminate its influence in the country. Faced with the prospects of a Soviet military invasion to restore order prior to martial law, the Pope even personally wrote a letter to Leonid Brezhnev to deter such an action. Additionally, it is speculated that the imposition of martial law actually helped to ward off a Soviet intervention of the kind last seen in Prague in 1968, thereby potentially saving Poles from unnecessary bloodshed and civilian casualties.
Subsection: 220.127.116.11: Solidarity’s Symbolism
Solidarity thus solidified its role in the Polish psyche as being the first prominent anti-communist organization in Eastern Europe, and one that had such revolutionary potential that one of the largest countries in Eastern Europe had to be put under martial law in order to eradicate it. The organization used the red and white Polish national colors in its branding, thereby illustrating its nationalist underpinnings. Although the organization was only opposed to communism and did not directly state any anti-Soviet platforms, it is obvious that the successful implementation of Solidarity’s domestic objectives would have startling implications for Soviet grand strategy in Eastern Europe. As will be seen, this was indeed the case, and what was originally publicly intended to be nothing more than a simple grassroots anti-communist movement evolved into an earth-shattering historical force that evicted the Soviet Union from its own sphere of influence. It should also go without saying that such historical contributions of Solidarity (a Polish organization) were not lost on the Polish people themselves, and would later contribute to their pro-Western foreign policy orientation. In fact, 40% of Solidarity’s members later stated that they joined the organization because the supported the “regaining of independence and an end to Soviet domination.” Therefore, even though it was not explicitly stated, it was clear to those involved that Solidarity had established a distinct anti-Soviet identity.
Chapter 1.2.3: Martial Law
Analyzing the imposition of martial law from 1981-1983, it can be seen that this decision, contrary to its stated goal of eradicating Solidarity, actually increased the organization’s influence and strengthened the mobilization of the population against the communist government. The brief period of martial law brought with it an increase in economic and social hardships for Poles, leading to this time being identified with negative emotions. Since martial law was implemented by the communist government in order to counter the rising influence of Solidarity, and seeing as how this anti-communist movement had the complete support of Pope John Paul II, it would sensibly follow that most Poles would blame the communist government and its Soviet sponsor for the subsequent difficulties they experienced during martial law and not Solidarity. All in all, it becomes increasingly more clear how Pope John Paul II contributed to the formation of Solidarity (the first movement of its kind in Eastern Europe to gain legal recognition by a communist state, per the Gdansk Agreement of 1980, prior to its banning), and how his Papal support of this movement undermined the legitimacy of the communist government in Poland, and therefore, of any communist authority combating anti-government movements.
Chapter 1.2.4: The Round Table Talks and the End of Communism in Eastern Europe
As was previously written, the aftereffects of martial law actually led to an increase in the popularity and presence of Solidarity throughout Poland, and such an increase led to its eventual institutionalization in the domestic Polish political framework. Recognizing the futility in using forced measures to defeat Solidarity, especially after the crippling strikes the movement organized in 1988, the communist government acquiesced to entering into direct talks with the opposition. These talks, dubbed the ‘Round Table Talks’ after the large shaped table around which they were conducted, would result in the Round Table Agreement. This agreement, among other details, stipulated that Solidarity was to be legally recognized as a legitimate political party and that national elections would commence in June of that year. These national elections pitting the ruling communist establishment against a newly legalized anti-communist force, the first of their kind in Eastern Europe since the end of World War II, would open the door to the first non-communist government overwhelmingly (with 99% of the seats being won by Solidarity) coming to power in the region in nearly half a century. Topping it off, President George H.W. Bush even visited Poland a few weeks after the election to voice his approval of its results and express encouragement to other anti-communist movements. Although not the first Presidential visit to Poland, this one can be seen as a ‘victory lap’ for the West since Solidarity’s success pushed communism back from within the Soviet Union’s own sphere of influence and represented a significant ideological victory for the Reagan Doctrine.
As expected by the sweeping results, this election represented a complete paradigm shift in Eastern Europe, and to an increasing degree, in the world. Solidarity’s electoral victory was soon repeated all over the region by analogous anti-communist groups that were influenced by their Polish counterparts’ success. The whole process proceeded with such vigor and speed that the entire series of events was simply termed the “Revolutions of 1989”. The consequence of these revolutions was the collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe and the rapid erosion of Soviet influence. Of course, it needs to be stated that these democratic revolutions would not have been made possible had the Soviet leadership decided to resort to force to suppress the anti-government movements. Domestic Soviet considerations (for example, Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika) played an influence on this decision, but it still remains that the leadership itself chose not to exacerbate the tension and instead peacefully allowed the events to play out to its geopolitical disadvantage.
Chapter 1.2.5: Solidarity’s Contribution to the End of the Cold War
Quite clearly, Solidarity played a monumental role in revolutionizing the political landscape of Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War, and “Many (Poles) are intensely proud of the role that Poland played in pioneering resistance to the Moscow-backed regimes”. The psychological impact to Poles of Solidarity’s contribution to the 1989 Revolutions needs to be sufficiently extrapolated upon in order to acquire a more firm conception of the Polish mentality during this transformative period and its influence on post-Cold War developments.
Solidarity was one of the first large-scale ‘people power’ movements to gain global exposure. This is in large part due to the moral and normative legitimacy given to it by Pope John Paul II. It is worthy to keep in mind that Catholics believe that the Pope is the representative of God on Earth and that his selection was influenced by God Himself through the Holy Spirit. In light of the revolutionary contributions of Solidarity, Poles may draw the inference that God had appointed Karol Wojtla as Pope in order to guide the Poles through their anti-government/communist experience. Since it was already described how the communist government was seen as a forced extension of Soviet (and thereby, as understood by Poles, Russian) influence, the connection can be made to Catholic Poles (which the vast majority of the country are) that God anointed Karol Wojtyla to free the Poles from Moscow’s control. Lech Walesa, the iconic leader of Solidarity during this time, said in 2005 that “”We know what the pope has achieved…Fifty percent of the collapse of communism is his doing”, further demonstrating the point that the Pope served a paramount role in ending communism in Europe. The fusion of such religious and nationalist interpretations may at first glance seem unbelievable, but objectively taking into consideration the previous paragraphs about this topic and expending the necessary time to think the information over once more, one can logically conclude that it is at least plausible. Poland’s extreme pro-Western political and military pivot after 1989 is evidence of this religious and nationalist hybrid interpretation of the 1980s period by Poles (influenced, of course, by the events of 1939-1947), as it provides tangible proof confirming the validity of the theory.
Chapter 1.2.6: Conclusion
Pertaining to the author’s original theory about Polish Exceptionalism, all of the described events of the 1978-1989 period worked to bring about the emergence of this concept and its recognition (even if subliminal) among Poles. As described in the section concluding Polish-Russian relations from 1939-1947, Poles already had constructed the idea of Russian Guilt. Poles were convinced of the notion that Russia had committed major unfair and unjust actions against Poland during that timeframe, and that the only way to correct these perceived one-sided transgressions is for Russia (at the time identified with the Soviet Union) to capitulate into any and all Polish political demands. What is not mentioned, however, is that Russians themselves, as well as the myriad of other ethnic groups inhabiting the territory of the Soviet Union, also suffered under, and held collective grievances against, the communist Soviet authorities. Russian Guilt, as can now be seen, is a subjective one-sided emotional interpretation of history that neglects to acknowledge similar feelings on the side of Russians and others living in the Soviet Union during that time.
To refer back to Poles’ view of Russian Guilt, the successful experience of Solidarity and the Soviet Union’s dual refusals to militarily intervene in 1981 (prior to martial law) and 1989 (after the anti-communist forces won the elections) could be interpreted as political capitulation by the Poles. This further emboldened the notion of Russian Guilt and the idea that Russia should (and can, if properly pressured) capitulate to whatever Poland demands of it. After all, Solidarity’s electoral victory initiated the wave of anti-communist events that ousted Soviet influence from the region and geopolitically undermined Moscow. In a sense, it was a huge victory over the Soviet Union, and it drastically altered the balance of power in Europe up until the present day.
Polish Exceptionalism emerged out of the influence of Pope John Paul II (understood by the faithful to be the Vicar of Christ on Earth) and Solidarity’s historical victory over the communist government in the 1989 elections. Being directly touched and aided by God (via Pope John Paul II) and having successfully been the first country to defy Soviet influence and lead the way in shedding the chains of communism, Poles most surely felt empowered about their future historical role, and this empowerment was translated into the concept of Polish Exceptionalism. The idea maintains that Poland’s historical legacy entitles it to an assertive presence in Eastern Europe, yet this model of thinking places the country into direct opposition with Russia and its own historical legacy. In order to pursue this aforestated destiny (in some way similar to American Manifest Destiny), Poland decided to apply an extreme pro-Western course of political and military development after the Cold War.
Part 2: Poland in the Post-Cold War Period
Poland’s post-Cold War period from 1990-2000 is symbolic because of the country’s rapid pro-Western gravitation and the political class’ enthusiasm for joining NATO and the EU. Prior to any tangible progress being made in these regards, the Russian military departed from Poland without incident in 1993. Although the developments are few, they occupy heavy significance in regards to Poland’s later post-9/11 choices and their impact on current Polish-Russian relations.
Chapter 2.1: The Russian Military Withdrawal from Poland
To begin with, the Russian military peacefully withdrew from Poland in 1993, ending Moscow’s decades-long military presence in Poland. Poles greeted this event with relief, as it formally allowed Poland to conduct its foreign policy independent of Russian objections and the lever of influence that could potentially be utilized via the Russian military. Russia would most certainly later object to Poland’s invitation to NATO, but without a military force stationed within the country, Moscow was at a loss for tools with which to pressure Warsaw. It is important that Russia withdrew the former Soviet military from Poland without incident, as this displayed a sign of commitment to Poland’s sovereign choice to no longer house the forces. Without de-jure and de-facto recognition of sovereignty by Russia, Poland would not have been able to expel the former Soviet military. Therefore, this highlights the Russian Federation’s acknowledgement that Poland is an independent country capable of making its own decisions, and it reinforces the fact that the new Russian Federation is a different country with a different political class than the old Soviet Union. Although its act of good faith should have dispelled anti-Russian notions among the Polish political elite, it unsurprisingly did not. Rather, it emboldened Poland to go forward with its policies of rapid pro-Western military and political integration, unimpeded by any possible threat from ‘occupying’ Russian military forces.
Chapter 2.2: Poland’s Invitation to NATO
Following the peaceful withdrawal of the Russian military in 1993, Poland received an invitation to join NATO in 1997 during President Clinton’s visit to the country. This landmark event demonstrated NATO’s insistence on expansion, despite the disappearance of the Soviet threat, and Poland’s enthusiasm in joining this military bloc. Confusingly, NATO had offered a promise to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 that the organization “would not move a centimetre to the east” past the borders of a reunified Germany. That promise was now shown to be a false statement issued to diplomatically disarm the Soviet Union, and then Russia, into thinking that NATO would pose no future threat. On the contrary, the Russian Federation continues to view the eastward expansion of NATO as an immense security vulnerability to its sovereignty and is adamantly against it.
Regardless of why NATO decided to expand eastward, Poland’s incorporation into the military bloc begs the question as to why the country’s leadership decided to make the choice in the first place. Once more, the concepts of Russian Guilt and Polish Exceptionalism begin to rear their head. Keeping in mind that Russian Guilt postulates that Poland should be given a carte blanche in pursuing Polish Exceptionalism at Russia’s expense, it is sensible that the Polish government felt entitled to join NATO as a means of pressuring Russia out of its remaining Eastern European sphere of influence in the future, as well as providing a firm security guarantee via Article 5 that Poland’s newfound eastern assertiveness will not be countered with Russian military force. This makes it seem as though NATO’s promise of not expanding eastward after 1990 was a deceptive maneuver designed to trick Russia into feeling secure after withdrawing its military from the region. Such feelings of treachery obviously would permeate among Russia’s political and military classes after such duplicity was finally realized. This time, however, instead of Poland arguing that Russia posed a military threat to it, Russia was now in a position to argue that Poland was the country that constituted the military threat. This security dilemma over mutual threat perception would continue until the present day and later manifest itself in Warsaw’s decision to house NATO missile defense installations, as well as its recent choice to design its own missile defense shield to complement NATO’s future military infrastructure in the country.
Chapter 2.3: Poland’s Invitation to the EU
One year later in 1998, the EU began the negotiation process over Poland’s admission to the organization, of which it officially later joined in 2004. Understandably, Poland’s incorporation into an economic union poses no easily identifiable direct threat to Russia, however, what is critical is that an increase in Poland’s economic output as a result of such membership could later translate into heightened military (now associated with NATO) spending. It is this linkage between economics and military that worries Moscow, and as can now be seen by Poland’s investment of $40 billion into its own missile defense and military modernization program (extra disposable funds which the country may not have had should it not have been for the economic benefits of EU membership), such fears are proving to have been grounded in reality.
Another possibly unintended aftereffect of Poland’s wishes to join the West via the EU is that it placed Warsaw into a different norms-based orbit than Russia. As is witnessed by the West’s accusations that Russia is not following certain precepts of human rights and democracy, the two entities obviously have very different concepts of what exactly constitutes universal values and their application in society. The research cannot conceivably address this topic in detail, but it is worth noting that different civilizations have different philosophies about these issues. The influence of civilizations and their intrinsic differences as guiding forces in international relations theory and practice has been addressed by Samuel P. Huntington and most recently by the Russian Foreign Policy Concept of 2013, with the latter thereby demonstrating its acceptance in international affairs discourse and planning. With Poland throwing its weight behind a different norms-based civilization (if one defines the EU as a civilization in and of itself) than Russia, this conceivably also places it in yet another opposite bloc. Of note, the acceptance by the EU of Poland as one of its norms-abiding members also increases the sense of affiliation that EU member states and people feel towards Poland. This reinforces the sense of community and togetherness between the members (nearly all of whom are also NATO members) and increases the likelihood that NATO would positively respond to Article 5 if invoked by Poland in the event of a (Polish-provoked?) military conflict with Russia. Conclusively, the dual movement towards both NATO and the EU symbolizes that Poland intended to radically break with its Russian-affiliated recent past and endeavor for acceptance into the same military and political bloc with which it was in official opposition to during the Cold War.
Chapter 2.4: Conclusion
The end of the decade brought along Poland’s official admission into NATO in 1999 which, from that point on, institutionalized Poland’s pro-Western military choice. Poland’s acceptance into NATO likely wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the Russian military withdrawal six years prior. Russia displayed its respect for Poland’s independently decided security considerations by leaving the country when asked to do so, as this action did not have any negative security repercussions for either party and could have even worked towards fostering a positive relationship of trust in the future. On the opposite side, Poland did not respect Russia’s security considerations when it worked towards gaining NATO membership, since this action most surely had negative security repercussions on the Russian side. Clearly, Russia’s faith-based decision to peacefully withdrawal from Poland in 1993 did not contribute to a trust-based relationship respected by the Polish side. Poland’s decision to go forward with NATO membership (motivated by advancing Russian Guilt and Polish Exceptionalism) was single-handedly responsible for creating the current security dilemma in place between Warsaw and Moscow, thereby contributing to the undermining of European security as a whole.
Poland’s decision to enter into the EU, although seemingly innocuous on the surface, in reality placed it into normative opposition to Russia, as well as increased its revenue that could possibly (as seen via the new plans to build a domestic missile defense shield) be transferred into bolstered military potential. Admission into the EU also strengthens other NATO members’ acceptance of Poland as a member of their own civilizational bloc, and this could reinforce adherence to Article 5 in the event of a crisis with Russia. The accelerated westward direction of Poland’s foreign policy after the Cold War symbolizes the Poles’ rejection of all things associated with their Russian past and also illustrates their yearning to provocatively enter into organizations (specifically NATO) that oppose Russia. Such a strong westward swerve by the country’s leadership would not have been accepted by the populace had there not already been a strong presence of anti-Russian sentiment in Poland. This further lends credence to the author’s theory that Russian Guilt and other extremely strong negative perceptions about Russia were prevalent in Poland during this time. As for Polish Exceptionalism, the next chapters focusing on the post-9/11 developments in Polish-Russian relations will argue that Poland exploits NATO to acquire tools and leverage in promoting its visualized destiny in Eastern Europe.
Part 3: Poland in the Post-9/11 Period
Introduction to Events:
The post-9/11 period in Polish-Russian relations is not only the most recent, but also the one in which the military aspects of the relationship became more frayed. Poland contributed troops to two significant international ventures under the aegis of NATO, Afghanistan and Iraq. This enabled the Polish military to acquire tangible combat experience in an active warzone, as well as increase its interoperability under NATO command. It also demonstrated Poland’s unfettering loyalty to the US, likely as a means of reinforcing Article 5 and guaranteeing American support in the event of an eruption of hostilities with Russia. Poland’s 2007 National Security Strategy articulated the country’s future military approach and emphasized its close military alliance with the US, as well as highlighting the country’s dependence on natural resources from one supplier (understood as Russia) as being the nation’s most important external threat. This national security strategy paved the way for legitimizing Poland’s 2008 acceptance of the US and NATO Missile Defense Shield on its territory, a dangerous development which currently makes it a priority security threat for Russia. Due to changes in the missile defense strategy of the US, Poland announced its intention in early 2013 of creating its own domestic MDS to complement the one already in development. This muscle-flexing by Poland clearly is intended as a strong signal to Russia, who had already repeatedly voiced its objections to such a system as endangering its nuclear second strike capability. Finally, Polish military cooperation with NATO reached its apex during the Steadfast Jazz exercise of early November 2013 in Poland and the Baltic. This exercise, the largest of its kind in years (and also in very close proximity to Russian borders), expresses Poland’s aggressive intent on using NATO to promote its interests in Eastern Europe and apply pressure to Russia. Additionally, the strong Polish support of the anti-government revolutionaries in Ukraine and their relative success demonstrates that Poland is now able to definitively challenge Russia’s influence in the region. This provides further proof as to the existence and present application of hard and soft Polish Exceptionalism in Poland’s foreign policy.
Introduction to Social Perceptions:
In the theater of social perception, several key events transpired during the post-9/11 period. Firstly, the Kaczynski Presidency of 2005-2010 led to a sharp decrease in the positive perception of Russia by Poles. Kaczynski’s nationalist rhetoric fanned the flames of Polish nationalism, and it is important to recognize that this firebrand politician was at the helm of the Polish government when it made its fateful decision to host the Missile Defense Shield. Kaczynsi and Saakashvili were also close partners, and their highly publicized friendship, especially in light of the controversial Russian-Georgian War of 2008, reinforced the popular perception to Poles that their country and its leadership were explicitly anti-Russian. Of course, such sentiments at the top of the country trickled down and fortified those already existing at the bottom of it, leading to the creation of a bastion of grassroots anti-Russian feeling in all levels of society. The influence of Radoslaw Sikorski, Defense Minister from 2005-1007 and then Foreign Minister from 2007 to the present day, is also extremely important in examining Poland’s current relations with Russia. Sikorski, educated in the UK and formerly briefly employed in the US by several influential think tanks, has been pivotal in building an enhanced Polish-American military and diplomatic relationship. Therefore, even more so than the now-deceased Kaczynski (of whom he leaves his legacy to Sikorski), it is Sikorski who in the post-9/11 period most greatly contributed to Poland’s anti-Russian antagonistic foreign policy and the promotion of Polish Exceptionalism.
The 2007 return of the Katyn event to popular consciousness, after the premier of a film about the topic, displayed the willingness for Poles to also return to advancing Russian Guilt. The pragmatic response of the Russian government in acknowledging Soviet government involvement in the event, as well as President Putin’s 2010 journey to Katyn to partake in a commemorative ceremony, indicated the Russian government’s interest in diplomatically working to calmly counter Russian Guilt. Sadly, the Katyn commemoration was overshadowed by the Smolensk catastrophe, in which nearly all of the Polish government, including President Kaczynski, died in a plane crash en route to the ceremony. Although mutual feelings of sadness and solidarity were on display by both parties shortly after the catastrophe, the sense of closeness was soon forgotten by many Poles, as large segments of Polish society still believe in the conspiracy theories alleging that Russia assassinated their president (or don’t believe in the official version of events attributing an accident), thereby bring to the surface the deeply rooted nationalistic notion that Poles do not view Russia or its influence positively. Since the Katyn event was now already acknowledged and condemned by the current Russian government, it may be that conspiracies surrounding the Smolensk catastrophe may soon form the new basis of future Russian Guilt.
Chapter 3.1: Poland’s Involvement in Afghanistan & Iraq
Poland’s participation in two foreign military campaigns during the post-9/11 period was the country’s first military expedition since the 1968 Warsaw Pact involvement in Czechoslovakia. Poland decided to assist its American ally in March 2002 with its operations in Afghanistan, and one year later, it was actively participating in the invasion of Iraq, eventually going on to become the fourth-largest military force in the county at one time. The country’s justification for such adventures was that it was adhering to Article 5 and that it supported the policy of the US in these countries. Of course, the reasoning is quite correct and very important, but it will later be seen that the country had dual motives for contributing soldiers to the Afghan and Iraqi Wars. Anyhow, to revert back to the topic of Article 5, Poland bases the framework of its national security around NATO members assisting one another whenever this mutual defense clause is called upon. Seeing as how Poland has no unfriendly relations with any of its neighbors besides Belarus and Russia (with both of those countries belonging to the same mutual defense organization: CSTO), it is inferred that Article 5 would only be invoked by Warsaw in the event of conflict with either of these two states. It can thus be ascertained that Poland’s decision to contribute troops to assist the American military campaigns in Afghnistan and Iraq was meant as a sign of goodwill in guaranteeing reciprocal future American assistance in a military campaign against Russia. Quite clearly, this makes it appear as though Poland is preparing for conflict with either of the two CSTO states (conflict with Belarus would immediately lead to conflict with Russia via its CSTO obligations), and is taking advance planning measures to ensure that its allies recognize their mutual security obligations under Article 5.
Subsection 3.1.1: The Loophole in Article 5
Polish strategic logic, however, is fitted with a fatal flaw: Article 5 in no way states that a NATO signatory has to provide military assistance in the case of an armed attack against another member. Rather, it is clearly written that “if such an armed attack occurs, each of [the signatories], in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force”. An analysis of this text indicates something of critical importance usually lost on outside observers – each of the signatories, after consulting with one another on how to proceed (per Article 4), individually takes such measures (including the use of force) that it (the individual signatory) deems necessary. It is not written that the attacked state can force any of the other members to provide military assistance if those members themselves do not deem it necessary.
This means that each state is left to decide how it will assist the attacked member state(s), and the providing of assistance can logically take on non-military means if it is so decided by the state itself. Although it is likely that the US would involve itself in some way or another if a fellow NATO state was engaged in a conflict with Russia, it by no legal means has to do so. This means that Poland’s strategic logic is in fact based upon the assumption that NATO (most importantly, the US) will provide military assistance in the case of conflict with Russia, but it does not have to. Poland’s National Security Strategy of 2007 will later demonstrate numerous instances where Poland speaks about its alliance with the US and NATO via Article 5, thereby demonstrating that it feels anxious enough about its allies’ future behavior in regards to this ‘mutual defense’ clause that it feels the need to constantly remind them about it. After all, Polish Exceptionalism has no realistic vehicle for advancement without a NATO security guarantee. What worries Poland, however, is that there is no guarantee in and of itself that the US and NATO would want to get dragged into a provoked military conflict akin to the one initiated by its partner Georgia during 2008. The possibility of a small or medium power pulling the great powers into war against one another is a threat that must be prepared for by military planners in both NATO and the CSTO.
Subsection 3.1.2: Poland’s Overseas Missions and NATO Interoperability
As mentioned earlier, Poland had an ulterior motive other than the one publicly stated for assisting the US in its campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, namely, that it wanted to receive real combat experience and increased interoperability of its forces under NATO command. Tangible battlefield experience would make the Polish military more battle-hardened, both in practice and in psychology. It would place them into real life-or-death situations that could prove insightful learning experiences for their military command, as well as giving their soldiers tangible working experience in properly behaving during war-time situations. Military commanders could observe the activity of their troops and implement recommendations (likely from more experienced individuals within NATO command) as needed. The psychological and practical conditioning of the Polish military would greatly benefit them should they enter into conflict with Russia in the near-future.
The increased interoperability of Polish forces with NATO centralized command is a topic that deserves further discussion. As spoken about earlier, Poland is heavily dependent on Article 5’s perceived security guarantees in order to protect its national security and advance its policy of Polish Exceptionalism. Without Article 5, Poland would not have the regional ambitions that it currently harbors. Despite the legal controversy over whether or not NATO or its individual members (like the US) would directly provide military assistance to Poland in the event of conflict with Russia, they most certainly would provide some other type of support. This support could be manifested as NATO taking over the command of all Polish military operations during the hypothetical conflict. Since Polish forces already have over a decade perfecting their interoperability with NATO in Afghanistan, this does indeed seem plausible. It would allow experienced NATO commanders (principally among them, American ones) to oversee and guide the Polish military during any hostilities. It would also provide a way for the US and/or NATO to assist Poland without directly involving its own troops, unless it finds it politically and/or militarily convenient to do so at a later time. This may not completely satisfy the Poles, but at the least, it would provide some type of tangible (indirect) military support that could be of critical assistance to Poland until a later decision is made to directly involve other NATO members’ military units.
Subsection 3.1.3: Conclusion
Taken together, Poland’s military experience in assisting the American operations in Afghanistan and Iraq was in reality a decades-plus training exercise to better its military in the event of war with Russia. It psychologically conditioned the Polish military for entering into a conflict zone, and it increased the interoperability of Polish forces with NATO command. It is questionable as to exactly why Poland would feel the need to prepare its forces for a war with Russia if it did not think that such an event was likely. It may be that Poland truly feels endangered by Russia, or it could also conversely be that Poland wants to endanger Russia’s position in Eastern Europe and expand its own sphere of influence via Polish Exceptionalism. The latter most definitely entails a security threat for Russia, and when the topic of the Missile Defense Shield is addressed in a later chapter, it will support the argument that this is the true long-term objective of the Polish state.
Chapter 3.2: Characteristics and Context of the Kaczynski Presidency
Subsection 3.2.1: Characteristics
The election of President Lech Kaczynski in 2005 provided a strong signal to Russia. The nationalist politician was very vocal about expressing his opinions, and during his presidential campaign, he harnessed anti-Russian sentiment in order to galvanize the electorate and propel himself to victory. Artyom Malgin of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations succinctly sums up the Russophobia that Kaczynski promoted:
“In his presidential campaign, Lech Kaczynski showed quite a strong anti-Russian criticism. But I wouldn’t say that it was a criticism of Russia itself, of Russian culture. Not at all. It was criticism of Russian foreign policy. But then, step by step, especially taking into account the previous two years, Lech Kaczynski re-evaluated, and I would say that it really moved forward a lot”.
Kaczynski once openly accused Moscow of “collaborating with the Nazis in 1939 in order to occupy Poland”. The events prior to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that motivated Moscow to partake in the arrangement have already been discussed in detail, but it is important to highlight how Kaczynski exploited Russian Guilt over this controversial topic in order to further his political aims. RT’s article about Kaczynski even goes on to mention the outrageous stunt that he pulled as mayor of Warsaw, when, “as if to irritate Russia, he named a Warsaw square after Dzhokhar Dudayev, the leader of Chechen militants fighting against Russian forces.” Dudayev was the self-proclaimed leader of Chechnya until his death in 1996, and during his ‘rule’, two very prominent terrorist attacks were carried out by Chechen terrorists. Both of them consisted of seizing a hospital and taking hostages, and many were killed in the subsequent aftermath. Dudayev was the de-facto leader of Chechnya during this time, and thus, he was the figurehead for the Chechen terrorists as they waged their brutal insurgency against civilians. For Kaczynski to name a square after the individual who was indirectly responsible for the terrorist attacks and directly responsible for the insurgency against the Russian Federation and the First Chechen War is crass, to say the least. It underpins his deeply rooted anti-Russian sentiments, and it is thus no wonder that after he became president, he pursued a foreign policy that stood in direct contrast to the Russian Federation.
Subsection 3.2.2: Context
Kaczynski’s ascent to power was not like that of other anti-Russian leaders such as Tymoshenko/Yuschenko or Saakasvili. In Poland, the process of propelling such a leader into the Presidency was evolutionary, not revolutionary. The country’s anti-Russian sentiment, by now already ingrained within its identity, had grown to the point where such a development was natural and did not require revolutionary means. Unlike in Ukraine and Georgia, which had to experience (color) revolutions in order to place such powers at the helm of government, all that it took in Poland was a democratic vote. This presents a telling indicator of the high level of anti-Russian feeling pervasive in the country at the time and supplements the author’s prior research.
The reference to Ukraine and Georgia’s revolutionary governments when discussing Kaczynski is not accidental, as the Polish president strongly supported them and cultivated intimate ties with their leadership. Pertaining to Ukraine, Kaczynski was a very strong supporter of the Orange government’s extreme Western ambitions, including eventual NATO membership. Coupled with Poland’s later agreement with the US to install a missile defense shield on its territory (to be discussed more in later chapters), the divergence in foreign policy commonalities between Warsaw and Moscow was furthered even more. Under Kaczynski, Poland also worked towards building a stronger political relationship with Saakshvili in Georgia, and the extent of the personal relationship between the two leaders will be explored more when the research addresses the Russian-Georgian War of 2008.
The importance of mentioning the cultivating of close relations with these anti-Russian governments is that they underpinned the role that Poland was trying to establish in the former Soviet sphere as being the preeminent anti-Russian state. The policy of working together with anti-Russian elements in the former Soviet sphere is also somewhat reminiscent of a 21st-century version of the Prometheism that was discussed in Chapter 1.1.2. In a sense, comparisons can be made between the pro-separatist policy of Pilsudski and the obstructionist policy of Kaczynski, as both Polish leaders sought to exploit unfriendly forces in order to undermine Moscow’s grand strategy. The author also alleges that such a soft power intrusion into Russia’s sphere of former-Soviet interests constitutes a strong expression of soft Polish Exceptionalism. However, unfortunately for Kaczynski (as with Pilsudski before him), the forging of a strategic Warsaw-Kiev-Tbilisi axis was a failure. As a result of Kaczynski’s blind support for Saakashvili and the latter’s loss in the Russian-Georgian War of 2008, RIA Novosti writes that:
“[T]he idea of the Warsaw-Kiev-Tbilisi axis has fallen through. It was supposed to guarantee these countries’ political weight and energy security. Now Poland’s position has been weakened because Warsaw sided with Georgia, and the Georgian war has delayed its plan to build oil pipelines to Ukraine and Poland via Georgia.”
The acknowledgement by RIA Novosti of the a planned Warsaw-Kiev-Tbilisi axis continues to add credence to the author’s theory of soft Polish Exceptionalism, as such a theory pursues a soft-power diplomatic approach towards undermining Russia’s interest in the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Ukraine) and, if possible, abroad (Georgia). Kaczynski’s nationalistic foreign policy was so explicit that after his death, The Washington Post published an article proclaiming him the “father of a new nationalism”. Selected excepts pertaining to Kaczynski and his strong nationalism are as follows:
– “a nation…hailing him as a champion of their national identity.”
– “Kaczynski’s reputation as a fierce champion of Polish nationalism — and a relentless critic of German and Russian wrongs against his country — also played a major role in the outpouring of feelings.”
– “they were drawn together to honor a man who symbolized their national pride and willingness to challenge Russia.”
– “An unbending Polish nationalist, Kaczynski had just repeated his controversial contention that [the Katyn event] had amounted to genocide”
As seen from this chapter, as well as the abovementioned statements of The Washington Post’s article, Kaczynski was a nationalistic politician whose policies reflected the sentiments of those whom he lead. By placing Kaczynski’s anti-Russian mindset into context, one can gain a more firm understanding of the political psychology that influenced the National Security Strategy of 2007, Poland’s statements during the Russian-Georgian War of 2008, and the subsequent Missile Defense Shield agreement with the US.
Chapter 3.3: Radoslaw Sikorski
Subsection 3.3.1: Early Career through 2001
Kaczynski clearly had the ambitions to pursue an anti-Russian foreign policy, but without the right people to assist him in carrying it out, his ideas would never have seen any results. Kaczynski needed to have a pro-Western, anti-Russian comrade by his side in order to aid him in fulfilling his vision, and this is where Radoslaw Sikorski played a significant role.
Radoslaw Sikorski has an interesting personal history, and it is necessary to expand upon it in order to adequately understand his modus operandi and current role as one of the primary Western agitators against Russia. According to his official biography published on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, he has extensive experience in the West and in integrating Poland into its political and military institutions. He lived in the UK during the 1980s and studied at the University of Oxford. Soon thereafter, he became Deputy Minister of National Defense in 1992 and “initiated Poland’s NATO accession campaign”. It is apparent that Sikorski has thus been a key actor in furthering important Western interests in Poland since the beginning of his political career. His allegiance also isn’t exclusively with Poland, however, as his British citizenship (which he held for over 20 years before renouncing it when he later became Minister of National Defense) also officially made him loyal to the UK. Incidentally, his previous possession of British citizenship (which he held for almost half his life) is omitted from his official biography on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. Although such information is public knowledge and easily obtainable via the internet, the Polish government may not want to highlight this fact in order to avoid accusations that Sikorski, during that time, had the West’s best interests in mind and not those of Poland.
His work from 1998-2001 was as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Honorary Chairman of the Foundation for Assistance to Poles in the East. It can be reasoned that Sikorski gained important experience in the foreign policy sphere that prepared him for his future role as Foreign Minister under the Kaczynski administration. His position in assisting Poles in the East concerned his ethnic compatriots in the former Soviet Union (not coincidentally, there is an overlap between this area of responsibility and the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), and it is likely that this offered him the opportunity to involve himself in furthering soft Polish Exceptionalism. There is nothing wrong with aiding one’s ethnic brethren abroad, but as this publication is concerned with proving the thesis of Polish Exceptionalism, it is important to highlight Sikorski’s experience partaking in this endeavor. It may even be that Sikorski’s history of involvement in the domestic affairs of other Eastern Europe states (which is what his position in the Foundation for Assistance to Poles in the East basically amounts to) gave him pivotal working knowledge that would later influence the effectiveness of Polish support for the 2013 Ukrainian anti-government revolutionaries.
Subsection 3.3.2: American Think Tank Work
It is relevant to quote the next chapter of Sikorski’s life directly from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website in order to set the stage for the subsequent analysis:
“From 2002 to 2005, he was resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. and executive director of the New Atlantic Initiative. He was editor of the analytical publication European Outlook and organized international conferences on topics such as UN reform and the 25th anniversary of the Solidarity movement. He appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs as an expert on Atlantic issues. In 2012 he was named one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by the Foreign Policy magazine „for telling the truth, even when it’s not diplomatic”.”
Any doubt of Sikorski’s fervent works to advance Western policies should be erased by his abovementioned life events. It is impossible to reference all of Sikorski’s vehement pro-Western and pro-NATO publications in detail in this report, and the author strongly encourages any interested readers to search for Sikorski’s articles on the American Enterprise Institute and New Atlantic Intitiative websites. Nonetheless, two of his own articles and two written about him deserve specific mention, as they brilliantly illustrate the policies that he would pursue once he became Foreign Minister.
In his article titled “Back in the (Former) USSR”, Sikorski writes about the state of democracy in Eastern Europe, specifically stating that “[Ukraine’s Orange Revolution] [is] giving Europeans and Americans… an opportunity to reunite the West around the vital task of completing the democratic revolution on the territory of the former Soviet Union.” Sikorski is in favor of changing the governments of the former Soviet Union in order to have them comply with Western standards of democracy. He does not shy away from alleging that the then-recent elections within Russia, both in the overall country itself and in separate republics (Tatarstan, Chechnya), were falsified. Contrary to what Foreign Policy magazine wrote about him in 2012, this is not telling the truth, but it certainly is undiplomatic. Sikorski has thus shown his willingness to interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state by so harshly criticizing its internal processes, as well as by offering strong vocal support to revolutionary movements trying to “complete the democratic revolution on the territory of the former Soviet Union”. Since he now has a track record for such things, it is even more likely that through his position as Poland’s Foreign Minister, he offered covert support to the Ukrainian anti-government revolutionaries before and during the current manufactured political crisis in the country.
In another article, “Cleaning up the UN in an Age of US Hegemony”, Sikorski goes on to state that “the Chechens in Russia…might easily be described as living under foreign rule”. An individual that holds the belief that Russia is colonizing the Northern Caucasus and therefore, as it can be inferred, should not legitimately have sovereignty over parts of the territory located within its internationally recognized borders, can never be a sincere partner of Russia and will always work against its interests. If Sikorski believes that Russia should not have influence, let alone sovereignty, within its borders, then it is logical to conclude that he is also in opposition to any spread of Russian influence outside of its borders (such as in the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and specifically, Ukraine). Understanding Sikorski’s mindset in this regard is very important in order to understand Poland’s current foreign policy approach towards Russia and Eastern Europe.
The American Enterprise Institute republished an interview that Sikorski gave to the conservative Rzeczpospolita national newspaper, and in the interview, Sikorski elaborated upon the US-Polish relationship:
“Being a loyal European state as well as a good ally of the United States should be the cornerstone of Polish foreign policy…For Poland, which lies on the border of both the EU and NATO, it is important that in security questions there is no other point of reference but the United States, because Europe is a military pygmy.”
Another article, “Sikorski to expand New Atlantic Initiative”, has Sikorski pleading the case for increased American involvement in Europe:
“We have had three world wars — the First World War, the Second World War and the Cold War,” said Sikorski. “Each happened when the United States was not involved in European affairs. I think in security terms the Western World, Europe and the Unites States are one. Clearly Poland bore the brunt of the instability in Europe each time America is not involved.”
It will later be seen that Poland will institutionalize this idea in its 2007 National Security Strategy that will be discussed in the next chapter.
Subsection 3.3.3: Summary
To summarize, Sikorski’s extensive personal and political experience in the West has been of prime importance in influencing the current policies that he carries out as Poland’s Foreign Minister. His works, as well as those about him, stemming from his involvement with the American Enterprise Institute and the New Atlantic Initiative speak volumes about his guiding philosophies and views on Russia, Eastern Europe, and Democracy. Radoslaw Sikorski, in more ways than one, can be described as one of the most die-hard pro-American foreign politicians in power today, and he is largely responsible for carrying out Poland’s (and by association, the US, NATO, and the West’s) anti-Russian foreign policy, and one must always keep this in mind when analysing the topic of Polish-Russian relations. With that being said, it does not appear that Sikorski will ever outlive his usefulness, as the US, NATO, and the West consistently push anti-Russian foreign policy initiatives and Sikorski acts as their proxy in carrying them out whenever possible. Therefore, his career may not end in Warsaw as Poland’s Foreign Minister, but is very likely to end in Brussels as NATO’s next Secretary General, a prediction that will be discussed more in detail in the conclusion under Chapter 4.3.
Chapter 3.4: Poland’s National Security Strategy of 2007
In 2007, Poland updated its National Security Strategy to reflect its then-current view of the international world order and the threats facing the nation. It directly or indirectly (via references to the ‘Euro-Atlantic’ area) mentions NATO in over 20% of its national security sections. This proves the overreliance of Poland on NATO in order to promote its national security. Not only that, but it is also explicitly written that “the dependence of Polish economy on supplies of energy resources – crude oil and natural gas – from one source is the greatest external threat to our security”. It is obvious that this is in allusion to Russia, so it can be interpreted that Russia, and its advantageous economic position in relation to natural resources, is the ‘greatest external threat to [Polish] security’ as defined by that country’s national security strategy. As a result of this revelation, it is no longer a question that Poland identifies Russia as its greatest external threat. It will now be expostulated upon how Poland, as expressed through the National Security Strategy of 2007, is planning on taking measures within NATO to protect itself from Russia and increase its own military strength and positioning.
Subsection 3.4.1: Poland’s Placement in NATO’s Security Architecture
On the first page of its introduction, the National Security Strategy of 2007 states how the document has been correlated with both the NATO‘s Strategic Concept and the European Security Strategy. One can thus see that Poland’s experience in practicing interoperability within NATO command in Afghanistan has influenced the document. Additionally, the references to NATO and the EU provide a clear message as to the fact that Poland is depending on external assistance to bolster its national security. As is further seen, Poland is exploiting its position in both organizations in order to explain its importance to both of their defense strategies. It is stated that because Poland is both an EU and NATO “border state”, that it “occupies an important place in the European security environment and its territory is strategically significant”.This shows that Poland is making the argument for why it is indispensible to both NATO and the EU and that both organizations should therefore assist the country with fulfilling its security needs.
Further compounding Poland’s arguments relating to its importance within the security architecture of NATO and the EU, the document describes how “Poland’s security is increasingly becoming an integral part of EU’s security”. Seeing as how the vast majority of EU members are simultaneously members of NATO, Poland is in effect saying that its security is actually becoming an integral part of NATO’s security. One should keep in mind the author’s statement in the previous chapter about the threat posed by small and medium powers trying to pull great powers into war with one another. It can objectively be argued that Poland’s national security does not directly affect that of the UK, France, or even the US, however, Warsaw is intensely working to state the opposite. This is because the country wants to drum up support for a military interpretation of Article 5, should it ever be needed for Poland to call upon it, and Poland’s dependence on this to guarantee its national security will be discussed later on in the chapter.
Subsection 3.4.2: The Promotion of Polish Interests Abroad
On top of the previously mentioned points, the document speaks about the importance of “[ensuring] that the state maintains a strong international position and is capable of effectively promoting Polish interests abroad”. One can deduce that Poland may seek to increase its international position (relative to its membership in NATO and the EU) by feverishly advancing an anti-Russian foreign policy, which will one year later specifically be the case when Poland agrees to the basing of the US and NATO’s Missile Defense Shield on its territory. Most definitely, this agreement increased Poland’s international position vis-a-vis NATO and the EU. One must also wonder what Poland is referring to when it cites ‘interests abroad’, as well as where exactly these interests are located, because it is improbable that they are referring to Central America or Southern Africa. It is logically likely then that Poland is hinting at its future vision for Eastern Europe (notably and most immediately in Ukraine) via Polish Exceptionalism.
Subsection 3.4.3: Article 5
Article 5 figures very prominently into Poland’s National Security Strategy. In fact, one of the country’s main strategic goals is underlined as “the promotion of the image of a credible participant of international relations, as well as the implementation of Poland’s commitments towards its allies which affect Poland’ credibility”. It is no mystery that Poland is referring to Article 5 and the country’s bestowing of military support to the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. Article 5 occupies such an important pedestal in the document that it is stated that “Poland has to be ready to react to crises which may stir up conflicts requiring the implementation of defence missions in light of Article V of the Washington Treaty”. Additionally, “Poland’s participation in collective defence pursuant to Article V of the Washington Treaty… will involve the need for strategic planning of a widened spectrum of dangers, especially asymmetrical ones, and a new technological context”. It should now be expected by any casual reader that Poland “shall develop combat readiness of its armed forces to ensure effective defence and protection of Polish borders within the framework of operations carried out independently or as part of collective defence, as well as outside its borders, pursuant to Article V of the Washington Treaty.” It is also remains a priority for Poland to “[increase] NATO’s capability to carry out its basic tasks – collective defence and creation of grounds for consultations between allies in case of threat.” Poland’s ambition to upgrade its military and build up its force potential are seen as being justified using Article 5. Unsurprisingly, this is because “The North Atlantic Alliance is for Poland the most important form of multilateral cooperation in a political and military dimension of security and a pillar of stability on the European continent” (emboldened emphasis included in the original source document).
Subsection 3.4.4: Poland’s Special Relationship with the US
Should NATO’s collective adherence to militarily defending Poland in the event of conflict with Russia not occur, then Poland is heavily betting that its special relationship with the US will substitute for any NATO shortcomings. It is mentioned a few times in the document that Poland is engaged in an alliance with the US, which is ironic to state because it is already understood that Poland (and any NATO member, for that matter) would be in an alliance with the US through NATO. This begs the question as to what point Poland is trying to make by redundantly stating the obvious. It seems that Poland is wants to infer that its alliance with the US is special and outside the contours of NATO. In reality, no bilateral alliance document was ever signed by Poland and the US, but Poland may be restating the obvious concerning its alliance with the US through NATO in order to continue sending a glaring message to Russia that the US could assist Poland in the event of military conflict between the two. The document states near the beginning that “Membership in NATO and the EU and its alliance with the United States have ensured Poland a high level of security and have become one of the fundamental guarantees of its internal development and its international position”. The reader is then soon reminded that “Globally, the United States which guarantees international security plays a key role”. Most importantly, point 48 of the National Security Strategy proclaims the following:
Bilateral relations with the United States occupy a special place in the Polish security policy. Poland acknowledges their strategic nature and shall seek to develop them further in the spirit of solidarity and sustainable partnership. Poland shall act to preserve American presence in the European continent, also in a non- military dimension. The development of a comprehensive bilateral cooperation with Poland’s main allay should contribute to the strengthening of transatlantic ties and positively affect the form and quality of NATO’s cooperation with the European Union and the United States.
The significance of the abovementioned statement cannot be understated in any way. It is a clear statement of Poland depending not so much on NATO and Article 5 in general, but on the US and its ‘special place’ in ‘bilateral relations’ specifically. It should also be brought to the reader’s attention that the document also earlier states that “Poland, a close ally of the United States, wants to see its involvement in Europe grow as a force that guarantees security and stabilizes political and military relations on the European continent”. This means that Poland is doing whatever it can to become closer to the US (a ‘close ally’) in order to achieve a bilateral mutual security guarantee from Washington should war with Russia ever break out. After all, the US occupies the most important military position in the world, and American military assistance would likely be more useful than Portuguese military assistance, for example. Poland also states that it wants to ‘act to preserve (the) American presence in the European continent’ and ‘see [America’s] involvement in Europe grow’, and one year later, this is exactly what it accomplished by signing the Missile Defense Shield agreement.
Subsection 3.4.5: Conclusion
The National Security Strategy of 2007 is a clear-cut document that leaves no question about Poland’s overreliance on NATO, Article 5, and most importantly, the US (of which Poland is supposedly stated to be a ‘close ally’ of) to guarantee its external security. This feeling of some type of special bilateral relationship with the US (which it seems Poland does not acknowledge other nations having) may further contribute to Poland’s belief in being exceptional. The US is, after all, the most important military actor in the world, and the fact that Poland is its ‘close ally’ must fill Warsaw with exuberant confidence in pressing forward with its military and political plans for Eastern Europe. Despite uncertainty over other NATO members’ future adherence to Article 5, Poland may feel that since it has now agreed not only to the Missile Defense Shield, but also to the stationing of American troops on its soil (and the invitation for many more, as seen in the June 2013 words of Sikorski when he said “As far as I’m concerned you can all come to Poland”), that the US will most definitely come to its military assistance if it goes to war with Russia. These aforementioned developments had not occurred by the time the National Security Strategy of 2007 was written, hence Poland’s unease over the degree of American military commitment towards its Article 5 protection. In light of the Missile Defense Shield and American troops based on its soil, it now appears as though Poland only has to worry (if it does at all, now that it is such a ‘close ally’ of the US) about other NATO members’ contributing military assistance via Article 5.
In the document, Poland also states its intention to engage in a military modernization campaign. It is clear after reading the document that it laid the legal foundation for Poland’s acceptance of the Missile Defense Shield one year later, as well as the 2013 decision to allocate $40 billion for the modernization of its armed forces (reported by Reuters as “the biggest ever increase in military spending” that Poland has ever embarked upon). Poland’s other 2013 decision, to build its own domestic missile defense shield, complements the goals outlined in the 2007 National Security Strategy. Poland is doing whatever it has to do to best equip itself for future conflict, and such a conflict can only be envisioned to involve Russia. It has positioned NATO infrastructure and American troops within its borders as a means of enticing both parties to support it via military means in the event that Article 5 is called upon. Such tactics display deep strategic planning on the side of the Poles, as it now seems that the US would be obligated to military defend Poland in order to safeguard the wellbeing of its own military forces in the country. This crafty move was likely initiated in order to neutralize Poland’s fears over America’s possible wavering commitment to militarily support it via Article 5. Of course, the US also has its own strategic interests in placing its troops in Poland, so this event was likely a marriage of convenience for both parties and reinforced their deep level of bilateral ties. As is now plainly seen via the subsection’s conclusion, the National Security Strategy of 2007 occupies an integral position in Poland’s foreign policy developments during the post-9/11 period, and it demonstrates the importance in reading Poland’s next upcoming publication on the subject in order to analyze and forecast future developments.
Chapter 3.5: The Katyn Film
2007 was also an influential year in Polish-Russian relations because of the premier of the ‘Katyn’ film. This movie was about the Katyn event of 1940, and its popular reception worldwide attracted renewed attention to the topic. So popular was the movie, in fact, that it was even nominated by the 80th Academy Awards for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’. Whereas in the past the Katyn event was known primarily to the Polish audience, now the film had garnered global attention for the subject. Historical facts cannot be changed, but the way they are presented and the context in which they are received can affect their interpretation by the viewer. The Katyn film was an accurate depiction of what transpired during the event, however, it needs to be stated that its premier occurred during a period of increased nationalism under the Kaczynski Presidency. Poles were already revving up their anti-Russian sentiment and this film did nothing to ease such feelings. Instead, it reminded them of an event that carries enormous emotional significance for Poles and in some way even defines their anti-Russian identity today. Although the filmmakers likely only had educational intentions in their mind when they premiered the film, an unlikely dual consequence of spreading awareness about the Katyn event was that such emotions were brought to the surface and contributed to disseminating even more anti-Russian sentiment throughout the country.
Subsection 3.5.1: The Psychological Symbolism Behind the Katyn Film
As stated, the filmmakers likely had no ulterior motives in premiering the film, but the Polish audience’s reception of it was very important, especially considering the transitional period that Poland was going through. Poland had just jointed NATO 8 years prior, and it had already contributed troops to Afghanistan and Iraq for 5 and 4 years respectively. The country was quickly moving towards an extreme pro-Western orientation, as Polish Exceptionalism was beginning to grow more and more through increased cooperation with NATO and the US. Although the filmmakers were not aware of it, one year later in 2008, Poland would sign the agreement to host the Missile Defense Shield on its territory. Such an agreement would be the most drastic pro-Western and anti-Russian foreign policy move that the country’s leadership had made since joining NATO. Even more so, when Poland joined NATO, it did not harbor infrastructure that endangered Russia’s nuclear second strike capability. Now, however, under the agreement’s stipulations, such a development was to occur in the near future. Bringing the focus back to the Katyn film, calls began to grow throughout Poland for the Russian government to formally apologize for and condemn the Katyn event even though the current Russian government had no complicity whatsoever in what transpired and nor did it even exist at the time. Nonetheless, such calls show how the Polish population continued to associate Russia and Russians with the negative experiences they endured during the Soviet period. Another important aftereffect of the Katyn film was that the Russian Guilt and Polish nationalism that was promoted throughout the country after its popularly received premier indirectly helped position and psychological prepare the population for accepting the upcoming radical anti-Russian Missile Defense Shield decision.
Chapter 3.6: The Russian-Georgian War of 2008
Subsection 3.6.1: Poland’s Reaction
The Russian-Georgian War of 2008 was an event that had global reverberations and remains controversial, however, the focus of this report is to discuss how it influenced current Polish-Russian relations. Poland’s behavior and statements during and immediately after the war further cemented Warsaw’s anti-Russian stance and placed it into direct diplomatic opposition to Russia. Kaczynski visited Tbilisi right before the five-day war ended and provocatively stated that, “We are here to take up the fight. For the first time in quite a while, our neighbors [the Russians – ed.] have shown the face which we have known for hundreds of years. These neighbors feel that the nations around them should be subservient to them. We say no!” Kaczynski, accompanied by Sikorski, even called for international intervention to repel Russian forces during the conflict. These statements speak volumes about the Polish government’s anti-Russian actions and rhetoric, and they placed Poland and Russia into two opposing sides.
Subsection 3.6.2: Analysis
The call for international intervention against Russia was effectively a call for war against the country, with the interference for NATO to assist Georgia during the military campaign. As has been seen, cooler heads prevailed and NATO and Russia did not come into conflict, but Kaczynski’s statements deserve closer analysis as to the significance behind their words. Firstly, international intervention would have obviously meant the killing of Russian soldiers, so in this way, Kaczynski was lobbying for an outside military force to perform these mercenary activities that the Georgian military was ineptly unable to sufficiently do. The visit to the Georgian capital during hostilities was meant as a dramatic stunt to show that Poland is not afraid of Russia and that even its president will travel into a possible war zone unimpeded by the threat of Russian bombs. This was meant to bolster the already exceedingly high level of Polish nationalism in the country. Kaczynski’s quote about Russia ‘[showing] the face which [Poland has] known for hundreds of years’ was meant to reactivate the negative emotions that Poles feel concerning Russian Guilt. The recipients of the quote (Poles and the Western media) were meant to remember all of the negative events in Polish-Russian relations and draw the conclusion that because Poland was on the receiving on of these subjectively understood one-sided situations, that someone Poland knows better than all others ‘the face’ that Russia is now showing the world.
So strong were Kaczynski’s statements and actions interpreted by the international media that the German publication Der Spiegel wondered whether Poland was driving a wedge between the EU and Russia. Thankfully, no such split developed, but it is worthy of note that such a high-profile news publication as Der Spiegel would even bring such a topic up. Furthermore, the article makes mention of a few things that confirm the author’s previous assertions on Poland, Russian Guilt, and nationalism:
Nowhere in Europe does anti-Russian sentiment run as strong as it does in Poland, where monuments to the victims of Soviet atrocities during World War II occupy prominent real estate in the capital and the image of resistance to Russian oppression is a centuries-old part of the national identity. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, history has increasingly informed policy. “Polish authorities present a more pessimistic view or opinion on the development of the EU-Russia partnership,” Adam Eberhardt, head of research at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “This pessimistic approach has somehow been confirmed by recent events.”
The above paragraph provides proof that Poland is perceived as the most anti-Russian state in Europe and that such a characteristic has become an overriding part of Poles’ national identity. In Der Spiegel’s article, they reference Gazeta Wyborcza, a left-wing newspaper, which defensively states that, “Once again, we can only try to tell them that we’re not letting our feelings be guided by Russophobia but merely speaking from long years of personal experience”. The previous statement is not true, as the author’s entire report has described the disconnect in mutual threat perception that contributes to challenges in Polish-Russian relations. The ‘long years of personal experience’ that Poland has gone through in regards to Russia conveniently don’t make mention of the provocative actions that Poland has done in the past which warranted certain Russian responses.
It is not to justify the Russian responses nor the Polish acts, but merely to further reinforce the fact that a security dilemma of sorts has been in place between Poland and Russia for a long period during the history of their mutual relations. This has resulted in both sides having difficulty with understanding the actions and intentions of the other, and it further contributes to a breakdown in relations. However, what needs to be pronounced is that the West (and especially Poland) has a habit of not taking into consideration Poland’s previously stated actions that contributed to this security dilemma. It is instead presented through a narrow single-minded framework of ‘Poland is good and always a victim, Russia is bad and always an aggressor’. This type of thinking is not the result of ‘speaking from long years of personal experience’, but rather is a direct manifestation of Russophobia.
Subsection 3.6.3: The Consequences for Polish Foreign Policy
Certain aspects of Poland’s anti-Russian foreign policy were thwarted as a result of Tbilisi’s defeat during the five-day conflict. RIA Novosti analyses that Poland’s plans to forge a Warsaw-Kiev-Tbilisi axis had failed, and that such an arrangement “was supposed to guarantee these countries’ political weight and energy security. Now Poland’s position has been weakened because Warsaw sided with Georgia, and the Georgian war has delayed its plan to build oil pipelines to Ukraine and Poland via Georgia”. Therefore, Kaczynski’s previous grand strategy of furthering Polish Exceptionalism through a tacit alliance between Orange Ukraine and the Saakashvili government in Georgia did not succeed, and instead, Kaczynski’s bold actions and rhetoric made the country’s more pragmatic EU partners (such as France and Germany) uncomfortable. Despite not isolating Poland on the European diplomatic arena, Kaczynski’s actions drew focused attention to his country’s anti-Russian behavior, as it paled in comparison to that of any other European state.
Poland’s failure to build a solid political and energy nexus between itself, Orange Ukraine, and Saakashvili’s Georgia represented a significant setback for Polish Exceptoinalism. Warsaw may have felt that it was making positive inroads on advancing this policy, but after the Russian-Georgian War of 2008, it appeared as though such inroads had stalled and that Poland must now find a new way to advance its regional vision and project strength. As luck would have it, the country had already been engaged in negotiations with NATO for over 6 years (since 2002) on a Missile Defense Shield project, and it was on the verge of making this historic foreign policy decision when the Russian-Georgian War of 2008 occurred. Therefore, the perceived ‘Russian aggression’ during the conflict, as well as Kaczynski’s highly publicized actions and rhetoric that led to an overflowing of virulent anti-Russian nationalist sentiment in Poland, provided the publicly plausible justification for signing the Missile Defense Shield agreement on 20 August, 2008, after having announced on 14 August, 2008 (one day after the end of the Russian-Georgian War) their intention to go forward with such plans.
Chapter 3.7: The Missile Defense Shield
Subsection 3.7.1: Description of the Issue
The 20 August, 2008 signing of the “Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Poland Concerning the Deployment of Ground-Based Ballistic Missile Defense Interceptors in the Territory of the Republic of Poland”, as the Missile Defense Shield agreement is officially called, was the most important conventional military watershed event in the history of Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War. The decision to station missile interceptors in Poland as part of the Phased Adaptive Approach plan by NATO positioned Poland as a prime national security threat to Russia. Obviously such a provocative and aggressive plan, made even more devious by its dubious justification to repel rogue missile strikes on Europe (and the US’ reluctance to abandon this plan even after reaching an historic deal with ‘rogue state’ Iran), would be met with a harsh response from Russia. Should it be successfully implemented, the Missile Defense Shield project would greatly hinder Russia’s nuclear second strike capability, thereby making it vulnerable to a nuclear first strike from the US and/or NATO. This would place Russia in a vulnerable dependent position whereby it would de-facto be forced to comply with outside demands dictated to it by its military adversaries. The section will explore the genesis of the Missile Defense Shield and explain its importance in being one of the prime factors for the deterioration of Polish-Russian relations in the 21st century.
Subsection 3.7.2: Background
The Missile Defense Shield has been discussed by the US among its NATO allies since 2002. It wasn’t until 2007 that negotiations began to intensify between Washington on one hand, and Warsaw and Prague on the other. The Czech Republic was envisioned to host the radar installation necessary for manning the interceptor missiles to be placed in Poland. The US’ official justification behind wanting to create the Missile Defense Shield was to protect Europe from a missile strike by a rogue state. As will be seen, this justification is completely false, and the project is really intended to undercut Russia’s nuclear second strike capability.
Subsection 3.7.3: International Context
To place the genesis of the international Missile Defense Shield negotiations into context, the US had just begun to wage its Global War on Terror by 2002. After having been attacked by Al-Qaida on 11 September, 2001, the US became more sensitive to threats by terrorists and other non-state actors. Additionally, due to the Taliban’s hosting of Al-Qaida prior to and after the attacks, the US also began to view what it unilaterally termed ‘rogue states’ as another vector of security threats. Taken together, rogue states providing aid to terrorist organizations were proclaimed to be one of America’s greatest threats. Nowhere is this more apparent than when George W. Bush proclaimed the “Axis of Evil” in January, 2002. With the public in a fracas after the 9/11 attacks, such claims fell on receptive ears. Three years before this, however, Bill Clinton had signed the National Missile Defense Act largely in response to public anxiety, albeit of a different nature that that experienced after 9/11. North Korea had recently tested a long-range missile, and political pundits in the US were speculating about Pyongyang’s ability to strike the US. The Act was notable for representing the first step towards American withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Under the 1972 treaty, the US and Russia (then the Soviet Union at the time of its signing) were limited to only two anti-missile defense installations each, and it was speculated at the time that amendments would be made to the ABM Treaty to allow for America’s implementation of the National Missile Defense Act without violating international law.
As it happened, however, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech, compounded with pre-existing anxiety of the missile capabilities of rogue state North Korea, contributed to the US unilaterally withdrawing from the ABM Treaty in June, 2002, after having notified Russia about its intent to do so shortly after 9/11. This unilateral withdrawal was of extreme importance, as it demonstrated America’s willingness to forgo with existing international commitments in order to pursue its own military agenda, regardless of how this decision was interpreted by Russia. Moscow, undoubtedly not pleased by this choice, would later strongly raise its objections to the Missile Defense Shield program in Europe as details emerged and the plan began to take tangible shape. Such objections were most loudly voiced after Poland signed the agreement with the US to implement the Missile Defense Shield, and Russia’s objections and proposed counter responses will be touched upon later.
Subsection 3.7.4: Geopolitical Context
One needs to step back and place the geopolitical climate into focus in order to better understand why Poland was selected as the host of the Missile Defense Shield’s interceptors. The nations of the former Warsaw Pact had left the Soviet sphere of influence by 1989 and many of them quickly integrated their political, economic, and military systems with the West throughout the proceeding decade. Poland was one of those nations to do so. The explanations for Poland’s behavior had already been discussed, but its geopolitical position in terms of American grand strategy had not. Additionally, an understanding of missile defense strategy is important in order to identify why America and Poland’s plans pose such a critical threat to Russia if taken to their conclusion.
Subsection: 3.7.5: Missile Defense Strategy
Poland is located in very close geographic proximity to the western borders of Russia, and the country’s territory is in prime positioning to obstruct missiles launched from this region. Seeing as how Russia diplomatically and economically collapsed after the fall of the Soviet Union, one of the only factors allowing it to retain its great power status was its nuclear parity with the US. Thus, if the nuclear parity could be compromised via offensive-defensive measures, then the country would no longer pose an obstacle for American designs. What is meant by ‘offensive-defensive measures’ are supposedly defensive ones that could have dual offensive purposes. To put it in international relations parlance, an ‘offensive-defensive measure’ is the hallmark of a classic security dilemma. In this context, America’s proclamations that the Missile Defense Shield is for purely defensive purposes do not allay Russian fears that it could upset the nuclear parity between the two countries, which would thereby give Washington the potential advantage in staging a nuclear first strike since the shield would possibly block some of Moscow’s land-based nuclear weapons launched against the US. The US already has existing anti-missile defense infrastructure in place in Alaska and California, so the positioning of more such installations on its far eastern periphery would work to negate weapons launched from both Western and Eastern Russia. Of course, submarine-based nuclear missiles could still potentially get around the missile shields, but the fact that Russia’s vast and costly land-based nuclear weapons deterrent could be nullified to some extent drastically tips the nuclear balance in the US’ favor.
The strategic underpinning behind American missile defense theory brings Poland’s geopolitics to the forefront. As was mentioned, Poland is located in a close enough position as to undermine (by various debated degrees) Russia’s nuclear potential. Most importantly for American strategy, however, is that the country’s leadership is anti-Russian enough as to not be afraid to accept such a dangerous installation on its territory. The word dangerous is used because Russian military spokespeople have said on repeated occasion that Poland’s missile defense cooperation with the US makes it an immediate military target in the event of Russian-American hostilities. Anti-Russian sentiment, as has been exhaustively explained in the preceding chapters, is an invariable part of Polish national identity, and it is not likely that such a characteristic will quickly remove itself from Poles’ self-identification, and consequently, from its governing apparatus. This presents a long-term strategic opportunity that the US can exploit in order to place its missile defense infrastructure as close to Russia’s borders as possible.
Subsection: 3.7.6: Why Poland?
In regards as to why other neighboring or regional states were not selected, there are a couple reasons. Firstly, these countries (such as the Baltic states) are not strong enough to support themselves in a conflict against Russia. For example, none of the Baltic states has a population surpassing 3 million, whereas Poland is approaching 40 million people. This provides Poland with the manpower and economic potential (that can be transferred to military means) to build itself up into a suitable regional power in its own right. Although in no way challenging Russia’s economy or military, Poland, if properly managed by its leadership in league with the US, could present itself as a ‘niche’ regional power, since it is not close enough to Russia to be immediately invaded or thwarted (as are the Baltics), nor is it far away enough to not be an advantageous location for missile defense installations. This secondly brings to attention the influence of geography. Poland is safely nested away from having a direct border with most of Russia, with the exception being the small Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, thereby providing relative insulation from most conventional (with the exception being projectile weapons) military countermeasures undertaken by Russia. Geography also provides an offensive advantage, as it places Poland in a unique position to hamper aspects of Russia’s nuclear launch strategy. Although in no way providing an all-around deterrent to Russia’s nuclear second strike capability, in a zero-sum game such as nuclear warfare, any small strategic and tactical advantage translates into an equal disadvantage for the opposing side.
Subsection 3.7.7.: Significance
The significance of Poland hosting the Missile Defense Shield is very instrumental in further comprehending the cold relations in place between Warsaw and Moscow. Symbolically, the decision to sign the agreement was presented one day after the end of hostilities between Russia and Georgia during their 2008 conflict. This comes on the heels of Kaczynski’s visit to Tbilisi, where he made outrageously anti-Russian statements in support of Saakshvili, including the call for international intervention against Russia. These nationalist actions and rhetoric inflamed Polish passions, but consequently, they also increased Russian anxieties about Poland’s recently assertive role in the former Soviet Union, especially among new anti-Russian revolutionary governments like those in Ukraine and Georgia. The signing of the missile defense agreement in such a tense international context was obviously meant to be a strong signal by both Poland and the US to Russia. It is not reasonable for one to defend the agreement’s signing at such a time as being due to a perceived threat emanating from Russia due to the Russian-Georgian War of 2008, as the program was planned since 2002 and intensely negotiated since a year before the conflict. This substantiates the claim that the agreement’s signing was intended to convey a message to Russia. Moscow accordingly interpreted it as such, and its responses and countermeasures will be discussed later.
Subsection 3.7.8: Missile Defense as a Tool to Promote Article 5
It was previously mentioned that Poland’s grand scheme for a Warsaw-Kiev-Tbilisi axis had met a dead end following the Georgian defeat in the Five Day War. This meant that Poland would have to search for alternative means to advance its interests in the area, as well as secure its position as a regional leader and rival to Russia. The timing of the decision to publicly agree to the missile defense shield allowed Poland to deflect attention away from the aforementioned foreign policy failure and towards its newly assertive stance in cooperating with the US on such an ambitious military project. Of course, the stated reason for the missile defense shield always stayed the same (to combat missiles launched from rogue states), but the timing of the announcement hinted at its dual purpose. By cooperating with the US on a plan of such geopolitical importance to military planners in Washington, Poland was able to guarantee that its leadership would stay in favor with the US, as well as work towards one of its primary national security goals – to ensure military compliance of Article 5 (preferably by the US, most of all). The decision to base the missile defense shield, as well as American troops, in Poland cemented the country’s positioning as one of the US’ top military partners.
In hindsight, the strategy has been successful to the extent that it retained American military and political influence in Eastern Europe (one of the goals of the Polish National Security Strategy) after the anti-Russian regime in Ukraine was voted out of power in 2010 and Saakashvili’s popularity and support in Georgia quickly floundered soon thereafter. Therefore, in some sense, the Missile Defense Shield worked to keep Poland as a prominent country in American foreign policy and military planning in Eastern Europe. Therefore, solid in its choice to host the shield (so solid, in fact, that in early 2013 it signed legislation to build its own to complement the US one), Poland reinforced its anti-Russian identity and, through its close military partnership with the US, increased the odds that Washington would respond positively to any requests to militarily adhere to Article 5.
Specifically, the US and Poland greatly enhanced their military cooperation and security commitments to one another after the signing of the agreement, putting to rest most of the anxieties Poland may have previously had in its National Security Strategy of 2007 that Article 5 would not be military adhered to by the US. Per the actual text of the agreement itself, it is stated that both countries will “facilitate consultations on the enhancement of their mutual security”. Not only that, but it is further proclaimed that “the United States is committed to the security of the Republic of Poland” and “to defend by means of its ballistic missile defense system the Republic of Poland against ballistic missile attack”. Compounding the newly solidified military friendship between the US and Poland, it is written that “The cornerstone of the U.S.-Poland security relationship is the solidarity embodied in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty”.
Subsection 3.7.9: The Limits of the Polish-US Alliance over Missile Defense
From the above sentences, it can be clearly seen that the US is stepping up its security commitments to Poland, and in the sense of assisting Poland by using its Missile Defense Shield to protect the country from any ballistic missile attack, it is also entering into a narrow mutual defense pact with Warsaw. The specific wording of the agreement leaves open a loophole: what happens if Poland is attacked via non-ballistic missile means? The only tangible defense guarantee that the US is providing is to use its Missile Defense Shield to intercept incoming ballistic missiles, not to destroy any aircraft or to intervene in any specific way against a conventional land or sea attack. Thus, the situation could conceivably transpire where Russia uses aerial bombers, naval forces, or conventional soldiers to target Polish military installations (but not the missile base itself, as the US would most surely directly respond to any attack on its troops), thereby presenting a situation where the US does not legally have to defend Poland. It is a given that the aforementioned is theoretical, but it presents interesting scenarios whereby the US (should it not find it politically or militarily convenient to do so) would not be obliged to militarily defend Poland. Instead, Article 5 is referred to for these scenarios, and as previously explained, the clause leaves open the possibility for non-military assistance to the affected party. In relation to what Poland gained via the agreement’s signing, however, it can be still be seen as a success for the Polish political leadership. They have secured Washington’s commitment to use the Missile Defense Shield for Poland’s defense, and they have repeated (but not specified) their loyalty to Article 5 (which may or may not manifest itself as military assistance).
Subsection 3.7.10: Concluding Analysis
It can be stated that Poland is acting as a US military proxy in Eastern Europe by carrying out Washington’s missile defense plans, yet the US itself is also a military proxy for Poland at the same time. What is meant by this is that if, as the logic goes, closer military cooperation between the US and Poland leads to a stronger probability of US military adherence to Article 5, then Poland can use its mutual defense ‘assurances’ with the US as a shield for promoting its interests (Polish Exceptionalism) in Eastern Europe. The US is the only country that could pose an existential threat to Russia (via its nuclear and conventional capabilities), and Russia may not want to risk entering into loggerheads with it by directly confronting Poland. However, the same still goes for the US – the US may not want to risk entering into conflict with Russia by supporting an overly aggressive and sloppy Poland that acts akin to Saakshvili in 2008. Therefore, the nature of Polish Exceptionalism has thus changed.
Where in the past Poland was for a brief period able to work towards constructing the Warsaw-Kiev-Tbilisi axis, it no longer was able to in the post-2008 world (especially after the fall of the Orange regime in 2010). Thus, the stationing of the Missile Defense Shield on its territory worked towards likely guaranteeing it military defense via the US, although due to American hesitancy to be dragged into a conflict not of its own choosing (as could have happened during the Russian-Georgian War of 2008), Poland would have to tread lightly in pursuing its objectives in Eastern Europe. Hence, Warsaw would now rely on being a regional leader for NATO and EU institutional expansion to the East (principally, Ukraine) where it has its historical legacy of influence. After such institutionalization has been accomplished, it would then take a prominent role in guiding the military and economic processes in the newly admitted state in order to gain the resultant advantages. It can now be seen that the events of 2008 (including the acceptance of the Missile Defense Shield plans) influenced a more indirect, albeit no less aggressive and endangering to Russia, approach for Poland in promoting Polish Exceptionalism.
Chapter 3.8: Russia’s Responses to the Missile Defense Shield
It is now time to address Russia’s responses and proposed countermeasures to the American Missile Defense Shield in Poland. In the context of Poland and Russia’s existing security dilemma, Moscow’s actions concerning the Missile Defense Shield are important in reflecting how the country’s leadership views this threat. Additionally, such actions also have the unintended consequence of strengthening negative Polish perceptions of Russia. It must be stated, however, that since Poland already has strong levels of nationalism and anti-Russian sentiment, that such a strengthening of negative perceptions may simply be conformational bias on the side of Poles. In all objectivity, both actors partaking in a security dilemma may perform equal and opposite countermoves in order to try to rectify the perceived imbalance from which the dilemma stems. Thus, it will be seen that Russia is positioning its response according to its threat perception of the Missile Defense Shield, and not over some kind of inherently ‘anti-Polish’ foreign policy, as the Polish leadership and Western media may lead one to believe.
Subsection 3.8.1: Russia’s Initial Statements
Moscow sharply reacted immediately after Poland’s proclamation of its intent to sign the Missile Defense Shield agreement with the US. Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, representing Russia’s first response to the announcement, stated that “By deploying, Poland is exposing itself to a strike – 100%”. The Guardian also says that Nogovitsyn added “that Russia’s security doctrine allowed it to use nuclear weapons against an active ally of a nuclear power such as America“. In a telling sign of the West’s typical overreaction to Russian statements, the Guardian reported this as “Russian general threatens nuclear attack”. In all actuality, this is not an accurate portrayal of the context in which the statement was said. He was merely restating established Russian military doctrine and drawing attention to the fact that now that Poland is an active ally of the US through its Missile Defense Shield agreement, that it would only follow that the country now be made a military target, should any large-scale nuclear war break out between Russia and the US. Russia was in no way threatening to launch a nuclear strike in the near future (as the context of the Guardian’s reporting made it sound) against the planned missile defense installation.
Subsection 3.8.2: The Polish Perception of Russia’s Initial Statements
Unfortunately, Nogovitsyn’s comments played directly into the hands of the Polish and American media networks. It now appeared as though Russia, fresh from practicing “bullying and intimidation” towards Georgia (in the words of Washington), was now setting its sights against its perceived one-sided historical victim, Poland. This interpretation of events rallied Polish nationalism and anti-Russian feeling in country, as well as portrayed Russia as an aggressive nation intent on subjugating its neighbors to its demands. Such perceptions do not work in Russia’s favor, and they contrarily weaken Moscow’s soft power and image abroad, especially in such a challenging environment as Poland.
Subsection 3.8.3: Russia’s Countermeasures
Besides rhetorically speaking about the possibility of attacking Poland out of tactical necessity in the event that hostilities erupt between Russia and the US, Moscow also declared its intent to take other various countermeasures to neutralize the threat posed by the Missile Defense Shield. According to RIA Novosti on 25 November, 2011, such means have accumulated to include the following:
- Military measures:
- Installation of a radar station in the Kalingrad Region
- Stronger protection of the strategic nuclear facilities
- Equipping missiles with penetration aids
- Possible deployment of strike missile systems in the west and the south of the country. One of such options could be deployment of the Iskander ballistic missile system in the Kaliningrad Region.
- Diplomatic measures:
- Continuing negotiations on missile defense and practical cooperation with the NATO members
- Russia might refuse to continue disarmament in case of any negative developments
- Russia might exercise its right to withdrawal from the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)
Subsection 3.8.4: Russian Tactical Breakthrough
It currently appears as though Moscow’s military measure of ‘equipping missiles with penetration aids’ has worked to counter the entire Missile Defense Shield threat. On 16 April, 2013, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (former Russian Ambassador to NATO, special representative on anti-missile defense negotiations, and deputy premier in charge of the space and defense industries) said that “We have solved the issue of penetrating the missile shield. We regret that the United States waste their money on missile defense and compel us to do the same. The missile shield is nothing for us, it’s a bluff. It poses no military threat, but remains a political and economic problem”. RIA Novosti’s article further explains that “most of Russia’s criticism is caused by the fact that the planned missile shield is “provocative” and “excessive by nature” and thus forces other countries to boost their strategic defences” and “that Russia was “compelled to search for a wise and asymmetric response.” Three months later, Russia proved this statement by testing a new “missile defense killer” ICBM, with Rogozin confidently stating that “neither current nor future American missile defense systems will be able to prevent that missile from hitting a target dead on.”
Subsection 3.8.5: Analysis of Rogozin’s Statement
Rogozin’s statements represent a fundamental development in the missile defense shield dilemma between Poland and the US on one side, and Russia on the other. It means that Russia has successfully developed new weapons systems capable of penetrating the missile defense shield, thereby rending the previous threat posed by it as null and void. The implications of such a development are immense. They signify that Russia is capable of quickly adapting its military-industry complex in order to combat new and emerging challenges, with this being a major improvement over the previously stagnated complex that Russia inherited in the 1990s. Quite clearly, Russia’s military-industrial complex has now proven itself adept at adapting to threats as they arise, thereby demonstrating Moscow’s new versatility in global military standing. As such, it also represents a financial defeat for the US, and more importantly, a political and diplomatic defeat for Poland, which, colloquially speaking, burned so many bridges with Russia in order to get to this point.
Subsection 3.8.6: The Significance of Russia’s Tactical Breakthrough for Poland
To reorient the focus back to 2008 when Poland first agreed to the basing of the Missile Defense Shield on its territory, the country’s leadership had in mind that it was bravely and courageously standing up to what it marketed as Russian aggression against Georgia (and by extension, the rest of the formerly communist nations and territories). It took upon itself to house a weapons program that had the potential to dangerously undercut Moscow’s nuclear second strike potential, thereby negating years of strategic and tactical nuclear balancing that retained the level of parity between Russia and the US. To put it frankly, Poland signed up to partake in a plan that could have potentially resulted in the eventual collapse of Russia’s great power status, in that Russia could have ended up in a vulnerable position to have any demands dictated to it under the threat of nuclear force (for which it would not be able to adequately respond and guarantee mutually assured destruction). Much to Poland’s dismay, however, Russia was able to outmaneauver Washington and Warsaw’s present missile defense plans and retain its strategic and tactical nuclear parity. This shows that the system envisaged for Poland is no longer capable of presenting any obstacle for Moscow’s military planning.
It is still of the highest significance that both the US and Poland agreed to partner up to create such a then-threatening weapons system. As previously written, the author believes that it was the largest military watershed event in Eastern European history since the end of the Cold War. This is because the unstated objective of the plan was to neutralize Russia’s nuclear arsenal and place the country in a permanently weakened position. It goes without saying that eventual modifications and expansions of the US’ global missile defense system could return this threat to the forefront of bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington. Russia to this day has yet to acquire any legal guarantee from the US that its Missile Defense Shield will not be used against its nuclear deterrent. The American reluctance to legally assure Russia that such weapons systems are not aimed against it undermines mutual trust and continues to raise suspicions about American motives. Additionally, it also reinforces Moscow’s perception that Poland only had negative intentions in agreeing to such a program, and that Poland’s then-leadership was driven by all means possible to undermine Russia and its influence in Eastern Europe (via Polish Exceptionalism).
Subsection 3.8.7: Modifications to the Original Strategy and Poland’s Domestic Missile Defense Shield
Although Poland’s leadership had changed as the result of the Smolensk catastrophe (which will be discussed later), the Missile Defense Shield still occupies a priority position for the country. Since its signing in 2008, the US has modified its stated Missile Defense Shield plans, raising fears in Poland that the country was being used as a pawn in the Russian-American ‘Reset’. Although the US has reassured Poland that it has every intention in deploying some type of missile defense infrastructure in the country, Polish President Komorowski signed a legislative amendment on 12 April, 2013 stating that his country will be investing $40 billion in upgrading its military and building its own domestic Missile Defense Shield. Considering that Rogozin made his statements four days later on 16 April, 2013, it can be seen that this was Russia’s rebuttal to Poland’s action. Russia is basically stating that Poland is incapable of threatening it as its missile plans currently stand, and that the real threat is American global missile defense strategy.
Subsection 3.8.8: The Modified Strategy
The new American strategy, which will not go forward with the original plan to install certain interceptors in Poland (and Romania), will instead be more naval-based and mobile, as well as including the construction of infrastructure in Alaska and California with the supposed intention to guard against North Korean missiles. RT reports that “The Russian Deputy FM said the missile defense elements the US plans to deploy in Europe, both sea- and land-based, are very mobile and their location can be changed in days. As for the plans to put additional heavy interceptors in Alaska and California, the Russian official said this move would significantly add to the US capabilities in missile defense.” This means that the missile defense threat still exists, although it no longer significantly involves Poland. Instead, the problem has now grown to global proportions for Russia. Nonetheless, with the focus of the exposition being on Polish-Russian relations, it is important to analyze how this affects the research subject.
Subsection 3.8.9: The Consequences for Poland
Poland and its leadership miscalculated when it entered into the Missile Defense Shield agreement with the US. It was anticipated that the US would retain its original plans and not sacrifice them for any reason. Warsaw was taking a large risk by confidently behaving in such an anti-Russian way in terms of its policy developments, and now, out of necessity, Poland thus had to advance its interests with even more caution than before. This emphasizes its newfound approach towards acting as the EU’s regional leader in Eastern Europe in enticing Ukraine to reorient its policy away from Russia and towards the West, as well as ‘resetting’ its relations with Russia (which will be discussed in Subsections 3.9.6 and 3.9.7).
Subsection 3.8.10: Conclusion
Most significantly, the change between administrations in Poland, from Kaczynski to Tusk, retained an important foreign policy consistency – Poland continues to attempt to obstruct Russia in Eastern Europe, be it through its ill-fated missile defense meanderings or its enticement of Ukraine to the West. This consistency can be directly attributed to the retention of Radoslaw Sikorski by both administrations. It was earlier argued that Sikorski is the central reason why Poland continues to practice an anti-Russian foreign policy in the manner that it does, and as the research enters its final chapters, this will be explained more in detail when postulating the future of Polish-Russian relations. In general, with or without Sikorski, Polish society still stands in strong opposition to Russian influence in Eastern Europe, and this determining characteristic of Polish national identity strongly influences the country’s foreign policy.
Chapter 3.9: The 2010 Katyn Catastrophe
Subsection 3.9.1: Background
2010 was a milestone year for Polish-Russian relations. In early April 2010, the ‘Katyn’ film was shown on Russian television. This demonstrated that the Russian people and leadership were ready to accept responsibility for their former government’s complicity in the event, thereby opening the door for soft power diplomacy to work towards healing the large rift that had developed between Moscow and Warsaw. Additionally, the airing of the ‘Katyn’ film occurred in preparation for the 70th year anniversary of the actual Katyn event. Putin was slated to meet Kaczynski in Smolensk in order to travel to the site of the event and pay homage to those who had lost their lives. The ceremony was expected to help Poland and Russia “put their long and dreadful past behind them”, thereby beginning an historical healing process. In a cruel twist of fate, what was supposed to have been a landmark event for bettering Polish-Russian relations turned into a horrible tragedy, as Kaczynski’s plane crashed into a tree while attempting to land, killing everyone on board.
Subsection 3.9.2: Immediate Consequences of the Event
The 2010 Katyn event devastated the entire government of Poland. Not only had the President been killed, but so too had “the army chief of staff, national bank president, deputy foreign minister, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, deputy parliament speaker, civil rights commissioner and at least two presidential aides and three lawmakers”, all of whom were traveling on the same plane en route to the commemoration. Sadly, this tragic accident derailed any hopes for a “forgive and forget moment” between Poland and Russia that could have salvaged the two countries’ deteriorating ties. Now more than ever, Poles were not only reminded of the Katyn event of 70 years prior, but they now had yet another unfortunate memory to associate with Katyn and Russia.
Subsection 3.9.3: Russian Society’s Response
In a telling symbol of human solidarity, Russians mourned with and expressed sympathy towards the Poles, and this act of sincere kindness did not go unnoticed. Poles appreciated the outpouring of support coming from their eastern neighbor, and caught up in the moment, even anti-Russian Radoslaw Sikorski remarked that, “I don’t know if there is a political breakthrough because we have many contradictory issues with Russia, but we have an emotional breakthrough”. This goes to show the heartfelt appreciation and moment of personal connection that Poles felt towards Russians after this event, and even if political impasses could not be immediately surmounted, at the very least, it seemed as though there was hope for a mitigation of the age-old Polish animosity towards Russians. The Russian Duma even officially condemned the Soviet-era Katyn event on 26 November, 2010, and this was positively received by most Poles as a step in the right direction. Unfortunately for the future of bilateral relations, the post-crash empathy that Poles felt with their Russian neighbors was soon to evaporate.
Subsection 3.9.4: Plane Crash Conspiracies
Conspiracy theories surrounding the crash began to spring up almost immediately, and some of them went to such lengths as to accuse Russia of having assassinated Kaczysnki. Sadly, such accusations against Russia began to be manipulated by Kaczynski’s brother in order to score political points before the presidential election, but they were not impactful enough to allow him to win. As the aftermath of any tragedy of intense emotional impact can attest, it is not uncommon for conspiracy theories to abound after the event, but in this case study, the presence of a conspiracy theory blaming Russia’s leadership for the accident has a heightened importance since it directly affects some Poles’ view towards Russia. Already nine months after the accident, RT headlined an article stating that “Plane crash conspiracies threaten Poland-Russia thaw”. The conspiracy theories did not die down, however, but rather, according to Al Jazeera on the third anniversary of the catastrophe, “a growing number of Poles – about 33 percent according to a recent poll – say they “take into consideration” the possibility that the president was assassinated. Conspiracy theories suggesting an explosion brought the plane down have gained momentum in recent months, mostly among President Kacynski’s supporters, and continue to polarise the Polish electorate”. This may be due to the fact that Kaczynski’s brother sharply implied in May 2012 that his brother was assassinated.
Subsection 3.9.5: The Consequences of the Plane Crash Conspiracies
As the conspiracy accusations surrounding Kaczynski’s death continue to be a political topic in Poland’s domestic politics over three years after the accident, this shows how deeply impressionable Poles are towards believing suggestions that Russia may have assassinated their president. After all, the same aforementioned Al Jazeera article goes on to state that the 33% of Poles who considered foul play (including Russian involvement) to be behind Kaczynski’s death was “up from 25 percent when the same question was asked in June 2012”. This shows that “Assassination theories repeated multiple times will ingrain on people’s minds and become probable” to them. Shockingly, on 25 October, 2013, it was reported that now “45 percent answered “don’t know” when questioned as to what caused the plane crash… an increase of 11 percent since a similar poll was taken in April this year.” Considering the continued statistical increase over the past three years in Poles who doubt the official narrative of an accident being behind the cause of the catastrophe, it is logical to conclude that this trend will continue into the future. Should this occur, it can be inferred that Poles are strengthening their anti-Russian convictions, and this could eventually result in an even more nationalistic anti-Russian foreign policy by the party in power in order to capitalize on such sentiments. It even remains possible that if such conspiracies are eventually accepted into the mainstream political and social consciousness, then a new form of Russian Guilt will be spawned. In a similarly negative fashion, Polish nationalist manifestations may grow in strength and audacity, as already seen by the 11 November, 2013 Polish mob attack on the Russian Embassy. It is all the more telling that the attack took place on Poland’s Independence Day celebrations, underlining how closely Polish nationalists feel that their country’s independence ‘festivities’ must be linked to Russophobic behavior.
Subsection 3.9.6: The Consequences of the Plane Crash for Polish Foreign Policy
The 2010 Katyn event resulted in the death of the nationalistic Kaczynski and paved the way for oppositionist Bronislaw Komorowski to become President in June 2010. Although Donald Tusk, also of the opposition, had been Prime Minister since 2007, this electoral victory in the aftermath of the tragedy (and especially over Kaczynski’s brother) may have signalled that Poles were willing to move past the nationalist rhetoric of the Kaczynski brothers and possibly pursue pragmatic relations with Russia. Kaczysnki’s Law and Justice Party no longer occupied either the President or the Prime Minister’s office, and it seemed possible that relations with Russia would improve.
Such optimistic hopes were abetted by the spate of recent shortcomings in Poland’s anti-Russian foreign policy:
- Georgia’s military defeat in the 2008 conflict
- The US’ decision to modify its Missile Defense Shield plans in Poland in September 2009
- The electoral defeat of the Orange Revolution in January 2010
Clearly, Poland’s foreign policy in Eastern Europe had not been reaping any positive dividends. Therefore, it may even have been possible that Kaczynski himself, had the plane crash not occurred and he successfully attended the historic Katyn event with Putin, may have used the opportunity to ‘reset’ relations with Russia in the same rhetorical manner as Obama had proclaimed to do one year prior. Poland would have sooner or later had to change its anti-Russian rhetoric and policies amidst the foreign policy disasters it had experienced and the (theoretical) reorientation of its sponsor, the United States. Thus, Poland followed the lead of the US and acted as though it normalized its relations with Russia, but tellingly, the anti-Russian Radoslaw Sikorski still remained as Foreign Minister throughout this period.
Subsection 3.9.7: The Actual Consequences of Poland’s Foreign Policy ‘Repositioning’
Over almost the next three years, American and Polish foreign policy pursued a similar trajectory. Just as the US was feigning a ‘reset’ in its relations with Russia, so too was Poland. On the official surface, both countries had given up their antagonistic policies towards Russia and were refocusing their policies elsewhere. The US was concerned with the withdrawal from Iraq and Poland decided to aspire for a leadership role in the EU. Although both NATO members were not explicitly working against Russia during this time, and relations between both states and Russia appeared more cordial than before, this did not mean that they had abandoned their plans to do so in the future. While the US announced a 21st-century version of the Reagan Doctrine to roll back Russian integrationist efforts in December 2012, Poland broke its faux reset with Russia four months earlier when it proclaimed its intention to build the same type of land-based missile defense shield that the US had scrapped three years before. Although some observers may have been surprised by the US’ aggressive statements to combat Russia’s peaceful regional economic strategy after Barack Obama made such a public spectacle out of ‘resetting’ relations with Russia, those that were familiar with Sikorski’s track record of anti-Russian behavior during the Kaczynski period and before should have expected that the Foreign Minister would one day relapse into his previous train of thought.
Chapter 3.10: 2013 – The Return of Poland’s Eastern Assertiveness (Hard and Soft Polish Exceptionalism) and Russia’s Reactions
Subsection 3.10.1: The Symbolism Behind the Domestic Missile Defense Shield Announcement
The false lull in mutual suspicions between Poland and Russia was interrupted in August 2012 by the announcement to build a domestic missile defense shield in Poland, however, Poland’s threats did not become actionable until April 2013 when President Komorowski actually signed the legislative amendments that began to turn his words into reality. Although it had already been discussed in subsection 3.8.7 that such a development in Poland as it currently stands poses no threat whatsoever to Russia’s nuclear second strike capability, the very fact that Poland moved forward with such a decision demonstrates the renewed assertiveness that the country feels. It is symbolic in the sense that it is a hard-form embodiment of Polish Exceptionalism. Warsaw is proclaiming that it is exceptional enough to the point where it can create its own domestic missile defense shield (a feat which no other European country besides Russia has managed to do), and it is making a grand gesture to display that it is not afraid of agitating Moscow. It is extremely unlikely that Poland would have taken such unilateral steps on its own without some type of reassurance from the US, and thus follows the explanation.
Subsection 3.10.2: The US’ 21st-Century Reagan Doctrine
As had been seen four months prior to the signing of the domestic missile defense shield and military modernization legislative amendment, the US implicitly released a statement via then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that it would do whatever is within its means to roll back Russia’s economic integrationist efforts. After describing Russia’s Eurasian Union plans as “a move to re-Sovietize the region”, she proceeded to threaten that “we know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it”. It was mentioned at the end of the preceding chapter that this amounts to a 21st-century version of the Reagan Doctrine, and Clinton’s words leave no doubt as to America’s intentions to sabotage Russia’s grand integrationist strategy and roll it back in the same manner that it had covertly fought against pro-Soviet communist movements across the world in the 1980s. After such an aggressive pronouncement from Washington (which obviously would entail supporting fellow anti-Russian integrationist allies like Poland), it is no wonder that Warsaw felt emboldened enough to go forward with its symbolic decision.
Subsection 3.10.3: The Choreographed Collapse of the Polish-American ‘Reset’ with Russia
It remains solely the realm of speculation, but it is questionable how two countries (Poland and the US) who were officially trying to soothe over relations with Russia could both, in near simultaneity, backtrack on their former policies by making such aggressive statements without prior consultation and coordination. After all, Poland had given the impression of temporarily reorienting its policies towards positive integration with the EU, after having forfeited (it seemed) its aggressive attempts at Russian agitation. Obama’s 2009 modifications to Bush’s original missile defense shield plan had upset the Polish political elite, and Komorowski, in his August 2012 statement, even declared that “our mistake was that while accepting the U.S. proposal, we have not taken into account a political risk related to the change of the U.S. president. We have paid a too high political price for that”. But isn’t the decision to build a domestic missile defense shield also a ‘political risk’ that could lead to Poland ‘[paying] a too high political price’? After all, the original 2008 missile defense shield plans (prior to their modification) were one of the primary reasons why Polish-Russian relations plunged as low as they did, but this time there is no visible external supporter guaranteeing that it will militarily protect these installations (as the US had promised to do in the case of its missile defense shield infrastructure being deployed in Poland). Reason thus suggests that Poland, a NATO member under the military subservience of the US, would not have made such a symbolic and clearly provocative decision without having first consulted with its Atlantic patron and was guaranteed its behind-the-scenes support. Such speculative support becomes even more believable after it was reported that Polish government officials were on hand to observe the US’ recent November, 2013 testing of a medium-range missile defense system, as the Poles have expressed interest in buying their missile defense technology from the US. As the saying goes, ‘one hand washes the other’, and the justification for America’s anti-Russian partnership with Poland will be revealed in Subsection 3.10.7.
Subsection 3.10.4: The Consequences of Poland’s Domestic Missile Defense Shield on Polish-Russian Mutual Perceptions
Poland’s domestic missile defense shield decision demonstrated to Russia that the Polish leadership had not truly changed its anti-Russian ways. This could have been expected, considering that Radoslaw Sikorski still remained the Polish Foreign Minister, but nonetheless, after a relative calming period of nearly three years in mutual relations, Moscow was bound to have been taken slightly aback by the decision. As Rogozin reiterated on 16 April, 2013 after the legislative amendment was signed, the missile defense shield is more of a political and economic challenge than a military one. Therefore, for Poland to step back from its previous pragmatism with such a display of symbolic arrogance, Russia most certainly would have interpreted this message as though Warsaw is suddenly no longer intent on any meaningful cooperation between the two. This, as will be seen in the next chapter, significantly reinforced Russia’s threat perception of Poland and its suspiciousness of its motives.
Poland, on the other hand, felt empowered by its decision, however illogical it may be from a military standpoint. It had symbolically stood up to Russia for the first time since mid-2008 when it had first signed the ill-fated (in the sense that it was later unexpectedly modified from its original) missile defense shield agreement. After having spent the past three years integrating into the EU’s leadership structures and positioning itself as a proponent of the organization’s expansion, Poland now felt strong enough to once more return to its anti-Russian policies and continue its historic paradigm of spreading Polish Exceptionalism to the east. Considering the Eastern Partnership’s agenda and Poland’s historic role as occasional hegemon over Ukraine (the largest of the Eastern Partnership members), it would logically make the most sense for Poland to fulfill the role of vanguard (via soft Polish Exceptionalism) over this process. Washington and Brussels are both in favor of Ukraine’s eventual accession to the EU (with NATO membership likely going hand-in-hand with this process), so Poland would thus be able to serve two masters in one stroke by extending its influence (and by extension, Washington and Brussels’) as far east as it can. But in order to set the stage for the coming proxy competition with Russia over whether Ukraine drifts east or west, Poland needed to make a bold move in order to proclaim its resilience to Russia and properly position itself as its foil, hence the dramatic decision about the domestic missile defense shield.
Subsection 3.10.5: Russia’s Two-Stage Countermeasures
Microsection 18.104.22.168: Russia’s Air Base in Belarus
Russia’s response to Poland’s newly confrontational attitude was two-fold, and each stage was expressed via hard power. At the end of April 2013, it was announced that Russia will be building a new airbase in Belarus. Viktor Litovkin of the Valdai Club believes that such a move was made not only to support Russia’s CSTO ally, but also to counter a NATO air base in Lithuania, as well as the modified US missile defense shield plans for Poland. It is possible to infer that such a move is directed more at Poland than at Lithuania, as Poland, being the stronger of the two anti-Russian states, poses more of a direct threat to Russia’s regional interests than does tiny and diplomatically irrelevant Lithuania. Additionally, Lithuania is hosting an air base via NATO, whereas Poland has taken what appears on the surface to be a unilateral step in creating a domestic missile defense shield. To put it another way, it is clear that Lithuania is carrying out the desires of its larger and more powerful NATO partners, but as for Poland, the country is signalling that it is by its own independent choice that such a missile defense shield decision is being made, thereby putting it (and not its NATO allies directly, as is the case with the Lithuanian situation) into symbolic confrontation with Russia.
As would be expected, Russia’s plans for enhanced military cooperation with Belarus contributed to the renewal of mutual suspicions between Russia and Poland. Lavrov even attempted to reassure Sikorski one month later during a visit in Warsaw that he “do[es] not see any reasons for worries” about this issue, explaining that Russia was merely fulfilling its obligations to Belarus as a fellow allied state. Nonetheless, just as Russia feels threatened by the movement of NATO military infrastructure towards its borders, Poland also feels the same way when Russian military infrastructure (regardless of the reason) inches closer to their borders, especially when relations between Poland and Belarus are less than friendly as it is. Whether Russia’s cooperation with Belarus was intended to send a signal to Warsaw or not, the fact remains that it enhanced the mutual threat perception between both states.
Microsection 22.214.171.124: Zapad 2013
Russia and Belarus also carried out the joint Zapad 2013 war games in September 2013. The drills involved about 13,000 soldiers and were conducted in both Belarus and Russia. Despite having been planned in advance and well before relations with Poland began to sour, some sensational news stories began to be run in the Polish press claiming that Russia was rehearsing a nuclear strike on Warsaw. Although not carried by mainstream news outlets, the presence of such harmful rumors demonstrates some of the political undercurrents of thought prevalent in the country concerning Russian intentions. All outlandish gossip aside, Poland did express its disapproval of the military exercises even before they began. Russia & India Report quotes Roman Polko, the deputy head of Poland’s Bureau for National Security, as saying on 10 June, 2013 “that Zapad-2013 will have an “aggressive character” towards neighbouring NATO states”. Once more, as with the decision to position an air base in Belarus, Poland perceived Russian actions as hostile and threatening to its security.
Subsection 3.10.6: Steadfast Jazz
Poland, either unaware of how its participation may be viewed by Russia or simply wanting to make yet another strong statement, partook in NATO’s largest war games and live-fire drills in seven years in early November 2013. Steadfast Jazz, as the exercise was labelled, involved all 28 NATO members and, due to its location in Poland and the Baltic, “it is not a stretch to say that the exercise simulates a Russian invasion of Poland”. This analysis by Bryce White of the Centre for Research on Globalization perfectly underscores the choreography that had been occurring between Poland and NATO in the run-up to Steadfast Jazz. When one considers that NATO had staged a war game with the implicit intent of demonstrating its Article 5 commitment to Poland, recent events start to make more sense. For example, the author earlier asserted that although it cannot be proven, there is a possibility that Poland had consulted the US (the dominant military power in NATO) prior to announcing its plans to go forward with developing its own domestic missile defense shield, and it was suggested that Poland would not have taken such a unilateral step without any prior security guarantee from Washington. Now that it has been revealed that Steadfast Jazz was initiated with the intent of highlighting NATO’s ability to defend Poland from outside attack (with the understanding that only Russia could fulfil the role of ‘aggressor’), it is clear that America and NATO have now thrown their support behind Poland’s reenergized eastern foreign policy (as manifested through hard and soft Polish Exceptionalism), and that Poland is acting as a regional proxy on behalf of its military patrons.
Microsection 126.96.36.199: Russia’s Response
Russia was none too pleased with Steadfast Jazz taking place so close to its borders, and Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov released a strongly worded statement when he said that “we carefully studied information received from NATO countries about Steadfast Jazz-2013…I can’t hide the fact that the Russian Defense Ministry was bewildered by the proclaimed goal of this exercise, which envisages the application of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty triggering a response to an aggression against Poland. These drills are in the spirit of the Cold War”. By comparing Steadfast Jazz, and especially Poland’s prime participation in it, to ‘the spirit of the Cold War’, all doubt should by now be dissipated that Russia views Poland’s recent actions as a threat to its regional interests.
Microsection 188.8.131.52: The Significance of Steadfast Jazz
Such a development marks a new stage in Polish-Russian relations. Poland, having already viewed Russia as a threatening rival for centuries, is simply continuing its historical psychological paradigm, but Russia’s changing attitude towards Poland is what makes this new point in mutual relations monumental. It is not to state that Russia believes that the threat emanating from Poland is as dangerous as the one coming from the US or NATO as a whole, but the very fact that Poland is grouped with these more prominent aggressors, and that Poland’s participation in and physical selection for Steadfast Jazz was so important to the Atlantic Alliance, displays a serious reconsideration of Poland’s foreign policy by Russia’s leadership. Russia was suspicious of Poland after it announced its intentions to join NATO and the EU in the late-1990s, but at the time, it was too weak to do anything to stop it. In 2008, after the missile defense shield agreement was signed between Warsaw and Washington, Moscow was perturbed, but it took proactive measures to mitigate the threat. After the modification of the original missile defense shield plans by the US, the death of the flamboyant nationalist Kaczynski, and the apparent rollback of Poland’s anti-Russian foreign policy under Komorowski, it may have seemed that Warsaw’s previous risky political gambits may have been a short-sighted expression of nationalism that was now in the past. However, considering the fact that a radical change in the Polish political class (with the exception of Sikorski, whom the reader must never forget!) could not change Poland’s anti-Russian foreign policy for more than three years, Russia finally wised up to Poland’s true foreign policy pursuits.
Moscow must have realized that Poland’s 2007 National Security Strategy was honest when it proclaimed that “Fundamental national interests do not change and are based on an overall concept of state security, taking into account political, military, economic, social and ecological aspects. National interests follow from Poland’s fundamental and invariable values and their pursuit becomes an overriding concern of the state and its inhabitants”. From Poland’s centuries-long competition with Russia, its Prometheist plans for the Soviet Union’s self-dissolution, the leadership role that Solidarity and Pope John Paul II took in ejecting Russian influence from Central and Eastern Europe, and to its rapid and eager integration with NATO and the EU, its flirtation with anti-Russian revolutionary governments in the former Soviet Union (the Orange Revolution and Saakashvili), its enthusiasm for the US missile defense shield, and now its current plans for a domestic missile defense shield and its prime participation in Cold War-esque war games on Russia’s borders, it should by now be absolutely clear to the reader that Poland’s fundamental national interest has always been first and foremost to obstruct Russia in any possible way in order to advance its position in Eastern Europe. The reader must also not forget that some of the ‘fundamental and invariable values’ that influence Poland’s national interests are its rabid pursuit of Polish Exceptionalism and its history of proselytizing Russian Guilt to justify its actions.
Steadfast Jazz was thus the event that showed Russia’s decision-makers the true nature behind Poland’s fundamental foreign policy goals (regardless of the political class in charge), and this newfound recognition should be taken into consideration by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in modifying Russia’s policy in Eastern Europe.
Subsection 3.10.7: Why the US Laid Back in Bed with Poland
Microsection 184.108.40.206: Operation Ukraine
One may at first wonder what advantage the US would gain by inflaming Polish-Russian relations, but after dwelling upon Hillary Clinton’s direct threat against Russia’s integrationist efforts, the answer becomes clear: influence over Ukraine. It had previously been written in the report that Poland at times resorts to soft Polish Exceptionalism. This is the promotion of Polish culture and influence in the area of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with the aim of re-establishing Warsaw’s historic influence and possibly reintegrating the territories under its future hegemony. Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in 1994 that “it cannot be stressed strongly enough that without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire”. When Clinton’s threats are combined with Brzezinski’s strategic logic, the conclusion can be drawn that the US is supporting Poland’s expressions of both soft (cultural, normative influence) and hard (military [whether real or symbolic]) Polish Exceptionalism in order to present Poland as a foil to Russia. This conveniently assists Poland in combating Russia via indirect proxy influencing methods in Ukraine in order to prevent Kiev’s future integration into Russia’s Eurasian Union.
Microsection 220.127.116.11: Poland and America’s Win-Win Situation
When Poland and Russia compete in a highly publicized manner, the West and the world at large (through the West’s communication hegemony over global information outlets) are made aware and/or reminded of the ‘historical Russian threat to Poland’, as it has falsely axiomatically become known as. But no longer is Poland’s security merely the realm of responsibility for Warsaw alone, as according to the Polish National Security Strategy of 2007, “Poland’s security is increasingly becoming an integral part of EU’s security”, and by inferred extension, therefore that of NATO as a whole. Steadfast Jazz, which simulated a NATO defense of Poland after external (understood to be Russian) aggression, proves that NATO now stands in agreement with Poland’s aforementioned declaration and is symbolically warning Russia that any military countermeasures taken against Poland’s newfound eastern assertiveness will be met with a combined NATO backlash. Poland has been clamoring for a confrontation with Russia over influence in the territory of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a result of its society-wide inferiority complex (nurtured by decades of Russian Guilt and the recent forays into active Polish Exceptionalism), and the US and NATO have taken this opportunity to solidify their military support of Poland in order to exploit it as a proxy against Russia. For both Poland and the US/NATO, it is a win-win situation, as Poland gains the necessary defense commitments it needs prior to embarking on full-blown Polish Exceptionalism and the US/NATO acquire a fervently dedicated partner that is eager to carry out an anti-Russian foreign policy for them in Eastern Europe.
Microsection 18.104.22.168: Polish Involvement in the Ukrainian Destabilization (Soft Polish Exceptionalism)
The destabilizing events in Ukraine stemming from the November 21, 2013 decision of the government to suspend its EU integration efforts bear all of the hallmarks of soft Polish Exceptionalism. Almost immediately after Ukraine’s rejection of the Association Agreement with the EU was made public, Polish politician Aleksander Kwiasniewski lamented that the “mission is over”, in obvious reference to Poland’s mission of using Polish Exceptionalism to bring Ukraine into its political orbit. Poland, having cultural, religious, and historical influence in Ukraine (especially over the Western, more liberal-minded region), is strongly supportive of the protesters that began organizing against the government after the decision and condemns the Ukrainian government for acceding to what Komorowski describes as “the policy of pressure and blackmail employed towards Ukraine by its eastern neighbour”. The source then goes on to note that “Poland has played a leading role within the EU in trying to draw Ukraine, a neighbor with which it has ethnic and language ties, towards Europe”. The aforementioned statement of fact reinforces the author’s assertion that Poland is ambitiously exploiting its legacy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the brief period of the Second Polish Republic in order to advance its interests in Eastern Europe (Polish Exceptionalism).
Five days after President Komorowski’s statement, on 1 December, 2013, Sikorski and his Swedish Foreign Minister counterpart released a joint statement which illustrated their governments’ solidarity with the protesters, saying that “We are impressed that so many Ukrainians are braving the cold to protest their president’s abrupt decision to withdraw from signing the Association Agreement with the European Union”. It is necessary to mention that one day prior, the Ukrainian police had forcibly evicted protesters from Kiev’s Independence Square in order to set up a Christmas Tree there. The protesters not only refused to leave the square, but some of them had also been “throwing stones at (police) officers”. As can be seen, the ‘peaceful’ protests were increasingly turning violent, and although the police responded with a controversial proportion of force, it was necessary for law enforcement to respond when being assaulted by the same violent protesters that Sikorski later supported one day later. Over that same weekend, the protests became even more violent, with reports of rioters occupying government buildings and throwing Molotov cocktails at the police. The Polish Parliament had no qualms about the protesters’ violent activities, as on 2 December, 2013, they voted to pass a resolution declaring “full solidarity with the citizens of Ukraine, who with great determination show the world their desire to ensure their country’s full membership in the EU”. Poland is thus equating its ‘full solidarity’ with the ‘great determination’ of the protesters to violently hurl dangerous objects and explosive devices at police officers, as well as illegally occupy government facilities. Poland has thereby proven that it is not a neutral actor in the Ukrainian destabilization.
It is evident that Poland has been leveraging its influence in Ukraine and throwing its diplomatic weight on the side of the anti-government revolutionaries. It may not yet be possible to prove the extent of Polish involvement in the destabilizing events rocking Ukraine, but the fact that Reuters commented on Poland using its “ethnic and language ties” with Ukraine to “draw” it towards Europe (and subsequently into the Polish political orbit) demonstrates that there is some undetermined level of cultural and public diplomacy being implemented on the governmental and non-governmental levels. This draws attention to Poland’s renewed interest in advancing its agenda in Eastern Europe and its involvement in Ukraine’s domestic politics.
Microsection 22.214.171.124: Russia’s Reaction to the Ukrainian Destabilization
Russia does not believe that the pro-EU protests are spontaneous, but rather, that they are a form of pre-planned revolutionary activity that is capitalizing on current events. Putin elaborated on Russia’s position by saying:
“As far as the events in Ukraine are concerned, to me they don’t look like a revolution, but rather like ‘pogrom’. However strange this might seem, in my view it has little to do with Ukrainian-EU relations… What is happening now is a little false start due to certain circumstances… This all has been prepared for the presidential election. And that these were preparations, in my opinion, is an apparent fact for all objective observers.”
The Ukrainian government seconds this analysis, as Prime Minister Azarov said that “this has all the signs of a coup…” When one considers Poland’s explicit support of the Ukrainian destabilizers in light of Putin and Azarov’s indictments, it becomes apparent that Poland is supporting the overthrow of the Ukrainian government. It is also contributing to the dual goal of aiding its NATO ally and military protector, the US, in “slow[ing] down and prevent[ing]” Russia’s integrationist efforts. Everything has begun to come full circle, as the US and Poland are once more closely cooperating in Eastern Europe (as they had before 2009) in order to roll back Russian influence in the region and replace it with Poland’s lost memory of the heritage of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Part 4: Conclusion
Chapter 4.1: Soft and Hard Polish Exceptionalism
Poland’s foreign policy after 1989 has been motivated by two primary conceptions – Polish Exceptionalism and Russian Guilt. The latter, proclaiming that Russia is solely responsible for the historical suffering and perceived ‘victimness’ of Poland, provides the normative justification in advancing the former, which advocates a return of Polish hegemony in Eastern Europe in a similar manner as the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Polish Exceptionalism is similar to American Exceptionalism in that both feel that their nations are chosen by God to be exceptional among their peers. Whereas the US’ concept of exceptionalism is drawn upon its history of being a refuge for religious minorities in Europe and its understood-to-be heavenly endowed geography, Poland affirms its exceptionalism through the experience of the Polish Pope John Paul II in waging a religious struggle against communism (and to associated degrees, against the Soviet [Russian] ‘occupation’ of Poland).
Poles’ intense feelings of national pride complement their ambition to spread their influence in the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and their ‘negative identity’ that has been formed in opposition to all things related to Russia spurs this endeavour. A negative identity is that which is created to contrast oneself to an ‘other’ (in this case, Russia), and it is a powerful factor in identity formation. Poland expresses its exceptionalism through soft and hard measures. Culture, the Catholic religion, language, and historical ties (soft power) form the specific basis of soft Polish Exeptionalism, whereas military, political, and diplomatic methods constitute the hard-form application. Poland has previously oscillated between practicing one form over the other, but as the combined events of 2013 indicate (Poland’s domestic missile defense shield decision, Steadfast Jazz, and the support of Ukrainian anti-government actors), Warsaw has now become comfortable with utilizing both tactics simultaneously, thereby presenting a formidable challenge to Russian interests in Eastern Europe.
Chapter 4.2: Poland as NATO’s Largest and Most Important Frontline State
According to an article by John R. Schindler that was republished in the influential NATO-affiliated think tank, The Atlantic Council, Poland has become an integral cog in the entire alliance’s framework. As written in the 1 November, 2013 article, ‘Poland, NATO, and the Return of History’:
“[Poland] is the largest and most important NATO frontline state (emboldened emphasis included in original source document) in terms of military, political and economic power. Warsaw of late has been trying to raise Alliance awareness of the rising threat from the East, but this has been met with skepticism by NATO members located farther to the West than Poland. In a typical example, the expression of current Alliance assumptions by NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen that “war among European nations is simply unimaginable,” was countered in May  by the statement of Poland’s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski: “I’m afraid conflict in Europe is imaginable. . . Poland has shown the way with its new strategy and increased defense spending. Others must now follow Warsaw’s lead. After a two-decade holiday, history has returned to Europe.”
The author stands in full agreement with Schindler’s assessment of Poland’s new role in NATO’s security arrangement. Poland truly has become ‘the largest and most important NATO frontline state’, and its importance is expected only to grow in the coming years. It should go without saying that Russia continues to view NATO as a major challenge to its national security, and a “major threat, in (Defense Minister) Shoigu’s opinion, is continuing attempts to build NATO infrastructure and expand the alliance’s presence close to Russian borders.”  With Poland being the frontline state of NATO, and NATO representing a major threat, the deduction can thus be made that Poland is a major threat to Russia. As a case in point, all of the events of 2013 indicate that Poland has reached an accommodation with NATO to defend the country as it pursues the organization’s objectives of countering and rolling back Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe. In this sense, the goals of NATO and Poland overlap; they both want to diminish Russia’s ability to influence regional affairs and they want to see a strong and assertive Poland establish itself as the neighborhood hegemon to fill Moscow’s leadership void. It will be a gruelling process, but if properly managed, the lofty dreams of Polish Exceptionalism may one day become a reality as a result of this marriage of convenience between Warsaw, Brussels, and Washington.
Chapter 4.3: Sikorski – The Western Middleman and his Future NATO Role
Poland’s prized position in NATO and its steady movement towards fulfilling the goals of Polish Exceptionalism can largely be attributed to the workings of one man – Radoslaw Sikorski. More so than any other person, Sikorski has labored to maintain exceptional relations between Poland and NATO. He worked closely with Kaczynski to lay the seeds for the current Polish-American alliance during the former president’s tenure, and his job was retained despite the change in government after the 2010 Katyn plane crash. His studies at Oxford in the UK and his previous work experience in the US’ American Enterprise Institute and the New Atlantic Initiative have solidified his personal and professional relationship with the West. Therefore, he can be seen as a trusted witting agent of influence for the US and UK.
As touched upon in the preceding chapter, Poland has assumed a key role in NATO’s strategic structure, as it is now the largest and most important NATO frontline state. It has quickly evolved from a coerced and reluctant ally of the Soviet Union to a willing and enthusiastic member of NATO within the past two decades. Poland’s importance to the US and NATO earlier made it the principal candidate for the European branch of the missile defense shield, and its ever-present ambitious longings to restore its historic sphere of influence over the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth have been aided and abetted by its allies due to a convergence in strategic objectives. With NATO once more aggressively posturing against Russia, Poland has been catapulted into a position of prime importance, and considering Sikorski’s near-decade ministerial experience in crafting anti-Russian policies and his close relationship with the US, UK, and NATO, he, more than any other person, understands the Atlantic Alliance’s needs in the coming years. If NATO is to continue its anti-Russian trajectory (and there is no evidence to doubt that this will be the case), then Sikorski is second to none as the ideal candidate for NATO’s next Secretary General after Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s mandate expires on 31 July, 2014, as his personal and professional qualifications make his candidacy too tempting of an opportunity for the organization to pass up. It is therefore highly probable that he will assume this role next year.
The author is not alone in his prediction that Sikorski could become NATO’s next Secretary General, although this view has yet to penetrate the mainstream. Tyson Barker of the atlantic-community.org think tank, in association with the Atlantische Initiative in Berlin and the Atlantic Initiative in Washington, writes about Sikorski’s chances of success in 2009 when NATO was in the process of choosing its next General Secretary. Although Sikorski did not become NATO’s leader at that time, Barker still offers some interesting insight about the Polish Foreign Minister’s potential for reaching that position. He writes that the selection of a new-NATO member representative would assist the organization in reinventing itself in the post-Cold war twenty-first century. Furthermore, he states that Sikorski:
“[conveys] (a) strong political point of view that is representative of his country and region. Sikorski’s ties to the United States are numerous and complex… Both pro-American and pro-European, Sikorski would represent a bold recasting of NATO and its role in the post-Cold War world.”
Indeed, the casting of Sikorski in NATO’s highest position of power would surely reconfigure the identity of alliance during its trying post-Cold War era challenge in redefining itself. Of course, NATO has been involved in out-of-theater operations to support ‘humanitarian intervention’ since 1991 in the Balkans and Libya, but it still retains its original anti-Russian foundations as seen by its expansion eastward into the former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union countries, as well as its recent Steadfast Jazz military exercise that so unsettled Russia. Sikorski’s vehement pro-American and pro-NATO policies are known to even the most casual of observers, so his placement in NATO’s top spot would be a logical progression in his career.
Sikorski’s premiership over NATO would symbolize a political reward to Poland for its pursuit of Polish Exceptionalism (which is exceptionally convenient for achieving NATO’s objectives in Eastern Europe), as well as institutionalize Poland as the leading anti-Russian country in the organization. Should Sikorski ascend to this influential position, then Polish-Russian relations will remain cold and strained for the entire duration of his leadership. Poland is expected to become even more assertive than it currently is in pushing its influence eastward, and this increases the probability of a future NATO-Russian collision in the area. Simply put, it is highly probable that Sikorski will become the next Secretary General of NATO, but this development would be very disadvantageous for friendly and constructive future Polish-Russian (and as an extension, NATO-Russian and US-Russian) relations.
Epilogue: What is to be Done?
Poland has proven its dedication in recent years towards furthering its Polish Exceptionalism policy in the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and this has been met with glee and support from NATO and the US. Both entities now support Poland to the fullest, and their Steadfast Jazz exercise (the largest since 2006) demonstrates their close level of commitment towards Poland and its policies. Russia is now faced with a reinvigorated adversary challenging its leadership in Eastern Europe and the historic Polish-Russian rivalry continues to drag on. Contrary to popular Western perception, however, it is not Russia that has brought about this ‘return to history’, but rather, it is Poland. It just so happens that Poland’s policies perfectly align with those of NATO and the US, and the trio are now actively cooperating hand-in-hand in fulfilling each other’s needs. This makes for a dangerous and destabilizing dynamic, and Russia is faced with a challenge that is similar, yet in many ways different, than that which it has faced in the past. Russia once more is forced to confront a recalcitrant Poland, albeit this time one which is protected under a NATO nuclear umbrella.
The US pivot to Asia has enabled the US to flex its multilateralist muscle, as instead of directly engaging itself in its other theaters of interest, it now empowers its regional allies and employs them to carry out their shared interests in the area. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are examples for the Middle East, just as Poland is the example for Eastern Europe. In this sense, these middle powers are pieces in a larger geopolitical chess game dictated by the US, and Poland is merely a pawn whose historical grievances and nationalistic desires are being exploited out of political convenience. Without American and NATO backing, Poland would not be able to realistically strive for leadership in Eastern Europe in the manner that it does, let alone present the emboldened opposition to Russia that is currently being witnessed. Poland’s indirect involvement in Ukraine and its direct diplomatic support of the anti-government revolutionaries there is a strong step in asserting its influence at the expense of Russia’s, and such a trend is envisioned to become the future regional norm.
Russia has repeatedly communicated its opposition to this development, but its objections have fallen on deaf ears both in Warsaw and in Washington. It appears as though both actors are intransient to Russia’s threat perceptions of them, and this further contributes to the dangerously precarious security dilemma that has been steadily growing between the parties involved. Warsaw and Washington don’t want any compromise in Eastern Europe, and instead, they want to unilaterally push their policies despite any losses that Russia would experience. Without a doubt, Russia is facing aggression in Eastern Europe and it needs to act against this threat before it is too late.
As the current situation has indicated, Poland is NATO’s arm in Eastern Europe, and all Polish-Russian relations are now indirectly NATO-Russian relations. In a sense, Poland and NATO have merged into a single unified actor. They will not be changing their policies, as Poland is pursing what it believes to its exceptional status in Eastern Europe as justified by its negative identity towards Russia and the concept of Russian Gulit, and NATO wants to attain its grand security objectives in weakening Russia. Instead, it is Russia that needs to change its policies, as the previous ones of appeasement and diplomacy have not worked to whet the vociferous geopolitical appetite of Poland-NATO.
The following are policy recommendations for Russia to follow in order to best manage this enhanced era of Poland-NATO aggressive competition at its doorstep:
- Do not worry about feeding the security dilemma: Poland-NATO have proven that any Russian actions, no matter how benign or malevolently perceived, will not deter its future aggressive policies. The ‘reset’ with Poland-NATO was a failure and it served only as a smokescreen to buy time for the next strategic advancement into Russia’s sphere of influence (most recently into Ukraine).
- Bunker down and demonstrate resolve: Poland-NATO are going to continue their policies regardless of what Russia does, so it is in Russia’s best interests to follow as strong of a defense policy as possible to hedge against relative losses in this zero-sum game. It must continue to bunker down and display as strong of a military commitment as possible in Kaliningrad and Belarus. Russia must display its resolve in not budging one inch, and it needs to increase its defense potential in all categories.
- Preemptively advance interests where soft power influence is already present: Russia needs to exploit the areas of Eastern Europe where it already has any form of established soft power influence. If it does not act now, then Poland-NATO will beat it to the chase. Russia could begin by expanding cultural and NGO cooperation in the areas in Ukraine that are friendly to it and work on cultivating new leaders that will help in promoting its interests inside of the country. Estonia and Latvia, where Russians constitute a sizeable minority, should also be targets of this expanded soft power campaign. An all-front offensive of Russian soft power in areas where it already has a foothold can distort Poland-NATO and possibly deter the reoccurrence of a concentrated campaign against Russian influence (as is currently underway in Ukraine).
- Push back and do not take no for an answer: All of Poland-NATO’s actions need to be met with an equal and opposite reaction, even if diplomatically such actions have to be plausibly denied that they are quid-pro-quo. Poland-NATO may only constructively respond to actions of strength, as weak actions result in Russia being taken advantage of. The more Poland-NATO objects, the more effective the measure was in advancing Russia’s interests.
- Aggressively counter false/misleading information: Poland-NATO has been waging an information war against Russia for many years, and it has succeeded in convincing the Western public at large of the Russian Federation’s complicity in Imperial and Soviet-era controversial actions undertaken against Poland. This has resulted in the West believing in the concept of Russian Guilt and Polish Innocence, and therefore, becoming strongly pro-Polish and anti-Russian. The Russian Federation is an entirely new state that has never existed before in history, so it is absolved of any and all responsibility for these events. Nonetheless, it needs to accurately and clearly communicate this to the global audience. Russia should therefore take the initiative in countering any revisions of history or one-sided analyses, and it is best to publish all material about these topics in English and Polish, preferably through the employ of non-Russian international scholars and academics who cannot be accused of being subjective or anti-Polish. False or highly exaggerated news coverage must be fought against using RT and other global Russian (and Russian-friendly) information outlets and international conferences.
- Embark on a Long-Term Mission to Change the Polish Identity: The results of this policy recommendation may not be seen for one or two successive generations, but it is in Russia’s best interest to attempt to change Poles’ anti-Russian negative identity. Cross-cultural NGOs can be of assistance in this case, as can any activity involving students and youth, such as scholarships for Poles interested in Russia to study within the country. Of course, creativity and public outreach are key, and Russia can learn a lot from Western marketing firms in working to rebrand its image in Poland. If Russophobia can be erased from the psyche of an entire generation of young Poles, when they finally come to age and enter politics, it is likely that they will become more pragmatic and willing to cooperate with Russia.
- Place Pragmatic Poles into Power: Russia needs to identify Poles whose pragmatism makes them ideal partners and work on influencing their rise to power. Pragmatic Poles may publicly speak about nationalistic endeavors to win elections, but they privately understand the need to have mutually constructive relations with Russia. These are the people who are best suited for Russia’s grand strategic vision in Eastern Europe and who offer the faint hope that Warsaw can reverse its current foreign policy course. The prospects are dim, but they nonetheless should be explored, and if such individuals can be scouted, Moscow needs to use its invisible influence (by whichever means) to promote their electoral success, or in some cases, to influence these individuals to run for office in the first place.
- Sow the seeds of disunity in NATO: Poland in a weakened or fractured NATO may second guess its confidence in aggressively pursuing Polish Exceptionalism, as it is not capable of supporting itself without its NATO/American military backbone. If political infighting develops, or if NATO is distracted from Eastern Europe and instead gets bogged down in another seemingly more pressing theater or mission, then it may reorient its focus away from Russia.
- Discredit Poland within NATO and the region: Poland’s actions, leadership, and/or statements must be discredited if possible in order to draw negative attention to the country. If Poland is challenged by its NATO allies from within, they may become reluctant to continue assisting the country in its aggressive soft power (and future military hard power) push east. Such a course could sow the seeds of disunity in NATO, which has had its positive consequences for Russia explained above. If an opportunity presents itself to discredit Poland within NATO and the region, it must be immediately seized upon and exploited at a moment’s notice in order to not lose the initiative in controlling the narrative and discourse concerning the controversial event. As an example, if the situation over the CIA black site in Poland becomes even more publicized and scandalous documents made public (especially those which could implicate Sikorski’s involvement), then Russia would have partially fulfilled this objective.
- Obstruct Poland’s fracking future: If Poland successfully begins to frack shale gas on a large scale, this could quickly lead to energy independence from Russia (on which over the vast majority of its gas imports are dependent) and the possibility of Poland becoming a regional energy exporter. If Poland becomes unchained from Russian energy dependence, then there is an even greater risk than is already present that Poland will go full-on ‘rogue’ in its foreign policy against Russia, as Moscow will no longer have any tools to leverage in abating Warsaw. Poland as a regional energy exporter would also lead to serious economic competition with Russia that could further draw Eastern European governments away from Moscow’s political influence. ‘Green’ legislation and grassroots movements in the EU must be (covertly) supported in order to hamper the likelihood that Poland can challenge Russia in the energy sphere (which would inevitably lead to an even greater political and military challenge).
- Prevent Sikorski from becoming the General Secretary of NATO: At all costs, Sikorski must be prevented from becoming Rasmussen’s political heir. The consequences of Sikorski at the helm of NATO would place Russia into an even deeper level of prolonged multivector competition with the West and institutionalize anti-Russian sentiment in Europe and NATO on a massive scale. Any other possible candidate is preferable to Sikorski.
It is of the highest priority that Russia successfully implements these policy recommendations in order to stave off renewed aggression from Poland-NATO and gain the upper hand in the contest for Eastern European influence. Russia may not make any tangible headlong advances, but simply retaining a prized influence in Ukraine and halting the Polish-NATO soft and hard power advance eastwards would be a victory in and of itself. The history of Polish-Russian relations proves that Poland is undeterred in its resolve to roll back Russian influence from the territory of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and without strong Russian counter responses, Poland may very well be on the cusp of actualizing its historically conceived mission via American and NATO backing.
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