David Ost, professor of political science, was recently interviewed by the Polish daily “Rzeczpospolita” in regard to Russian-Polish relations.
QUESTION: The Russian Foreign Minister is visiting Poland today, and as you know, relations between our two countries are not very good at present you’re your opinion, can Poland afford to have bad relations with Russia?
OST: The answer to this depends on the answer to another question: what does the Polish government see as its main aim today? If it wants simply to assert that it is a strong country with its own independent policies that does not really care what its neighbors think of it – and many in the government seem to have this view – then there really is no special reason to try to improve relations with Russia now. If, on the other hand, Poland seeks to be a bridge between East and West, a mediator, on the grounds that it best knows the Russian soul – and this is what Poland has long insisted to the West that this is the role it wanted to play – then it should act like that kind of bridge, which of course means reaching out to have better relations. Poland has often explained to the West that it best knows the Russian soul.
In recent years, however, Poland is behaving like it’s still the Cold War, as if it did not already belong to NATO and the European Union. Instead of taking advantage of its new position and reaching out to Russia from a position of security, it keeps trying to isolate Russia, and treats all Russian investment in Poland as a threat. The Russian oil company Lukoil already owns gas stations in the United States, but this would seem to be still unacceptable in Poland.
Thus it’s no surprise that other countries are trying to play the role of east-west mediator today, most notably Germany. Yes, Russia has historically been a threat to Poland, but Poles need to keep in mind that in recent years it’s acted quite differently. It could have done much more, for example, to try to block Poland’s NATO accession.