“Russian aggression on Ukraine provides an example for non-existence of strong and unified Central Europe or Visegrad Group, as the only country able to build up a strong political center, i.e. Poland, did not take on this task” – says Przemysław Żurawski vel Grajewski, an expert on international political relations.
VP: Recently, Sauli Niinistö – the President of Finland – said that we have faced a new kind of the Cold War. In his opinion, the European Union members, including the countries from our region, should stimulate development of military forces and strengthen their economic base as it will facilitate defense against the aggression like that of Russia against Ukraine. Do you think the EU members are prepared for such policy?
Przemysław Żurawski vel Grajewski: The President of Finland was right to say that this is not the old-type of Cold War as Russia is substantially weaker than the Soviet Union. Russia does not pose a global threat and is no longer one of the two major powers in the two-polar world. Consequently, not all EU members, except this part of Europe, including Finland and Azerbaijan, feel the same sense of Russian threat. This is limited only to the arch of countries bordering with Russia. On the other hand, it would be unrealistic to believe that Ukrainian developments and a war threat will result in higher defense expenditure in Spain, Portugal, Italy or France. Thus, the EU solidarity is unthinkable and in my opinion the meeting of eight Baltic and Scandinavian countries and Great Britain, held in early November on military security shows the direction we should follow and the fact that Poland participated there only as an observer is a serious error committed by our diplomacy.
VP: As regards the region you mentioned – Baltic States are worried most. It is frequently said that this results from the prioritization of Russian goals. Ukraine, Baltic States, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are worried that Ukrainian scenario may be applied on their territories, especially when it is populated by the sizeable Russian minority. Should these countries be really afraid of Russia?
P.Ż-G: Russia aims to transform the international order into the concert of powers, which is conditioned by the split in trans-Atlantic community. Then the diminished European society, which should be understood not in terms of EU integration but the European system of countries, will be vulnerable to the Russian influence – Russia will then become one of the main players. I think this is the Moscow’s goal and to accomplish it, NATO should be disgraced. To do this, it must be proved that its guarantees are just on paper. This is, of course, a risky operation so it’s better to run it on the territory where this goal may be attained, while in the case of failure you will be able to say that you had nothing to do with it. Baltic States are such territory as Russia may make an attempt of their destabilization with the use of Russian minority, either real, propaganda, or definitely mixed, especially in Latvia and Estonia. In my opinion, Latvia is the most probable potential area for such actions: it is organized worse than Estonia, with a sizeable Russian population almost as large as the Latvian population. Lithuania is less exposed to such operations, as the Russian minority there accounts for only about 6 per cent of the total population.
VP: To promote their interests in the Visegrad Group, Russians apply the divide and rule tactics, which is demonstrated by the lack of common tough stance towards Russia and sanctions. Unlike Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and especially Hungary have recently adopted a rather mild attitude towards Russia. Why is Poland an exception on this issue?
P.Ż-G: First of all, this is not a tough stance – we should remember that the former minister of foreign affairs – Radosław Sikorski – used to say that Poland should not be the first country to insist on the sanctions against Russia as they will have a huge negative impact on our economy. Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz also did not send a clear message about Poland’s determinism to resist Russian aggression in the region when she spoke about a woman hiding in the house with her children. Secondly, we should remember that from early 2008 until Ukrainian crisis Poland led the policy aimed to warm up relations with Russia at the expense of our regional partners’ interests. Our policy makers used to prove that Poland is a large country in terms of the size of its population so it should play in a higher league: populations of Romania accounts for half; Czech Republic and Hungary for 25 per cent; Slovakia less than 15 percent, and Baltic States less than 10 per cent of the Polish population. Inevitably, showing disrespect to these countries had far-reaching consequences and they cannot be reversed in just a couple of months. Poland demands that its regional partners switched their policy towards Russia into a tough one but the analysts from Budapest, Bratislava or Prague cannot be sure whether Warsaw will not follow again Berlin or Paris when they press it. When Poland changes its stance (and it already did this a couple of times, e.g. during the negotiations on fiscal pact) it is rather risky joining the unstable Polish political chariot. This discourages regional partners to integrate around Poland in the name of containment of Russia. Clearly, Scandinavians and Balts have chosen Great Britain as a core of integration as it is certainly a political power which cannot be said about Poland. This is an example proving them that it is better to negotiate with the European power than Poland. Thus Central Europe or Visegrad Group or any other, whatever we call it, a political center does not exist because the only country, i.e. Poland, able to create it did not take on this task and chose to be an observer. The outcome is clear.
VP: Let’s focus on Hungary. Washington has recently introduced visa restrictions for a number of senior Hungarian officials, which reflects rather bad relations between Hungary and USA. On the other hand, relations with Moscow are very good. Are Hungarians right to count on the cooperation with Russia?
P.Ż-G:No, in my opinion Hungarians commit a very serious error. Certainly, we may try to explain such option but not to support it. I think Hungary was under a strong pressure from the EU countries, due to Orban’s reforms disliked by the EU mainstream. Hungary was criticized by the EU core countries but, on the other hand, tried to meet their foreign policy expectations, which was supposed to temper criticism. Now Budapest counts on short-term economic benefits and this is one of the major reasons for such policy towards Russia. Yet in the long run Hungary will pay a high price for it. Noteworthily, Hungary never received support from Poland and Orban’s offers of cooperation to Warsaw were ignored. I think that all these factors contributed to the development of current Hungarian policy with different intensity on specific parts of the Hungarian political scene. In my opinion, any hope that Russia will create an opportunity for the revision of Trianon borders, which is very drastic and revisionist point of view and refers primarily to Jobbik, also finds some support in wider social circles.
Hungary does not adopt in the European rhetoric towards Russia. Recently the speaker of Hungarian parliament – Laszlo Kovera – hinted at the possibility of leaving the EU by Hungary. Does it pose a threat to the security in Central Europe and provide Russia with an opportunity to increase impact on all the region?
P.Ż-G: This would undoubtedly be an unfavorable step but we should not overestimate the real meaning of this declaration. Hungary will not leave the European Union and they are not among main players in this game. They are not the foundations of European security construction and, it is not them but France that is going to sell Russia worships. It is Germany that as late as in March 2014 suspended the development of training center for Russian land forces they built since 2011 and almost completed. It is Italy that planned to sell Russia armored vehicles; it is Cyprus that provides financial services for Russian oligarchs, which, by the way, provoked a Russian-German conflict during the crisis of Cyprus banking system. Russia is influential in the substantial part of German business, which is symbolized by the position of Gazprom. There is a problem of coherency of EU policy towards Russia but this is not created by Hungary.
VP:Given the policies of Central European countries and a fragile situation in Ukraine, you cannot ignore the question of US presence in Central Europe. Is it possible that the installation of anti-missile shield will bring the attitudes adopted by Romania, Poland and Czech Republic on this issue closer?
P.Ż-G: It would be good but it seems to be already outdated. We can now observe some rhetorical play on the side of Washington but as we know President Obama has promised to complete this system after 2018, i.e. after the end of his second and final term. Thus this declaration was rather non-committal and even disrespectful for Central Europe. Moreover, it was made two years ago – when the previous project was abandoned by then Polish foreign affairs minister – Radosław Sikorski – and then Prime Minister – Donald Tusk – and Americans failed to launch the project before Poland refused to ratify the relevant agreement. This year Poland’s attempts to establish American military bases here failed at the Newport summit. Interestingly, something that Poland wanted to be paid for in the past would probably be accepted for free now. Yet we lost such opportunity while Romania succeeded and is now developing the anti-missile system. As regards the Czech Republic, it seems there is going to be a breakthrough but generally I would not expect any changes before Obama’s presidency is over. Nothing is going to change in this respect except rhetoric but, on the other hand, the political atmosphere in Washington has changed – primarily under the impact of Russian policy and not the Central European developments.
VP:Would it be possible to build up the security system based on our own European resources in this region, given the potential of Poland and Romania? Are we capable of building up the regional system that would provide us with some additional, apart from NATO, security guarantees? Would it be possible to develop such alliance given the differences in the approach to relations with Russia inside the Visegrad Group?
P.Ż-G: I think it would, but not only by Poland and Romania. We should join the initiative launched at the conference held by Nordic countries, Baltic States and United Kingdom, which would also provide us with an access to Washington policy makers. Noteworthily, there is a difference between building up a real potential able to effectively stop Russia, which requires time, and building up the deterring potential. It should be perceived as sufficient to stop Russian expansionism. In my opinion, Russia may not believe that Poland, Romania, Baltic States and Scandinavia will be able to effectively stop its expansion by means of own resources.
Visegrad Plus Interviewers: Michał Danek, Bartłomiej Sawicki