History and Geo-Poland
Poland’s geography makes it a critical place in Eurasia, and hence (particularly since Mackinder’s heartland theory), a critical place for international power politics. That would be the basic argument of realist and geopolitical thinking.
Because of Poland’s geographic exposure to Russia and its traditional strategic interests in neighboring countries like Ukraine, Warsaw has had the most aggressive stance toward Moscow of all the EU countries. When Poland had the EU presidency in 2011, a key focus of Prime Minister Donald Tusk (Now European Council President) and former Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, have aimed at bringing Ukraine closer to the European Union through the signing of association and free trade agreements. But the interest of Poland is also partly due to the fact that parts of western Ukraine used to be part of Poland just before the WWII.
In addition, going through Poland’s history, it has rarely been the master of its fate nor the captain of its soul – as the poem of invictus goes. The history of Poland finding its place in Europe is as fascinating as it is dramatic – and, what’s more, Poland, have often been betrayed (from almost every big power within Europe over the last centuries). But as many new EU and NATO members, they have embraced the new strategic opportunities that come with it.
Poland’s place in EU and NATO
Interestingly, and perhaps deriving from its geographically position, it seem Poland is identifying itself more with NATO then, say, Germany. In 2014, Poland (and the Baltic states) demanded that NATO makes greater commitment to its collective defense due to the perceived or potential military aggression by Russian. Yet, NATO was not willing to establish a permanent military base on their territories, though, the United States and NATO countries have indeed increased focus and intensity of military exercises in the region.
In a recent op-ed by Poland’s former minister of defense and now Senator Bogan Klich, entitled “Standing Up to Putin”, he writes that “Of course, there still has been no direct Russian attack on a NATO member state. But the state of turmoil just beyond the Alliance’s eastern border has created a reasonable fear in NATO’s Baltic member countries, as well as in Romania and Poland, about whether or not the Alliance would actually stand with them should they be threatened.” And thereby, once more, emphasizing Poland’s strategic interest of having a strong stand together.
Digging deeper, due to Poland’s profound skepticism towards Russia, it managed to undermine other potential assets of Russia’s geopolitical toolbox. Most notably, to ease dependence of Russian gas by constructing a liquefied natural gas import terminal and exploring its own large shale gas reserves for supplies in the long-term.
This is also confirmed by Klich, who writes “In the long-term, the best course of action will be to reduce European dependence on Russian energy. New liquefied natural gas terminals in Europe and legislative changes in the United States to enable the export of America’s burgeoning energy supplies will demonstrate to Russia that its window of energy-based leverage is closing.” That said, Poland also needs to watch out. The same reasons that make Poland attractive to occupy, and this notion of invasion may seem obsolete until recently, makes it attractive to be used as a proxy power, by the US, for example, which could undermine the EU’s cohesion as well. Hence, I regard Mogherini’s choice (or by her advisors) to do her first trip in office to Poland to meet the new Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna, as an excellent one. The making of Tusk as European Council president may also be along the same line.
No doubt, Russia cannot be appreciative for these developments. Hereafter, the example of Poland to be repeated by Ukraine (though, arguably, that wasn’t really ever an option in mid-term) was, for sure, taken in consideration by Russia strategists.
Germany remains more significant
But make no false interpretation. Germany remains the key player within the EU, and not only the Euro zone. It is the one setting the agenda and this will also influence the area of foreign relations. It has, lately, played a very active role in Ukraine crisis – a role that fits surprisingly well, and was necessary, because of the risk of escalation. But that is another topic. The currently adopted stronger sanctions towards the rebels in the East of Ukraine and the lack of the same towards Russia was surely promoted by Germany.
More significance means more power. But more power means more responsibility. Poland has a better hand to be the master of its fate or the captain of its soul, but it should be aware that its position isn’t necessary easier because of this fact. Every move, every statement is now closely watched. Moving towards EU and NATO, and away from the former Warsaw (yes, I am aware of how paradox this is) Pact may enable Poland to become a significant player, but maneuvering the old Ship called EU, can be challenging.
Especially, because Russia is really exploiting and take advantage of the yet to be integrated Europe, presumably to facilitate also the disintegration of Europe from the US, and hence, NATO. Yet, the EU does not have one shared strategic vision. Certainly, Poland (as some others) is trying to shape this vision actively.