Analyst: No more room for Polish-Russian confrontation

Mutual resentment between Poland and Russia is being replaced with openness and the beginnings of friendship in the emotional days since the tragic plane crash in Smolensk, in which the Polish president and his delegation lost their lives, Piotr Maciej Kaczy?ski, a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), told EURACTIV in an interview.

Piotr Maciej Kaczy?ski is a political scientist and a visiting lecturer at various universities. 

He was speaking to Georgi Gotev.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

What is the impact of the tragic plane crash in Smolensk on Polish-Russian relations?

What is known is the great degree, the great level of goodwill on both sides, in Poland towards Russia and in Russia towards Poland, and this is substituting what was before: the main sentiment in Poland towards Russia, which was suspicion, and the main sentiments of Russians towards Poles, which were ignorance or disappointment.

These sentiments are being replaced now, in these emotional days, with openness, and even, maybe, the beginnings of a friendship.

Now, how that will translate into policy remains a very difficult matter. The fact that the Russians were very open in the context of the tragic plane crash is great, but there needs to be a Russian debate on Stalinism as well.

But this is not the case. On the contrary, there is a process of rehabilitation of Stalin in Russia, sponsored by the Kremlin…

Exactly. This is not taking place, but it has to take place before real reconciliation is possible. Would that compel the Russians to say 'sorry' for Katyn [the massacre of 20,000 Polish officers and members of the country's elite in 1940 on Stalin's orders]? The Russians have never apologised for it. They have condemned it now, Putin has condemned it, but they have not apologised.

There are natural next steps to be taken. Will we see them at the funeral? Will we see them on 9 May [which marks the capitulation of Nazi Germany or victory day in the Second World War, as it is celebrated in Russia], or on another occasion?

There is definitely room for manoeuvre on the Russian side. On the Polish side as well, there is room for manoeuvre, because we had a dual policy towards Russia. There was a policy of rapprochement, under Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and a policy of confrontation, under President [Lech] Kaczy?ski.

This is why we had two commemorations of the Katyn massacre – one by Tusk together with Putin, and another one to which President Kaczy?ski went without being invited and without a Russian host. Is this perhaps why Kaczy?ski sometimes went uninvited to EU summits?

There you go: there were two different policies towards Russia and Eastern Europe, one by the government, and another one from the president.

But the paradox is that they have reinforced each other. Tusk would not have been as successful in his policy towards Russia without having President Kaczy?ski behind his back. He could tell the Russians: if you don't talk to me, talk to him. So it's better that you talk to me.

This is a 'bad cop-good cop' policy. We have had in the past a similar situation, with differences in policies and tensions between [leftist] President Aleksander Kwa?niewski and then Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek.

But Poles have to change the policy of confrontation vis-à-vis Russia. There is no room for confrontation any more.

The funeral looks set to become a major international gathering.

The date has not been set yet. It's either Saturday or Sunday. Probably the private funerals will take place on Sunday. The ceremony for all the victims will most likely be on Saturday.

A number of leaders said they want to come and they are waiting for the date to be announced. Some have already said they will come no matter what, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Americans said they will send a very high level representation. Russian President [Dmitry] Medvedev said he will come. And a number of regional leaders.

I really would be surprised if any of the 27 heads of state or government didn't come. And more, obviously the Eastern European leaders, such as Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, also Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.

A hypothetical question: if Polish-Russian relations improve, how would this affect EU-Russia relations?

It would change the climate. But it would not change the fact that there are major divergences of views. I welcome statements like [Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir] Chizhov's, who says that the Nord Stream gas pipeline could go through Polish territory, instead of bypassing Poland. Perfect! This is the kind of gesture one should expect at this stage.

However hard the Polish positions could have been in the process of negotiations for the PCA [the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) establishing an institutional framework for bilateral contact between the EU and Russia], it could be softened. Or on Russia-WTO negotiations, or Russia's OECD accession, or you name it.

But it doesn't change the fact that there are divergences of views, that there are problems of democracy in Russia, and that those issues will be addressed, hopefully successfully, and some could be addressed now, thanks to the better atmosphere.

And there are grounds for that. There were problems that were solved. There was a joint Polish-Russia motion to the European Commission to allow all Russians living in the Kaliningrad 'oblast' [the Russian enclave wedged between Poland and Lithuania] to be within the neighbourhood facilitation programme for border-crossing.

Before we had problems with having Polish ships crossing the Vistula bay, which is between Russia and Poland, but the access to the open sea was for Russia. The access was closed, but Russia reopened it last year. Those small things that we don't know about, or hear about occasionally, will have to be solved one by one.

But will Poland make concessions as well?

This would not change Poland's support for Ukrainian membership to the EU and NATO, even though Ukrainians don't want to join the Alliance now. The same applies for the territorial integrity of Georgia, the diversification of gas supplies, etc. This will not change.