As the war in Ukraine approaches its one-year anniversary one of the few things that have remained constant is the Polish governments firm backing of the regime in Kiev. Along with the three Baltic states, Warsaw has exhibited a radical zeal for rejecting any form of compromise with Moscow, choosing instead to pursue a policy of further weapons shipments to Ukraine aimed at weakening Russia at any cost. This was confirmed in a recent report by the Polish edition of German “Die Welt”. Based on discussions with Polish diplomatic sources that wanted to remain anonymous, “every day, Polish politicians say what the representatives of Germany or France usually do not dare to say, and thus formulate one of the goals of the war, that Russia must be unconditionally weakened as far as possible.”
Of course, this approach is only an extension of what American Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin made clear in April, when stating that “we want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” However, taking into consideration the recent words of Poland’s vice minister of defense, Marcin Ociepa, about the “probability of a war in which we will be involved” being “very high, too high for us to treat this scenario only hypothetically”, the statements of the diplomats referred to in the “Die Welt” sound almost suicidal. As reported by the publication:
“ ‘Our goal is to stop Russia forever. A rotten compromise must not be allowed,’ a senior Polish Foreign Ministry official told Die Welt newspaper. ‘A truce on Russia’s terms would only lead to a pause in the fighting, which would only last until Russia recovers,’ the diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous, explained.’”
The report notes that even “the U.S. and U.K., which heavily support Ukraine with arms supplies, are less radical than Poland.” It sums up its findings with words a Polish diplomat: “We are lobbying to weaken Russia.”
Brazen words indeed. It should occur to any rational observer that such muscle flexing on the part of most of the Polish political class – the only consistent voice of opposition to Warsaw’s escalatory agenda being that of conservative MP Grzegorz Braun – on the face of it does not correspond to reality. War with Russia, in any configuration, be it part of a “coalition of the willing” intervening in Ukraine, with full NATO support or alone, will always be a catastrophe for Poland. Indeed, even Polish President Andrzej Duda seemed to highlight this very point, albeit privately, when speaking with what turned out to be another call by the Russian pranksters Lexus and Vova impersonating French President Emmanuel Macron. One can argue than that one of the reasons such statements are made and such policies are pursued is because Warsaw feels it has the full backing of NATO’s most important player, the United States. It turns out membership in NATO has been a drain on Polish strategic thought, setting up a narrative dominant for decades now that Poland is and shall remain in a constant binary struggle between the West and the Evil Empire reincarnate, i.e. Russia and all of Polish foreign policy should be geared to that end, no matter the consequences. Could this have been prevented? Was Poland’s entry into NATO a sound political decision?
Worth reminding here is that just as in the United States there was never a lack of voices opposing NATO expansion in the second half of the 1990’s, so too in Poland a vocal minority tried to make the case that joining the alliance was not all that it was made out to be. One the most prominent critics of Poland’s eventual entry into NATO was then MP Jan Łopuszański. Despite leading a small faction (6 members of the lower house and one senator) of right-wing parliamentarians, Lopuszański was by no means shy in making the case that NATO membership would be detrimental to Poland.
A few weeks before Poland’s formal accession into NATO, which occurred on March 12 1999, Łopuszański made the following observation during a debate in the Polish Sejm:
“Today, 4 geopolitical or outright strategic situations are theoretically possible. First, Poland subordinated to the East, specifically to Moscow, we practiced this once. Second, subordinated to the West, specifically the European Union, NATO. Third, a Poland divided between East and West. And fourth, a Poland that is independent.”
Łopuszański went on to say that he considered it a “paradox” that the “pursuit of multiple dependencies on the West, including in foreign and defense policy” was equated by the Polish ruling political class at the time with “the pursuit of independence”. The maverick politician summed up his statement with the following warning: “I wish for Poland and myself first and foremost, but I wish especially for you, who will take on your conscience the support of NATO accession, that for this act our nation will not have to pay a price that you probably do not wish Poland to pay.”
A few weeks later, after Poland became a formal member of the alliance and with the Kosovo War raging in the background, Łopuszański hammered away at NATO’s intervention:
“We ask a question of great importance to Poland, a recent NATO member: who made NATO the judge of nations? Who gave the pact, which under the Washington Treaty is a defense pact, the right to attack a sovereign state that poses no threat to any member of the pact?”
In light of later interventions in Libya, Afghanistan, waging a proxy in Ukraine and ever louder calls for NATO to configure itself against China, Łopuszański’s observation from that same parliamentary debate seems prophetic:
“If today the right of NATO to judge nations and their governments and to enforce its decisions by force is recognized, tomorrow this alleged right may be directed against any of the nations of the world, including Poland. Before our eyes, in the name of building a global empire, the principle of independence of nations living in their sovereign states is being erased.”
The ultimate aim of NATO’s military activism in the post-Cold War era was, according to Łopuszański, “building, by fait accompli, a political system in which a global hegemon, together with a group of satellite states, will have the right: to decide the fate of nations; to decide what is fair in relations between them; to decide on the borders of states and on their internal affairs.”
One is almost tempted to say: welcome to geopolitics in 2023!
Witold Tomczak, who was one of Łopuszanski’s colleagues in the fight against accession into NATO, highlighted in a conversation with me recently that it was precisely to avoid the loss of sovereignty, “entanglement of Poland in foreign wars and interests” of the “‘world gendarme’(Lopuszanski’s term), usurping the moral guardian of international order’”, that rebelling against the mainstream consensus of the time was such a necessity. “We did not agree to the realization of the interests of one superpower under the banner of NATO and under the pretext of its defensive idea. During the period of pro-NATO propaganda, it was not easy to maintain an independent view and vote truly on the side of a free and sovereign Poland” – states Tomczak.
Paradoxically, not much has changed since those heady days when a small band of firebrands tried to upend the establishments push to make Poland component of the Atlanticist camp. Today it is still not “easy to maintain an independent view and vote truly on the side of a free and sovereign Poland”, as MP Grzegorz Braun would readily testify.
The fact that the first round of NATO expansion in 1999 was the opening salvo in the process of deteriorating East-West relations is already well established and undisputable now. But it must be said that this “most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era”, as the late George F. Kennan called it, also released some of the worst impulses in the post-Cold War Polish political class, which have become so manifest during the course of the war in Ukraine. Considering the radical and irrational agenda being pursued by the Polish government and the anti-Russian hysteria, accompanied by a in many ways sickening and subservient pro-Ukrainian bias present in the mainstream media, we are fast approaching the moment when that defiant spirit of NATO-skepticism will have to return in full force. Otherwise, we may face the prospect that opening the words of our national anthem “Poland is not yet lost!” will remain just that – words.