This article originally appeared on Myśl Polska.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new political geography benefited us on our eastern border. Poland enjoyed a similar only in the time between the collapse of Kievan Rus and the emergence of Muscovy, a regional power, which occurred at the end of the 15th century.
In the current political configuration, Belarus, not Ukraine, is critical to our state’s security. Therefore, maintaining Belarusian independence should be one of the most important and perhaps the most important priority of Polish eastern policy.
After five hundred years, Poland is again separated from Russia by a barrier of independent states. It is true that we are still bordering the Kaliningrad enclave, but its current conditions cannot be used for a strategic strike. It could play a supporting role only in the event of a wide-ranging conflict involving Russian imperial forces against the US military presence in Europe.
The enclave does not have the necessary mobilization facilities, and reserves could be effectively delivered only by sea. In order to effectively counteract this in the conditions of bilateral conflict, Poland should have at its disposal strong naval aviation and rocket batteries capable of striking the beaches in the area of Baltiysk, Svetlogorsk and Priboj and on the approaches to them. I think that they would be more effective than expensive aquatic flotillas, satisfying admiral ambitions, but capable – I think – only for a survival of several hours.
The military threat to Poland will increase immeasurably in the event of Moscow’s political subordination to Belarus. We will find ourselves then in a situation similar to that existing before 1990.
Political subordination of Belarus to Moscow does not require incorporation resulting in the formal annihilation of Belarusian statehood. By opting for such a step, Russia would incur higher political costs than those resulting from the annexation of Crimea. To achieve Russia’s desired goal, it is sufficient to transform the relations with Belarus into a federation. Propaganda can be such a move as a natural process, also carried out in the European Union forum, so far only very effectively.
A federation would have a joint army and foreign policy leadership. Under the new conditions, the military threat to Poland will increase in a dimension difficult to estimate, as Moscow would gain operational basis for the aggression of Brest to Kaliningrad. This is sufficient to develop the forces necessary for total invasion of a country the size of Poland.
Contrary to popular belief, Ukraine’s independence is not as threatened by Russia as the sovereignty of Belarus. That is why I think that in the horizon of time that is politically noticeable, south of Pripyat we will still avoid a direct border with Russia.
It can be assumed that the current strategic assumption of Russian policy in Europe is to repeat the historical program of Ivan Kality, collecting Russian lands. In the current conditions, so far the limit of expansion is probably determined by the range of settlement using different dialects of the Russian language. The inhabitants there will be Russified relatively easily, so their seats are attractive targets of imperial policy.
In the case of Ukraine, such properties are met by areas on the left bank of the Dnieper. Therefore, they can be a tasty morsel for the imperial leaders from the Kremlin, though not necessarily up to this river. Inhabited by a population called khokhly, who use a dialect close to Russian, they can easily be culturally absorbed by the empire.
Right-bank Ukraine is inhabited by people with a developed national consciousness and well-grounded nationalism referring to the tradition of the Zaporozhian Kozozhin. Her conquest would require not only a bloody war, but also later to deal with terrorism more dangerous than Chechen. I think that would not be possible without establishing a Stalinist dictatorship throughout Russia. For such a regime change, there is no ideological binder, which was the doctrine of the communist party.
Looking for a figurative comparison, it can be said that Belarus is a curtain separating Poland from Russia. Unfortunately, this is not an iron curtain, in the image of Europe dividing its time. Belarusian nationality is very young. The republic was separated in the Soviet Union from lands that once belonged to the Commonwealth, and more specifically to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The village retained the local language, but Russian was widely spoken in the cities. Before 1990, non-Russian nationality could have been reasonably protected, but not a new one. The conditions for strengthening the Belarusian national consciousness appeared only after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The close relationship with the Russian language is not conducive to the stabilization of Belarus. The four hundred-year-old Polish cultural presence in these areas did not linguistically bring closer the local peasant layer, despised by the Polonized nobility and separated by a state chasm. Belarus did not create native literature like Shevchenko, nor a national movement similar to Ukrainian or Lithuanian nationalism.
In the seventies I made a short trip around Belarus. In cities, I communicated in Russian, and as I know it was the language of everyday use. In the nineties I met with Belarusian politicians performing government functions. They spoke Russian, not Belarusian, which was required even by respect for the national language, required from every official representative of the country in bilateral official relations. After Alexander Lukashenko’s seizure of power, Russian became the second official language.
Young and insufficiently grounded national consciousness and actual bilingualism facilitates Moscow’s economic and political dependence on Belarus. In conditions of economic weakness, it may end in some form of state union with Russia. This is an extremely dangerous prospect for Poland. Today, Russian divisions are standing in Smolensk. After such a change of relations, they will find themselves in Grodno!
Polish policy towards Belarus
In the last 25 years, our policy towards Belarus has been a mixture of incompetence, shallow ideology and hysterical prejudices. Rational Polish policy should strive for multidirectional binding of Belarus with our country and Western Europe. Such a strategic goal must be an absolute guideline for every Polish government, regardless of whether power in Minsk is exercised by a politician like Szuszkiewicz or Lukashenko. This is our vital interest. Political actions cannot be determined by some sympathies or preferences.
Hostility on our part, pushing this country away makes Russia the only alternative to Minsk. We push Belarus into the Russian sphere of influence. Is it so hard to see and understand?
Due to its linguistic proximity, Belarus can be a graceful object of rebuilding the Russian language empire. To achieve this, Moscow does not need to formally annex this country. For starters, some form of union is enough while maintaining the formal separateness of both countries. On various occasions, such proposals have come from the Kremlin. On the propaganda level, Russian leaders can rely on the European example. Ultimately, they would realize what the Euro-enthusiasts dream of transforming the Union into a superstate.
If the events in Belarus take such a turn, then the next stage will be close military ties with Russia, much stronger than the bonds imposed by the Warsaw Pact of the time. As a result, Russian garrisons will come 500-550 kilometers closer to the Polish borders. They gain the necessary operational basis in the vicinity of compact inhabited areas of the Belarusian population. Only then there will be a real danger of penetration of the green men. To make matters worse, Russia’s next natural goal will be to gain a land connection with Kaliningrad enclave. This is the result of our Belarus policy.
I would describe the program of a correct Polish policy towards Minsk as a Polish-Belarusian partnership. Of course, this cannot be officially declared as a guideline for our policy, and even more so if it is to be confirmed by a formal agreement.
The disclosure of the intention to create lasting ties between Poland and Belarus will meet with Moscow’s immediate economic and propaganda retort. Moreover, the actions of the Russian government will be supported by the Orthodox Church, which is terribly afraid of the expansion of the Catholic Church. In the open conflict over influence in Minsk, we cannot cope with the Russians, and there is nothing to count on the real help of our EU partners. Therefore, all projects must be carried out with appropriate ideological camouflage. The later the Russians realize the intricate Polish diplomacy, the easier it will be to prevent the absorption of Belarus by the rebuilt Russian empire.
I cannot propose a detailed recipe for Polish policy towards our nearest eastern neighbor. I limit myself to only a few suggestions.
- Polish policy should be the subject of an unwritten consensus of all major parties and parties. Thanks to this, it would be implemented regardless of the shape of the transitional parliamentary majority. Unfortunately, there is no chance for such an agreement in Poland.
- Individual initiatives should be taken and implemented in response to emerging opportunities and needs. I think that in the first stage they should focus in the area of economy, culture and science. At the same time, one should avoid all forms of domination and even the appearance of such aspirations.
- In the economic area, friendly conditions should be created for all forms of trade exchange, business cooperation and the creation of capital ties.
- Cultural exchange should be carried out on the initiative of our institutions. I do not see any obstacles to mutual exchange or even undertaking joint ventures. You just have to beware of organizing such events in forms and places suggesting a hidden nationality policy. Such undertakings must not be shown off.
- Supporting the Polish minority must be the subject of separate projects that do not go beyond international standards and without any political accents.
- Scientific cooperation established at both didactic and research level would be beneficial.
- Consistent actions, in the longer future, but currently not advised, will allow mutual consultation on political issues. Such an intention should be an indispensable strategic goal.
- If Russia begins to see “evil Polish intentions” towards Belarus, we can always offer Moscow identical forms of economic, cultural and scientific cooperation. It won’t cost us anything, especially since the other party will definitely not take it.
Henryk J. Goryszewski
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of East & West