Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
A completely one sided presentation. Yes the Poles have played games with the pipelines. You're ignoring, however, Gazprom's machinations involving massive bribery to obtain its deals. Then there's Russia's history of playing political games with energy supplies. Finally the Russian elites' open nostalgia for their lost empire and thorough disregard for democracy.  The Poles have a perfectly reasonable fear that the Russians might choose to cut them off of their gas supplies as political blackmail at some point in the future. It wouldn't be that hard for the EU and the Germans to preemptively issue some sort of guarantees and threats against Russia to reassure the Poles.

Also you're acting as if all of this happens in a vacuum.  Yet France's and Germany's policy of cuddling up to Putin has as an inevitable corollary Poland choosing to side witht the US against them and viewing these two countries as strategic enemies.  

This is happening in a context where the Polish-German relationship is already quite rocky as a result of German politicians playing to the expellee lobby. (They want a museum devoted to the suffering of the expellees, only problem, allowing the BdV - Federation of Expellees - to run it is a bit like asking some hardline pied noir group to create a huge museum in Paris devoted to their suffering. The history presented is likely to be a tad one sided. The Germans rejected a proposal for a joint group of academics to create a museum.) Polish politicians in turn have reverted to the old virulent anti-German rhetoric of the communist period.  A sad development considering the incredible progress of the nineties, including on the expellee issue.

Polish French relations are also far from ideal ever since the run up to the Iraq war where the French seem to have decided to take lessens in effective diplomacy from Don Rumsfeld.

Both the French and to a lesser extent the Germans like to complain that the Poles are an American trojan horse in the EU, yet they themselves seem bent on perpetuating and solidifying Poland's pro - Bush stance.

In any case, for its own security if nothing else, Poland needs to wean itself from its dependence on gas supplies from Russia. Personally I'd favour a combination of renewables and nuclear power (Poland currently has none, courtesy of the Party wiping out its nuclear power program in the anti-semitic purge of 1968).

by MarekNYC on Wed Sep 7th, 2005 at 04:22:41 PM EST
I was despairing to have the opposite point of view!

Actually, I am quite sympathetic to the Polish position viz. Russia, and I am NOT happy at all with Chirac and Schroeder's shameful coddling with Putin, for a number of reasons, including:

  • it brings nothing to France and Germany (there will be no serious alliance between Russia and "Europe" against the US, and no trust between Russia and "Europe" in any case; "Europe" doesn't even exist as far as the Russians are concerned)

  • we shamefully let Putin wage genocide in Chechnya and play his power politics in other regions, including the Baltics and the Caucasus;

  • we rightfully and needlessly piss off and/or scare central Europeans

  • it makes no difference whatsoever on the energy front.

But Poland is still wrong to play the pipeline card because (i) it perpetuates the cycle of mistrust that you mention and (ii) it pisses off both the Germans and the Russians and (iii) it doesn't work.

The argument that Russia could cut off gas to Poland and not to Germany and the EU would not react is not serious. Cutting gas to Europe, to any country, is an act of war from Russia, let's be very clear about that, and it will be treated as such, unless it's seen as being part of silly underhand games by squabbling local oligarchs allied with various Russian factions, in which case it will be tolerated until it has a macroeconomic impact on the country or a political impact anywhere else.

The gas pipelines are not an asset for oligarchs to play with if you want to be taken seriously as a European country. Get rid of Bartimpex and his boss Gudzovaty, for instance, before blaming the Germans.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 7th, 2005 at 05:41:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No argument with you about the Polish energy oligarchs - the closest thing Poland has to the FSU criminal/state capitalism. Getting rid of them would be a wonderful thing, but it is not so easy considering the amount of money they've put into the politicians pockets and the existing legal rights they've obtained as a result. The Polish press, in between freaking out about Gazprom and Putin, has been in perfect agreement with you on this point. Opposition politicians generally have as well, at least until they get into government.

Where I disagree with you is that it is crazy to worry about the Russians blackmailing the Poles or that such an event would be certain to produce a strong reaction going beyond words.  The Russians have used the energy card in the past against the various FSU states, including the Baltics (before they joined the EU). I can't imagine they are all that worried about an EU where Germany lauds the Chechen elections as a shining example of democracy and France initially complains sotto voce about the Polish led efforts to overturn rigged elections in Ukraine before eventually going along. These are the two most powerful countries in the EU and they have made it clear over the past several years that they place a very large value on close relations with Putin and little value about what the Central Europeans might think. So even if you are right, I would call the situation analogous to Iraq's lack of concern over the US response to an attack on Kuwait. That's why I suggested that it would be a good idea for the EU countries to make a public declaration to both reassure the Poles and warn the Russians that any use of the energy card would have immediate and disastrous consequences, not just diplomatic but practical.

If you think that would be an unnecessary provocation of Russia consider that the Polish political, policy, and media elites are unanimous in viewing the possibility of energy blackmail as a very real threat. Regardless of whether they are correct or not, they will conduct themselves accordingly. I don't want Poland to go down the British 'special relationship' path. I believe that a Poland aligned within a strong EU is in the natural interest of both Poland and Europe. But that's not going to happen as long as the EU's two most powerful countries are seen as the friends of Poland's chief strategic threat - every single action by them will be seen through that prism.  

by MarekNYC on Thu Sep 8th, 2005 at 02:54:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
France and Germany should stop their stupid games with Russia - and should make it cristal clear that Poland is in the EU and any blatant aggressivity or "games" played with Poland will be treated as seriously as if played against France or Germany.

This is probably the case, but I can understand the worries of the Poles on this topic. But hint - don't play the UK card if you want friendly irrevocable words of support form France and Germany.

As to Ukraine, Poland got full access to the EU loudspeaker, so it becomes really bad form and ungratefulness to say that others did not share fully the Polish p.o.v. from the start. Poland made the policy and got full support for it, that's the hard facts. There was no second guessing or underhand diplomacy, so complaints about France's initial reluctance seem silly and provocative to my ears and beg the response "you'll never be happy, so why bother at all".

Poland in in the EU now. It's not temporary, it's real. It brings rights and responsibilities. and yes, France is an arrogant pain in the ass country. Is it really a surprise?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Sep 8th, 2005 at 05:04:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Occasional Series