Anti-missile shield in Poland does not have implications on Russia’s security
An interview with Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski.
President Vladimir Putin should know very well that the anti-missile shield in Poland does not have any implications on Russia’s security. The system is meant to defend Europe against a missile attack from the Middle East, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski stressed in an interview for the Polish Press Agency (PAP).
The Foreign Minister also spoke about the replacement of over 30 ambassadors. The ambassadors to the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway and the Holy See are among those finishing their postings.
The head of the MFA said that it seems that the Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans and other Commission officials “have finally understood that Europe does not have a democratic model that it can use to resolve constitutional legal issues as even the homeland of the European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans does not have a Constitutional Tribunal”. “Perhaps the Commission has realized that the actions taken against Poland could be used in a negative way during the referendum campaign in Great Britain,” Poland’s chief of diplomacy said.
PAP: President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would be forced to take action to minimize the threat posed by the building of the anti-missile shield in Romania and Poland. What do you make of these words?
Witold Waszczykowski, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland: President Putin should know very well that the anti-missile shield in Poland does not have any implications on Russia’s security. This system is meant to defend Europe against a missile attack from the Middle East. The military presence of American forces and NATO international divisions is however a response to the aggressive behaviour and threats we have received from the Russian authorities. This will be a presence of a defensive nature, one that does not pose a threat to Russia.
On Tuesday you are due to meet in Warsaw with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and, on 2 June, you have a meeting with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini. What will you discuss?
With Mogherini we will talk about, amongst other things, the Eastern Partnership, which is currently at a crossroads. Its six member states have completely different levels of co-operation with the EU: three of them have signed association agreements which we want to implement; Belarus is open to co-operation, but on a different level, without an association agreement. However, the biggest problem lies with co-operation with Armenia and Azerbaijan, as the long frozen military conflict between the two countries has started to heat up again.
Another issue that I want to bring up during our discussion is the assessment of the European Union’s co-operation with Russia and whether co-operation is possible if Russia does not live up to its commitments linked to the Minsk 2 Agreement. I am sure that we will also exchange views on the sanctions regime. The EU High Representative and myself will also talk about the threats emanating from the South, about whether Europe can respond to these threats and if so, then how. The upcoming British referendum is also bound to come up.
Finally, we will touch on the EU Global Strategy document that was created under Mogherini’s leadership. The outline of the document suggests that perhaps for the first time ever the EU’s view of the international situation is in line with that of NATO. It marks the end of the surreal schizophrenia in Europe whereby 20 states belong to both institutions which behave differently.
The two-day visit by Jens Stoltenberg which starts on Monday (Stoltenberg meets with President Andrzej Duda on Monday) will of course focus on the July NATO Alliance Summit in Warsaw. Among the places that the NATO Secretary General is due to visit is the National Stadium, where the summit will take place.
According to agreements made to date, how many NATO soldiers will be stationed on Polish territory? Will it be a small number, one that symbolically boosts Poland’s status and its deterrence capabilities, or one that has a real impact on Poland’s ability to defend its territory?
When it comes to the substantive provisions for the summit, we are currently at an important turning point. Political decisions were made last week, during the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. It was decided that NATO’s Eastern Flank needs to be strengthened through a physical presence by Alliance forces; not only – as was agreed to at the Newport Summit – strengthening intervention forces during a crisis (a so-called spearhead force), but to “deter crises”.
Moreover, the defence ministers of NATO member states are due to make a decision about the military presence within the next two weeks. Discussions are currently taking place regarding the character and scale of this military presence. There is talk about NATO battalions in Poland and every Baltic state. There is also talk about an increased ISR presence, that is intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. On the table is the possibility of providing AWACS aircraft warning and deterrence systems. There are also discussions about the rank of the military personnel that will be in charge of the forces deployed on the Eastern Flank.
We are also talking about a separate American presence – regarding the composition of weapons and the presence of troops in the brigade. I believe that implementing all of these proposals currently being discussed would substantially improve the security situation of Poland and the entire Flank. Even more so, given that the Szczecin Multinational Corps, which will work together with the spearhead force, will also be strengthened and the construction of elements of the American anti-missile shield in Redzikowo was started in May.
Only a few years ago, we had to make do with a NATO presence in Poland consisting of symbolic visits by several NATO ships and planes. Or exercises, which sometimes were made up of a substantial number of forces, but were limited to practical know-how (such as flight training or working within a small military training ground), however these were not exercises which bolstered Poland’s defence capabilities – in contrast to the Anaconda exercises which are due to start soon.
On Tuesday, another telephone conversation is due to take place between Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and the First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans regarding the Constitutional Tribunal. What concrete proposals regarding the Tribunal dispute did the Prime Minister present to Timmermans last week?
I know what these proposals were, but the MFA is not one of the sides in this dispute. This is, as the Venice Commission recommended, an internal Polish dispute that needs to be resolved here. I know that certain international institutions, including the European Commission, are interested in these developments and we have made sure to explain the situation to them in a patient manner. We are ready to use advice we receive, to hold talks and explain our actions, but we are not ready for EU politicians to become the mediators and judges in this issue.
The Constitutional Tribunal dispute is not a uniquely Polish problem. It is about creating a balance between bodies formed through democratic elections and, for example, groups of lawyers. This is a discussion taking place in many countries, including the United States, and it requires calm explanation, political compromise – and it takes two to tango for there to be compromise. You also need political will from the opposition, which is trying to exploit the situation in a political manner in order to score points against the parliamentary majority and the government.
That is why the government does not feel that it is one of the sides in this dispute, as it is not this government that created this problem but the previous parliamentary majority, that tried to transform the Constitutional Tribunal into a third chamber of parliament.
And the dispute will continue for as long as there are attempts to maintain the Tribunal as a third chamber of parliament, used to block decisions made by the Sejm and Senate. But if we find a way for the Tribunal to perform the functions of the Tribunal, deciding on constitutionality, then when a law passed by parliament is contested it will be easier to reach a compromise knowing that it is the issue and not the government itself that is being put to question.
Have there been any real changes in the last few days in the way in which the European Commission views the Constitutional Tribunal issue?
It seems that Mr Timmermans and other Commission officials have finally understood that Europe does not have a democratic model that it can use to resolve constitutional legal issues as even the homeland of the European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans does not have a Constitutional Tribunal. Perhaps the Commission has realized that the actions taken against Poland could be used in a negative way during the referendum campaign in Great Britain. We are glad that the European Commission has had a re-think, that it has realized that taking steps against Poland and threatening us with legal action will not have a positive effect, that it has realized that the Constitutional Tribunal issue cannot be resolved on the Commission, but in Poland. The Commissioner has understood that we are looking for a solution. The issue has been sent to the Sejm, following the Venice Commission’s opinion.
The Speaker of the Parliament, Marek Kuchinski, acted accordingly and on one hand convened a committee consisting of experts and, on the other hand, initiated meetings with the leaders of political opposition parties which sometimes take place in a bigger group, sometimes in a smaller group because the opposition is trying to avoid making such a compromise – however, there is no alternative to reaching a compromise. I hope that as the European Commission has tried to impose disciplinary measures on the parliamentary majority, it will also take similar measures against the opposition, which has to understand that a compromise must involve concessions from both sides.
What is the position of the Polish government towards the procedures that were initiated against us? You said that this procedure is not justified in any treaties, but at the same time you are participating in “structured dialogue” initiated by the European Commission.
We are very sceptical of this procedure. We want to be a credible member of the EU, which is why when accusations or doubts are directed against us, we want to explain ourselves. But at the same time, we want to make the Commission understand that the procedure that it wants to use as a discussion framework, has no underpinnings within any EU treaties. Because it doesn’t. It was created in 2014, which is three years after the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty. It was thought up by officials and has even been questioned by officials and legal experts within the European Commission itself.
In your speech to parliament in January, you spoke of correcting Poland’s foreign policy as well as of a certain correction of personnel. You plan to replace ambassadors in July. Is it already known who will receive the new postings?
The ambassadors in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, the Holy See and several countries outside of Europe are finishing their ambassadorial postings. The ambassador in Spain has already returned to Poland. In total, we will replace thirty-something ambassadors, a large number of consuls and cultural institute employees.
The terms of many of the ambassadors are coming to an end this year, which is a natural process; it is true that it is common for an ambassador’s posting to last four years, but this is not a contractual necessity. The ambassador to the EU has been replaced, as will be the ambassador to NATO after the Warsaw Summit. The position of ambassador is not a protected position, it is – as I have been saying for years – a position bearing special trust. The ambassadors have to be trusted by the president, prime minister, foreign minister and the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
In the past we have had incidents where the Foreign Affairs Committee was very divided when it came to assessing an ambassadorial candidate. I believe that we should change these decisions and send new ambassadors who hold the trust of all the institutions that are responsible for shaping foreign policy.
Returning to what you said about the Holy See, will the new ambassador assume his position before World Youth Day? Doubts were raised during a recent session of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
That is my hope – we have agreed with the Vatican State that he will be able to present his credentials before the end of June. The previous ambassador will return to Poland around 15 June.
When you became foreign minister you said that you hope to work together with the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Grzegorz Schetyna. How would you rate this co-operation six months in?
I took part in several sessions of the Foreign Affairs Committee and didn’t manage to meet with Mr Schetyna because he expressed his “total opposition” and perhaps does not have time for the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Nothing bad has happened to Mr Schetyna as leader of the opposition, on the contrary, he has a distinguished position within parliament as the head of an important committee. Therefore, he should decide for himself – either resign from this apanage or stop being in total opposition and start co-operating, in the situations where this is possible. My hand is still stretched out to him.
Given the intense dispute between the leadership and the opposition over the past six months, do you think that it is possible to reach a consensus within Polish foreign policy?
Yes, I do, because I think we both agree that Poland needs to be safe, it needs to be in the EU, in NATO, it needs to work together with the United States – these are all factors that should connect us, we have not changed any of these positions since coming to power. The importance of us being able to live in peace with our immediate neighbours is also something that should connect and not divide us.
The fact that we should have many friends within the EU and not only rely on one country, but several, is also something that should bring us together. We are not cutting off co-operation with the Germans, we are trying to establish partnerships with other countries as well, including Great Britain, in areas of mutual interest, such as security.
During six months as foreign minister, you have been subjected to a lot of criticism from all sides and there has been media speculation regarding your possible dismissal. This speculation gained momentum when Janusz Wojciechowski was nominated to the European Court of Auditors, freeing his seat in the European Parliament to which you would be first in line as a result of the election result; the mandate has still not been filled. Back then you said that if you had the choice, you would prefer not moving to the European Parliament. How do you see your position within the government now?
I have not received a letter from the Speaker of Parliament, Marek Kuchinski, informing me that I could take on the mandate freed up by Wojciechowski. However, a few weeks ago when I told Prime Minister Szydlo that this possibility exits she told me “just you dare” take on the MEP position.
I also think that I was a co-creator of PiS’s foreign affairs programme, my entire chapter on foreign policy was accepted during the Katowice convention in July, therefore if I want to implement it then it would be as Foreign Minister and not a member of the European Parliament.
This how it is in Poland – if people cannot make attacks based on merit then they create myths and half-truths about mishaps and failed initiatives.
In a session of the Sejm in May, during which you presented a report on the PO-PSL government together with Prime Minister Szydlo and other ministers, there was talk of control over the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) and planned submissions to the prosecutor’s office. Can you give any details on the matter?
Yes, we have discovered a large number of abnormalities in PISM, regarding financial issues. We are currently passing them on to the Supreme Audit Office and to the prosecutor’s office.
Were these issues related only to PISM or other entities as well?
A lot of things were exposed earlier, a few years ago some employees of the body were led out in handcuffs for tenders relating to Poland’s presidency. That is why we are returning to the matter and making sure that nothing has been left out. To make sure there are no more skeletons left in the closet.
In June the people of Great Britain will vote in a referendum on whether to stay in the EU or not. There are a lot of Poles living in Great Britain. The MFA has announced intergovernmental consultations between Poland and Great Britain. Do you already know the date and scope of these talks?
We are in constant contact with the British. Prime Minister David Cameron has visited us on two occasions already – last year and at the beginning of this year. At the beginning of 2016 we had a meeting in Edinburgh of the so-called quartet, of our foreign ministers and defence ministers. I talked to Minister Philip Hammond about the consultations in Brussels last Friday. We have not decided on a date because everyone is waiting for the EU referendum, which will take place on 23 June. The result of the referendum will to a large extent determine the character and date of these consultations. But the will for them to take place is still there.
What would Brexit mean for Poland?
A negative result of the referendum and a subsequent process of Great Britain leaving the EU could take several years and would be very unfavourable for Poland. First off, such a result would be very unfavourable for Great Britain itself and could lead to further divisions in the United Kingdom. The British would then have to decide if they want to leave the EU as a whole or only England, which would create questions about the effect of the referendum on Scotland and Wales. This could cut the British out of active foreign policy and economic decision-making for many years to come.
For us, Brexit would mean the loss of an important partner in the debate about the future of the EU, because there is a lot that connects us. We share a similar view on the prospects of further integration – we don’t want for this integration to lead to the creation of a new political structure, because we won't envisage the possibility of democratically selecting the leadership of such a structure.
After all, the European Commission is not selected on the basis of democratic rules but as a result of deals and agreements made by politicians of EU member states. The European Parliament is elected democratically, but the level of participation by society in choosing the European Parliament is only 20%, which means that decisions made by the European Parliament lack legitimacy. We want European integration efforts at this point in time to focus on guaranteeing freedoms provided by the treaties rather than creating a discussion on political development.
Great Britain leaving the EU would create an imbalance as supporters of a politicized EU and expanding the Eurozone would be in the majority and would put pressure on other countries. We, like Great Britain, want there to be multiple currencies, as the decision to adopt this or another currency has to be made based not only on political arguments but also economic ones. From our perspective, it will not pay off for us to adopt such a currency for many years to come.
We would also lose an important ally within the EU when it comes to international security, one that strives for the EU to work more closely with the EU and the United States. From our point of view, Brexit would only create problems.
Sanctions against Russia is another issue that will soon be the focus of EU leaders. Poland wants them to be maintained. What do you intend to do to make this happen?
It is important to Poland that Russia stops military activities directed against Ukraine, that it ceases to support rebels in the Donbas region, that it pulls out of the Crimea and returns the illegally annexed peninsula to the leadership in Kiev. Sanctions are an instrument designed to push Russia towards peaceful behaviour. We don’t want to punish Russia out of principle. We want to be effective in applying pressure that would lead Russia to stop breaking international law and stop attacking other countries. The sanctions will be a legitimate instrument as long as Russia does not implement the Minsk Agreements and continues to occupy the territory of other countries, because after all we are talking not only about Ukraine, we also remember the war with Georgia in 2008.
There are those within the EU – such as the German Foreign Minister last Thursday – who have said that extending sanctions could be difficult.
What Poland actually expects is a proposal to solve the problem created by Russia, rather than abandoning its resolution. Lifting sanctions would be signify abandoning efforts to resolve the problems.
There was also controversy surrounding the date for the NATO-Russia Council meeting.
This discussion took place during last week’s meeting of NATO foreign ministers. There were some who called for the Council – at an ambassadorial level – to be convened as soon as possible. I was part of the group that made it clear that this is not possible until commitments towards Alliance members on the Eastern Flank are fulfilled and until a decision is made regarding the size of the military presence within this territory. Only then can we agree for a NATO-Russia Council meeting to take place. This would mean that the Council could be convened between the meeting of NATO defence minister in mid-June and the start of the NATO Summit in Warsaw. This view was accepted and our request was taken up by our allies.
How would assess Poland’s bi-lateral relations with Russia? Is it a wait-and-see process?
One could indeed describe it as such. We of course held talks with the Russians. In January this year, I sent my deputy to Moscow. I also had the opportunity to receive the Russian ambassador at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We made it clear to each other what our positions were but we were unable to reach any sort of agreement. With one exception: an attempt to create a new interpretation of transit and transport agreements was withdrawn, thanks to which transport and transit through Russia was reinstalled, as was Russian transport through Poland.
However, as I have pointed out on numerous occasions, the keys to improving relations are to be found in Moscow. If they want to normalize the situation, then they first have to improve their behaviour, their position towards Ukraine.
What is the situation regarding the lifting of visas for Georgia and Ukraine?
We are pushing for this and the issue was discussed during the last meeting of EU foreign ministers. Many European countries, including Poland, have said that if we promised to lift or liberalize the visa regime then we should keep our word, once our conditions have been met. Even more so, given that we are simultaneously proposing to liberalise the visa regime towards Turkey.
However, there is a certain dilemma here as Europe is currently hit with a huge wave of refugees and migrants and the political climate to implement these commitments is lacking. But we are interested in doing so. Poland has adopted a very liberal approach – when it comes visas – towards two countries in the Eastern Partnership, Belarus and Ukraine. Last year we provided over 400,000 visas to Belarusians and over 900,000 visas to Ukrainians. This 900,000 is almost half of all of visas provided by EU member states.
A new direction of Polish foreign policy is the deepening of relations with China. The visit to Poland by Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, is approaching. Are you able to provide the date of this visit and say what Poland’s strategic goals are regarding its relations with Beijing?
I cannot tell you the date just yet. We are mainly linked to China through our economic relations. China is involved in Europe and wants to increase its engagement even further, as we also want to in China. Not only do we have direct relations with the central government, we also have relations with individual Chinese provinces. Our co-operation with Sichuan is developing very well, we have a direct rail connection to the province from Lodz.
We want to expand mutually beneficial co-operation, evening out the unfavourable trade imbalance. We want to attract China with infrastructure projects in Poland, in the areas of rail and road as well as air transport, airports and the building of modern ports. Our universities also want to attract Chinese students and lecturers.
Moving on to the United States – American media reports tell us that the controversial billionaire Donald Trump has a high enough number of delegates at the Republican Party convention in July to gain the nomination and take part in the U.S. presidential election in November. Analysts point out that we can expect transatlantic relations to take a turn for the worse after the elections, irrespective of whether Hillary Clinton or Trump wins.
First off, I wouldn’t overdramatize the situation when it comes to the worsening of transatlantic ties, because you have to separate election campaign rhetoric from actual action taken by politicians later on. I’ve witnessed many elections in the United States. I’ve seen a lot of campaigns that have contained far-out ideas.
Secondly, it is best to wait for the final decision on who will be the Republican and Democrat candidates in the November election. We should hold off on passing our judgment until we have concrete information regarding their programmes, their running mates and wider team of advisors, including who will be secretary of state and secretary of defence.
I also wouldn’t exaggerate about the divergence of transatlantic interests as we are, after all, connected by our shared security interests. Americans understand that after the 9/11 attacks the ocean is not enough to shield them away from danger. They understand that they need allies; they understand that missions they led in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years required the support of allies, including Poland.
I believe that co-operation will continue, in particular due to security interests. Moreover, the transatlantic region is the biggest area of economic co-operation in the world and I can’t imagine that the Americans would want to change that in any significant way.