An effective response to Russia’s provocations

An interview with Krzysztof Szczerski, Secretary of State at the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland.

Marcin Makowski: Work has started in Redzikowo on key elements of the anti-missile defence shield. Finally we have what we have been waiting for – a permanent and strategic presence of American forces on Polish territory. Does this mark the start of real geopolitical change in the region?

Krzysztof Szczerski: The Redzikowo base is an asset that strengthens Poland’s security and it is being built above all for two reasons. First, the territory of our country is becoming an important part of NATO, no longer only in terms of Alliance solidarity treaty obligations. Hosting elements of the key anti-missile defence system infrastructure raises our standing and makes us a real contributor to security within the NATO framework. The second point is the fact that the shield in itself, as a military object, needs to be protected, which results in the need to install means to defend the installation.

We are nevertheless still talking about forces dedicated to defending a concrete object. What is the situation regarding the deployment of a permanent military presence that the PiS government and President Duda have been pushing for since the beginning of the year?

Very difficult negotiations are still being held in this area and we need to continue to use all means at our disposal so that the Warsaw Summit brings about the results that we want to get out of the negotiations. The fundamental goal is very clear: we want to strengthen NATO’s Eastern Flank through the presence of Alliance forces. In terms of bi-lateral agreements, the Americans have already announced that they would deploy forces on the territory of the Eastern Flank in the form of a brigade. Apart from this, we are waiting for a response from the Alliance as a whole. We are pushing for more military forces that would be accompanied by leadership and infrastructure assisting this presence, together with a recognition system. I stress that our aim is a real defence capability that is able to respond to threats, rather than a military exercise force. This is the basis of President Duda’s plan, the Newport Plus Plan. The Warsaw Summit is meant to be a natural continuation of the decisions made in Wales, adapted to current geopolitical conditions. Two years ago it was believed that instability in the East would be temporary, but it turns out to have become permanent. That is why NATO’s response also has to have a symmetrical character.

There are people who demonstrate against the anti-missile shield. They claim that increasing the American military presence will paradoxically increase the threat level to the country – making us the first target of any incident in the East.

It is enough to ask: Did the last two examples of border violations in Europe after 2008, in Georgia and Ukraine, happen because those countries hosted NATO forces or because they didn’t? No one attacks someone that is stronger – one usually tests an opponent and searches for weak spots. Meanwhile, in its latest strategic plans Russia has defined the NATO Alliance in exactly those terms – as an adversary. Therefore, this begs the rhetorical question of what is in Poland’s interest and whose interest do these protestors serve?

In April, within the context of the NATO-Russia Council, you said that Moscow should not be excessively marginalized on the international stage. How are we to understand this softer political stance towards Putin, given that his military is making increasingly dangerous provocations, for example in the Baltics?

We have witnessed such provocations in the past and in all likelihood we will also do so again in the future. That is why it is important that when we respond it is with a cool head and also that we don’t escalate the situation by acting rashly. Decreasing current tensions is one of the best ways to secure Poland’s security. There is only way to respond effectively to provocations: do not give in and don’t abandon the plans that the provocations set out to damage. In this case, the deployment of the military presence on the Eastern Flank.

How does one decrease tensions with a Russia that does not play by the same rules?

This can be done through a readiness to hold talks, as we have shown by agreeing for a session of the Council to take place. This move proved that the Alliance is not interested in seeking confrontation. Today’s policies towards Russia have to be based on three elements that on first sight might appear to be contradictory: maintain dialogue, strengthen one’s own security and apply sanctions for violating international law in Ukraine. There is no other way, which is why we stress that the sanctions are not a political instrument or a form of revenge, but rather an appropriate response by the international community, in line with the letter of the law. The Ukrainians recently carried out an interesting study on the types of “frozen” conflicts in post-Soviet countries – from Transnistria to Nagorno Karabakh.  It showed that there is one major difference between those conflicts and the situation in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea – the enforcement of disciplinary elements towards the aggressor in the form of sanctions.

Which means that by lifting sanctions against Russia we in effect recognize the Crimea as being part of Russia’s territory.

And throw this problem off the international agenda. Without European solidarity regarding this issue, the Crimea will share the fate of Abkhazia and Ossetia. Within time, the world will forget them. Force trumps the law.

Do you not think that NATO’s position towards Russia is too soft? When the SU-24 violated Turkish airspace, the latter simply shot it down. Meanwhile, the West has allowed fighter jets to fly a few meters above the heads of its own soldiers. The only reaction to this was condemnation by politicians in their speeches.

The obvious reaction is to think that we should have responded more strongly. Unfortunately, this is an illusory option as every incident in the Baltics could be lead to an even more dangerous situation. That is why it is in the interest of NATO and Poland to have tough but proper relations with Russia, especially now in the lead up to the Warsaw Summit.

Grzegorz Schetyna said that the recent opposition demonstration in Poland was a turning point and a show of force for PO. However, you say that it is a sign of weakness. One of you must be wrong.

If no single party is able to present itself as an alternative to PiS, which they claim is an ideologically empty coalition, then what are we really talking about here? Is this a serious proposal? After all, one cannot Krzysztof_Szczerski_Sejm_2014.jpg rule in a rainbow coalition composed of all parties. Unless opposition politicians believe that their ideological programme is nonsense and the real aim is to overthrow the government and come to power. This is the only goal that connects all the participants of the demonstration: all that counts is power, power power. At any price.

Political tensions could have an impact on the economy. The rating by Moody’s was gracious towards Poland and the fact that the rating was not downgraded had a positive effect on the stock exchange and the zloty. However, we do have another rating coming up in September as well as a rating by Fitch in July. Does the president have a plan whereby the impact of political emotions on the economy is minimized?

The saddest thing about the whole rating spectacle was the way in which some opposition politicians hoped for Poland’s rating to be downgraded. They were disappointed that the economy did not suffer, providing them with an easy tool to attack the government. This demonstrates the moral condition of the opposition. Let us also remember however, that the way in which one analyzes economic policy depends on your initial vantage point. These are never objective opinions, rather they are based on a certain economic model. Meanwhile, both the president and the government believe that most important for the economy are statistics indicating the levels of prosperity and quality of life among Poles. With a strong economy, these factors will speak for themselves – without the help of ratings. Poland also needs a development push. That is why we are developing relations with China and are involved in investments in the so-called ABB region – that is with the countries of Adriatic, Baltic and Black Sea.

Is this not, in your opinion, a way of denying reality given that the next ratings are likely to be less favourable to the government?

The politicians of PO and Nowoczesna are the ones denying reality today by deepening the political crisis in Poland, which is de facto leading to the downgrading of ratings. Perhaps they hope that this will have a knock-on effect and will help bring down the government. For me, such irresponsible behaviour in one’s own country is unacceptable. One cannot actively seek to weaken the state in the hope of scoring political points against the government.

Let us return to foreign policy. Minister Waszczykowski recently described the EU’s plan to impose fines for every migrant that is not taken into the country as a “belated April Fool’s joke”. What do you think?

Such proposals only serve to deepen the European crisis, inflaming Euroskeptic tendencies and even doubts about the existence of the European Union itself. We have seen this in Austria and the Netherlands, I hope we won’t see this in Great Britain. If one puts forward such “proposals” without taking into consideration the reaction of society then it will lead to migrants suffering as well. President Duda has on many occasions stressed that refugees must be assisted by respecting their dignity. They are not empty numbers, objects or an unwanted pledge that one can opt out of by paying. Let us help migrants, taking care of their freedom and dignity. Anyone who qualifies as a refugee will not be thrown out of Poland.

You talk about dignity. We are currently sitting on a plane to Rome and the president also plans to go to the Vatican during his visit. Meanwhile, one of the leading Vatican experts has accused Poland of not only forgetting about the teachings of Pope Francis but also about the words of Pope John Paul II, who appealed for the assistance of refugees.

As I have said, Poland has never shut its doors to these people. The President talked about respecting the dignity of refugees and this means the importance of respecting their freedom, because a person’s dignity is closely linked to his freedom. That is why we cannot agree on a forced relocation of refugees. We will not keep anyone in Poland against their will, but we will accept anyone who comes to us lawfully and wants to live and work here. This has been our policy for years, albeit regarding the East. It is a pity that this this is not taken into consideration but I understand that this does not fit well with the image of bad Poland. Anyone who is a legally recognized refugee will be provided with shelter in Poland. But without an ideological underpinning and not through force. Not too long ago, President Duda talked to the President of Italy about how Europe needs a responsible and smart management of the migration crisis – and this means leaving behind simplified slogans and bureaucratic schemes. 

Do Rzeczy Source: DO RZECZY