Waszczykowski: I want to settle with Belarus

Eliza Olczyk and Jakub Mielnik (Wprost) talk to Witold Waszczykowski, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.

WPROST: The opposition says that Poland has disappeared from the world. How do you feel in the role of the destroyer of Polish diplomacy?

WITOLD WASZCZYKOWSKI: The opposition of course has the right to ignore our diplomatic efforts, but the facts talk for themselves. Over the past year I made over 70 foreign visits and held talks with the most important partners. We revived the Visegrad Group and the whole Intermarium region, we have great relations with Great Britain, and we’ve held much more substantive talks with Germany than was the case in recent years. NATO made the decision to strengthen our security. How can one accuse us of being isolated?

Perhaps you are very active?

This is nothing to do with my activity but rather that we have radically changed the vectors of Polish foreign policy. For years, Polish diplomacy thought that it was enough to simply exist, because NATO and EU accession realized our strategic aims.  As a result, our predecessors liquidated over 30 diplomatic missions, explaining that this was being done to cut costs. However, the truth is that maintaining a mission costs a few million zloty each year whilst its existence usually results in an increase of trade turnover worth several dozen million zlotys a year. We are now reopening these representations, because we are looking for tools that create real influence. EU and NATO membership is not a goal in itself, but a tool. Our aim is to empower Poland, to acquire influence in institutions that allow us to help shape eastern policy, if not more, within those bodies. And we are succeeding in doing this. So why are they criticizing us? Some people would prefer dealing with a Poland that is submissive, docile and not with a Poland that is assertive in implementing its national interest.

Are you not worried about the debate on Poland taking place in the European Parliament?

They are rather rickety in nature and do not create wider interests. They are caused by certain circles in Poland.

But there are no discussions of this kind taking place about other countries.

There were debates about Hungary but Viktor Orban’s party is part of the biggest faction in the European Parliament, which provides them with a defensive shield. Apart from that, Hungary is a smaller country. Poland is a big EU country and there is something to fight for. We will either fall in to place or we will be stand our own ground – that is what the debate is about.

So there is nothing to worry about?

No, there isn’t. No one asks me any longer about what is happening in Poland. Even President Barack Obama, whose statements during the NATO Summit in Warsaw were interpreted as being critical of Poland, in private conversations with me has said: this is dirty politics, we have the same in our country. And what was the final conclusion of the Venice Commission? That there is a political conflict in Poland that needs to be solved using political methods. One needs to search for a compromise. And where is the compromise on the other side? I told this to the Secretary of State John Kerry. And now there are no longer any American statements on the situation in Poland. They have come to see that this is a political conflict.

Do you know Rex Tillerson, the candidate for the position of the new U.S. Secretary of State?

Until now, Rex Tillerson was mainly active in the business world and I was never part of those circles consisting of rich businessmen. It is an interesting nomination. I know that this he is a very experienced person who knows business from its most bloody-thirsty side because oil, gas and energy issues form the basis of global rivalry. I therefore hope that he looks at geopolitical rivalries in a realistic manner and that he will be familiar with its underpinnings. I think that he will want to realize the traditional Republican positions within foreign policy, that is leading a clear-cut policy with regards to Russia. He will consider Russia to be a geopolitical rival.

Do his good relations with Vladimir Putin mean that our region will suffer as a result of the election of Donald Trump to the presidency?

I do not see any indication for this happening, because if there was going to be some radical policy change, the president-elect would have already signaled this. However, until now Donald Trump has sent the opposite message. The agreement to strengthen the Eastern Flank of the NATO Alliance is being implemented unequivocally. U.S. soldiers are ready be dispatched. We are hopeful rather than concerned.

Do you think talk of a pro-Russian lobby with the new U.S. administration is over-exaggerated?

Of course. We won’t protest if someone makes a new attempt to reach an agreement with the Russians. I think it won’t succeed, but it’s worth a try. Previous administrations have also tried. If Rex Tillerson believes that he has better instruments that he can use to reach an agreement with Putin, then we will of course encourage this. Of course, along as this doesn’t happen at the cost of our region’s interests, as was the case during Obama’s attempt to reset relations.

What are your ideas to end the war in Ukraine?

Unfortunately it mainly depends on the Ukrainian government. In our opinion, the Minsk Agreements won’t be implemented although it seems that the Ukrainians are still counting on some sort of miracle. For this to happen, one needs to expand the Normandy Format, because the European powers alone, such as Germany and France, wont be enough to bring about changes in the confrontation with Russia. We saw this during the Balkan wars, which the European powers also tried to resolve on their own. However, the Dayton peace accords were finalized thanks to U.S. assistance and now too we should bring in the Americans. Poland should also take part. We are the only EU and NATO country that borders the aggressor and the victim of this conflict. Every escalation will have an impact on us.

And what will relations with Ukraine look like if Kiev decides in 2017 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UPA?

We can avoid such a situation through joint efforts – as we pointed out to the Ukrainians for example during President Petro Poroshensko’s last visit to Poland – modeled on the experiences of the Yad Vashem institute as well as Polish-German reconciliation efforts. Education is also important because there is a lack of understanding in both societies regarding the true nature of the UPA. Ukrainians are convinced that they mainly fought against the Soviets and a little bit with the Germans. The Volyn tragedy is basically unknown there. On the other hand, it is also true that not all of the UPA was at war against Poles. After all, Stepan Bandera was in a German concentration camp at the time of the Volyn massacre. In Poland, there is also a lack of geopolitical understanding regarding the significance of our relations with Ukraine, which means that a certain part of society, a small part but also not completely marginal, believes that we shouldn’t be talking to the Ukrainians at all. We need to remedy this but this cannot be done if Ukraine holds some sort of grand event marking the 75th anniversary of the UPA. If this happens then it could be that no one from Poland will go there after that. I hope Kiev is aware of this.

Why is the MFA cutting funding for the Belsat television station, which is an important component of the country’s eastern policy? The head of the television station beliefs that this basically signifies the shutting down of the station.

For now this is just a proposal and it is not leading to the closing of Belsat’s editorial capacities, but rather a modernization, transforming it into an online television platform while at the same time widening its reach. At the moment, in order to watch Belsat in Belarus one has to have a separate antenna and a separate decoder, which are difficult to get hold of over there. Meanwhile, the Belarusian side is willing to have TVP Polonia transmitted there, which could absorb foreign-based correspondents, including those at Belsat, and in the future become TVP Abroad (TVP Zagranica), as I have discussed with the director of TVP. We are taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of Belsat and TVP Polonia and we want it to be a more modern medium. If such a channel was added to the Belarusian cable television offering then the whole country could watch it.

It has been known for a while that Lukashenko disapproves of Belsat TV. Is the absorption of the latter by TVP Polonia the price of improving relations with Minsk?

But they will also pay a certain price.

The key question is whether Belsat TV has become a sort of bargaining chip with the Belarusians or not?

I don’t want to play games with the Belarusians. I want to settle with them.  Have Polish-Belarusian relations improved in the ten years that Belsat has been operational? Has the Association of Poles in Belarus been registered or liquidated? As these instruments have not led to an improvement of relations with Belarus, one has to try other ones. Belarusians, watching Belsat for the past ten years, did not regard it as an alternative to Lukashenko. People do not want to change the government. And when they watch Polonia, they will see how different life can be, that one can depict the world, the NATO, the EU in a different light, they will see how different life is in the neighbouring country.

PiS senators have prepared a draft legislation that equates German fascism with Lithuanian nationalism. It suggests knocking down statues symbolizing the latter.

We were not consulted on this draft. When it appeared I recommended that it not be pursued. We have a new situation in Lithuania, a new government that speaks more favourably of Poland and has made friendly gestures towards Lithuanian Poles, it is interested in dialogue. Let us therefore wait to see what happens.

And if nothing does happen then we will knock down these statues?

There are measures that can be taken, such as appeals to European institutions. There is no need for destruction.

What does our energy security situation look like? It seems that Nord Stream 2 is a done deal.

Not necessarily. If the German OPAL pipeline is built and is linked to Nord Stream 1 then it is not out of the question that Nord Stream 2 will not be necessary because Russia’s goals of by-passing our territory will be fulfilled.

From our point of view the effect will be the same.

That is why we are protesting against Nord Stream 2 and have made legal appeals against OPAL. When it comes to energy issues one can see the divisions within the EU. When one adds to this the disputes over refugees and currency, because even within the monetary union there are countries that are torn about to whether to stay or leave, then one can see that it is difficult to talk of a common European position that has in the past set the direction of Polish diplomacy. The international situation is a difficult one.

It could become even more difficult if the pro-Russian Marine Le Pen comes to power in France and the euro-sceptic Alternative for Germany party (AfD) becomes part of the governing coalition in Germany.

These are extreme scenarios. But even if they do materialize then they will be the result of democratic elections that one has to respect. Apart from that, one doesn’t know if a France led by Marine Le Pen would consent to the violation of international law, for example the annexation of the territory of another country. Such a position could lead to the law of jungle. I can imagine a situation whereby a million refugees from Africa occupy Sicily or Corsica and say – this is ours now.  What then?

As we’re on the topic of refugees, will Poland help the efforts to resolve this problem?

For months now we have supported the idea of creating a European border control and we send our own border guards to the most dangerous places. We have also spoken out in favour of tackling the problems at their source of origin, that is in the conflict regions. However, we do not agree with the forced relocation of refugees from Africa.

So how does one resolve the problem regarding the refugees that are already in the EU?

The majority of them are not refugees but rather economic migrants. Economic migrants should be taken in by those who lack manpower. We do not have that problem. On the contrary, we have given Europe 2 million immigrants. We also have almost 1 million Ukrainians and 400,000 Belarusians on our territory. I remind people in Brussels about this each time I am asked what we are doing to help migrants and refugees.

Are we rejecting refugees that have cultural backgrounds that are different to our own?

No. Everyone that comes to us is directed to temporary camps where they wait to hear whether they have been granted asylum. And if you are asking if we will join the scheme based on the forced relocation of refugees, then how are we supposed to do this? These people do not want to come to Poland. Brussels wants us to force them, it wants us to create closed camps for refugees and do everything in our power to make sure that they do not escape to Germany. We do not accept any proposal that in the 21st century calls for the large-scale forced resettlement of people in Europe.

What happens if the Turkish president decides that Europe has not lived up to its promises to liberalise visa-free travel and opens the refugee route leading from the Balkans to Europe?

If that happens, we will have a problem. And let me note that it is not us who are generating that problem but rather the countries of Western Europe who oppose vise-free travel with an eye on the elections being held next year. Those countries that have made visa commitments regarding Turkey, but also Georgia and Ukraine, should carry them out. If they don’t do so then they will be responsible for the wave of immigrants which will sweep – as I have already said – not Poland but Austria, France, Germany.

The decision-time is approaching on whether the Polish government will support Donald Tusk’s candidacy for President of the European Council. Are you able to say anything positive about Tusk’s work in Brussels?

Not much. We don’t know what he is doing because he doesn’t inform us about his actions. We also don’t see any achievements on his part. In the past year he has acted passively with regards to migration issues, he has not done anything to resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict. We don’t see that he has filled European institutions with Poles or promoted Poland’s national interest within these institutions. What is Mr. Tusk focusing on? What are his priorities? We don’t know.

There was a time when Tusk in Brussels said more or less the same things about refugees as you did.

Because the atmosphere changed. Angela Merkel also went through these changes, so it paid off to join the chorus.

The Polish government does not want Tusk in Brussels?

We are not openly saying that we are not supporting him. However, at the moment we are finding it difficult to find arguments to do so. If Mr. Tusk wants to run for another term then he should come to us, report on what he has done in his first term, present his vision for his second term and ask for the support of his country. I can’t imagine that a Polish politician should run for an international position without getting the backing, or at the least the acquiescence, of the government. President Tusk has not asked for this backing.

wpr logo.jpeg Source: Wprost