What to Make of Russia’s Saber-Rattling Toward Poland

Poland borders both Russia and Ukraine (thanks to the Russian enclave at Kaliningrad). Only one other country shares borders with both belligerents, the Russian satrapy of Belarus (which may wind up as a belligerent itself). For geographic and historical reasons Poland has an immense interest in the outcome of the war in Ukraine, and it is already a major exit point for Ukrainian refugees and a major hub for humanitarian and probably also military aid flowing into Ukraine. There are worrying signs from Russian messaging that Russia may be eyeing an expansion of the war to Poland—not necessarily by openly attacking, but war all the same.

In mid-March Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki visited Kyiv, along with the prime ministers of the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Upon his return, Morawiecki announced his government’s intention to “de-Russify” the Polish economy in response to Russia’s expanded invasion. This will not be an easy feat, especially when it comes to energy. For reasons of geography and politics (having a lot to do with the routes of pipelines built during the Soviet era) Poland has been quite dependent on Russian hydrocarbon exports. The Poles got a head start on weaning themselves off of Russian energy starting in 2014. In 2012, Russia accounted for 95.9 percent of Poland’s oil imports; by 2018 that was down to 67.2 percent. Some of that oil is from Kazakhstan and probably travels through Russian and Belarusian pipelines to get to Poland, and that will probably end and be difficult and expensive to replace. 

Morawiecki also called for the end of economic activities between Europe and Russia. If Poland can manage to de-Russify its economy, then almost any European country can. 

Three days after this announcement former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chair of the Russian Security Council, posted an anti-Polish essay on his Telegram account. Calling Poland “our most beloved European country” Medvedev angrily denounced the “de-Russification” economic initiative. Medvedev insisted that he saw no reason for Poland and Russia not to have excellent relations, but that Poland was in the grip of an insane Russophobia, writhing from “phantom pains.” In what is probably the most infuriating passage for a Pole to read, Medvedev wrote that while Russia does not “hush up even the darkest pages of our common history,” he skips any mention of the Hitler-Stalin pact and instead complains that Poland has forgotten the Soviet liberation of Poland from the Nazis. “Polish propaganda is the most vicious, vulgar, and shrill critic of Russia. It is a community of political imbeciles.” 

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