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Poland: New President Talks Tough On Russia, Belarus

  • Jeffrey Donovan --> Polish President-elect Lech Kaczynski (AFP) Pro-American. Anti-Russian. Germany-skeptical. Lech Kaczynski, the conservative Warsaw mayor who stormed to victory in a presidential runoff in Poland on 23 October, seems to fit all three descriptions. Analysts say Poland could be poised to send a policy jolt through both the European Union and Russia by intensifying its support for democracy among its eastern neighbors and its criticism of the emerging energy partnership between Moscow and Berlin. But campaign promises are one thing, and government policies are another.

Prague, 26 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The day before his election, Kaczynski appeared to give a clear glimpse of his foreign policy priorities for Poland, the biggest and most influential of the EU's new members.

Speaking in Warsaw, Kaczynski listed the first state visits he wants to make as president.

"Every visit requires agreement of both sides. But I would like to visit Washington D.C. first," Kaczynski said. "I hope I will be able to pay a visit to the Vatican. This, of course, is important because Poland is predominantly a Roman Catholic nation. Then Brussels -- our European partners. And Kyiv."

Washington. The Vatican. Brussels. Kyiv. Four very different destinations, they provide a hint of where nationalist Kaczynski seems to want to take Poland.

And he could have unique power to do so. His twin brother Jaroslaw leads the socially conservative Law and Justice party that is set to form a new government. But talks with possible coalition partners have been rocky, and the outcome could undermine Kaczynski's vows to push through bold changes.

Catholic Poland, lodged between Germany and Russia, has long been pro-American for security and other reasons. Under former President Aleksander Kwasniewski, that stance translated into support for the U.S. war in Iraq and strong backing for democracy groups in Belarus and Ukraine.

But if Kaczynski's campaign promises are any indication, Poland's positions on these issues look set to be bolstered, according to Eugeniusz Smolar, president of Warsaw's Center for International Relations think tank.

"They will be strengthened -- I have no doubt about it," Smolar said. "And this government [will have] no inhibitions to raise its voice at the table."

Poland is particularly concerned about energy. In September, without consultation with Warsaw, Russia and Germany agreed to build a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea that will cut off Poland from transit fees. Warsaw also fears being left at the mercy of Moscow with regard to energy.

Analyst Smolar told RFE/RL that Poles are still smarting over the pipeline deal, which came amid what some portray as an emerging German-Russian partnership. He said he is certain the new government will be taking up the issue with Berlin.

"I have no doubt that this will be the case," Smolar said. "I have no doubt that this new government will do absolutely everything possible in order to make the government in Berlin [know] that something which they did one-sidedly is in contravention to the practice of the European Union. It was not consulted. It did hit not only Polish economic interests, but also the feeling of security."

Baltic countries have also expressed concern over the pipeline, which was agreed under outgoing German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Speaking in Vilnius today, future German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she understands Lithuania's concerns over the pipeline and that Russia "could try to use this project as an instrument of political pressure."

Smolar said the Polish government is likely to take the issue to the EU, since energy is a security issue that affects the entire 25-country bloc.

"We should debate it together as partners in the European Union," Smolar said. "This is the feeling, that what happened does not help in the process of the unification of Europe. And I'm sure that this government will be very outspoken in its relations not only with Germany, but also with other countries, and also for example with Scandinavia, countries like Sweden, Finland, Norway, Baltic countries, [who] are as worried about the ecological aspects about this project as Poles are."

Meanwhile, activists said they expect Kaczynksi to live up to his promises to increase Poland's support of democracy in Belarus, Ukraine, and elsewhere.

Pawel Kazanecki is an activist on Belarus with the Eastern European Democracy Center, a Warsaw-based nongovernmental organization.

"That was declared by several politicians from both winning parties, that they believe this kind of program to be very important, and that money that was given to these programs should be at least doubled," Kazanecki said.

But since his election victory, Kaczynksi has toned down his campaign rhetoric toward both Germany and Russia.

He had criticized some Germans for seeking compensation for property lost in what is now Poland after World War II. But in an interview today in Germany's "Bild" daily, the new president stressed he was "partner and friend of the Germans."

As Kaczynski has also softened his tone toward Moscow, Kazanecki said there is some concern the president might renege on increasing support for democracy abroad.

"We should also understand and remember that at least in the context of Belarus and Ukraine, Poland has a big problem with the relationship with Russia," Kazanecki said. "And in this geopolitical situation, the newly elected president has just declared that the main issue for Poland is to make a better relationship with Russia. So in the context in politics toward Belarus and Ukraine, it's difficult to say now what it means."

It is also, for now, difficult to say just what Poland's new government will look like.

Kaczynski's party was expected to form a coalition with another conservative force, the Civic Platform grouping of runoff loser Donald Tusk.

But talks between them broke down today, amid speculation that Law and Justice might seek to form a minority government.

Kaczynski also campaigned on rooting out rampant corruption. But a cabinet with such limited support would be hard-pressed to push bold policies -- at home or abroad.