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Poland Faces Crucial Test In Relations With Russia

Prague, April 5 (RFE/RL) - There is a movement in the Poland-Russia relations. The thrust is on a gradual rapprochement, but its scope remains uncertain.

The movement started with last month's (March 15) visit to Warsaw of Russia's Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. He called then for wide bi-lateral cooperation, while acknowledging the existence of specific areas of disagreement between the two countries. These disagreements mainly focus on the issue of NATO's eastward expansion, which Russia has long and vigorously opposed.

This week, Poland's Defense Minister Stanislaw Dobrzanski was in Moscow for talks on military cooperation with his Russian counterpart, Pavel Grachev, while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov conferred in Warsaw with Polish government ministers about bi-lateral trade.

Early next week (April 8), Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski opens a four-day visit to Russia. During the trip, he meets Russia's President Boris Yeltsin and other ranking government officials; will lecture at Moscow University on European politics; is scheduled to appear on a nationwide television program; and will pay homage to Polish victims of Soviet repression at the Katyn Forest and in the Siberian city of Irkutsk.

Kwasniewski will also sign several cooperative agreements, which have already been negotiated and initialed by the two governments.

Among them is an agreement on "mutual arms deliveries, military technology and supply of services," which was reached yesterday by Davydov and Polish Foreign Trade Minister Jacek Buchacz. This agreement has opened the way for the supply of Russian-made spare parts to Polish military equipment. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the Polish military equipment comes from former Soviet republics, mostly from Russia itself.

But Buchacz was quick to emphasize during a press conference yesterday that the agreement is purely economic, that it does not touch on issue of military cooperation, and that it has no bearing on Poland's plans to join NATO.

The bi-lateral military cooperation was the subject of Dobrzanski's talks with Grachev. Dobrzanski was reported to have proposed joint military exercises with Russia within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Both ministers were said to agree to set up a panel of experts to plan further cooperation. But Grachev was reported by the Russian media to have warned that these cooperative plans could be changed - if and when - Poland joins the western alliance.

Kwasniewski is expected to discuss the forms and the extent of cooperative relations with Russia during his Moscow visit. No dramatic policy departures are expected, although both parties may well announce mutual determination to press with rapprochement, particularly in economic and cultural relations.

But there will be no change in respective positions on the sensitive issue of security and military policies. Poland has repeatedly affirmed its desire to join NATO. Russia has been equally firm in its opposition to that move. Each is likely to stick its view.

And yet, Kwasniewski's visit is important, primarily because it marks the first contact of this post-communist Polish president with the Russian leaders.

The Polish post-communists have repeatedly said that they have abandoned once and for all their former bonds of subservience to Poland's powerful eastern neighbor. But this alone has not precluded a sense of apprehension that many Poles feel about the reality of political change among the post-communist leaders and activists.

Earlier this year, a leading post-communist politicians, former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, was accused by the security services of passing state secrets to Russian intelligence agents. For many a Pole, the question is whether Oleksy was an exception within his party or not.

Commenting on Kwasniewski's forthcoming talks in Moscow, a leading democratic politician Bronislaw Geremek today told a Warsaw newspaper ("Gazeta Wyborcza") that the key problem is "the manner" in which Kwasniewski presents in Moscow Poland's foreign policy priorities. Geremek said that these should be explained in "a clear and unambiguous way," so both the Russians and the Polish public know where Kwasniewski and his government colleagues stand on main policy issues.

There is reason to believe that many political observers elsewhere share this view.