Poland's EU entry tests relations between Moscow and Warsaw

27-02-2004

The relationship between the EU and it's biggest neighbour has not always been trouble-free and right now it's re-assessing that relationship as it prepares to spread eastwards. Russia is also watching the EU's enlargement with some concern...But what are relations like between Moscow and the soon-to-be EU members - formerly soviet bloc states? Michal Kubicki takes a look at how Moscow and Warsaw are getting along.

There have been many ups and downs in Polish Russian relations since Warsaw left the Soviet orbit 15 years ago. A Significant progress has been made in healing painful historic wounds but full reconciliation between the two countries has not yet been achieved: Political Relations turned particularly frosty after Poland joined NATO military alliance five years ago - the idea of NATO's expansion eastwards remains highly unpopular in Russia and for many Russians is a potent reminder of the Cold War.

And on the economic front, Warsaw's main worry is a huge trade deficit, which started after Poland's food exporters and construction firms were shut out of the Soviet market.

According to Polish analysts, Russia has not yet developed a new formula of its relations with the former Soviet bloc countries. Grzegorz Kostrzewa Zorbas...

"Russia is mentally unable, so far, to treat Poland and other countries like Poland or smaller ones, like Lithuania, for example, on equal terms. Russia expects and demands special treatment, concessions, and guarantees of influence. This is old thinking. This is not modern thinking and this doesn't show Russia as a fully transformed Western-like country."

As a member of the European Union, Poland will provide Moscow with vital transport and other links with the bloc. It is expected that Warsaw may also contribute to future EU eastern policy. Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, a Polish expert in Brussels:

"The European Commission is preparing a new paper which is supposed to deal with the key elements of the so-called wider Europe. This is certainly one of the most important discussions that are taking place now in Brussels about the neighbourhood relations with the countries that will be left outside when Poland and the others join in May. And in this debate Poland has a key role to play."

One of the key questions posed here is - could Poland's entry into the EU be a source of fresh tensions in relations with Russia, at a time of great political instability there. Former defence and foreign minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz.

"Well, that could be. It looks like Russians simply don't realize what European Union membership means. They probably thought it's really something like free trade area, which is quite amazing, because after all they should have known what European Union is about and how integrated this structure is. It looks like, especially in view of other developments, like turning off the taps on the gas pipeline... You know that indicates that Russia only now begins to realize what European Union is about and maybe is having second thoughts as far as the acceptance of European Union enlargement is concerned."

Grzegorz Kostrzewa Zorbas holds a more optimistic view.

"I expect a more pragmatic, more business-like policy of Russia after May 1st. It will no longer be possible to offend Poland or Lithuania, for example, without serious consequences for Russia itself, because those new members will have a say in Poland's case, a major say in the shaping of EU policy towards Russia and for Russia the European Union is a principal economic partner."

After a history of foreign domination, Poland hopes to get both political and economic leverage from its location at the heart of a stable Europe. It appears the shape of relations with Russia will be of great importance in making these hopes a reality.

27-02-2004

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