Vol. 3, No. 14 (July 15, 2010)

Warsaw and the South Caucasus after the Polish election

Elizabeth Kustra
Energy Policy Specialist
Portal Spraw Zagranicznych 

The victory of ruling party candidate Bronislaw Komorowski in the Polish presidential election over Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of the former president Lech Kaczynski who died in the tragic air crash in Katyn in April, is certain to have an impact on Warsaw’s foreign policy in general, and its approach to the South Caucasus in particular. 

The Polish constitution specifies that the prime minister and his government are responsible for defining and conducting Poland’s foreign policy, but Lech Kaczynski found ways to play a significant role in defining it.  His vision was the strengthening of Poland by means of cooperation with the United States and opposition to the Russian Federation, a view that led him to agree to the placement of a missile defense system on Polish territory.
Lech Kaczynski was known for his hostility toward Moscow, a capital he never visited during his presidency.  In many ways, he pursued the ideas of his favorite predecessor, Józef Pilsudski, who helped build Polish independence and who promoted Prometheanism to weaken the Soviet Union by supporting nationalist independence movements among the major non-Russian peoples.  Kaczynski viewed his own promotion of contacts with the former Soviet republics as a further realization of Pilsudski’s vision.  

That attitude defined his approach to the South Caucasus.  Under Kaczynski, Warsaw promoted their integration into Western structures and their distancing of themselves from the Russian Federation, including by building pipelines that bypass Russia.  Poland needs both natural gas and oil and hopes to get them from Azerbaijan and other Caspian basin countries and to do so without having either flow across Russia and thus subject to Moscow’s control.

Kacyznski was a key advocate for pipelines bypassing Russia before and after the August 2008 Russian-Georgia war.  Indeed, he spoke out on behalf of Georgia as a reliable transit corridor, despite Russian suggestions to the contrary and its use of the war to undercut Georgian claims that it could serve as a secure route.  If not the major agency behind, Kaczynski was also an active advocate of the extension of the Eastern Partnership, the extension of the European Neighborhood Policy that was intended to involve the post-Soviet states and others further afield in European institutions.

In mid-July, Radoslaw Sikorski said that Polish policy toward the South Caucasus countries will not change.  That is likely to be true in terms of substance, but it is certain that the anti-Russian style and vocabulary of the new Polish president will be very different, a shift that will affect both what the European countries are likely to try to do and what the countries of the South Caucasus and their neighbors, including the Russian Federation, are likely to assume is possible.  And over time, that could have dramatic consequences even as Warsaw suggests that it is not changing course.