Warsaw tries to thaw the chill with Moscow


Relations between Poland and Russia are best described as fragile. Apart from the legacy of Soviet times there are trade disputes and, right now, big differences over Poland's plans to host part of a US missile defence system, something Russia strongly opposes. In an effort to get things on to a firmer footing Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk paid a visit to Moscow last week - ending a six year break in top level contacts. There were smiles and handshakes but is that enough to generate some positive sentiment between the two neighbours?

The Ice Age Is Over, is the essence of the more optimistically inclined media stories assessing results of the Polish prime minister's visit to Russia. However experts in both countries' capitals voice varying opinions. Some argue the Moscow talks were nothing more than a publicity stunt for its participants. Others claim the open discussions ushered in a new stage in Polish-Russian relations.

Many analysts point to Poland realizing the European Union has become tired of its continuing, centuries old feud with Russia. Mariusz Ziomecki of the Superstacja news tv.

"Poland is not interested in having bad relations with Russia and we cannot run away from Russia. We are glued to Russia, it's just next door. Even though - now - we can afford to have our own ideas about Poland's place in the world, we cannot ignore Russia's position on matters that concern its own national security. There is no premium for Poland within the European community for struggling with Russia, for irritating Russia, for causing friction. The European Union expects Poland to be a factor in improving relations, not in worsening them."

Some Russian commentators say the hard facts of reality are starting to be recognized in Moscow. Dmitry Babich from Russia Profile magazine.

"I think that Russia slowly, but steadily understands that Poland is the strongest ally of the United States in Europe. And this cannot be changed. This is very sad for Russia, but we have to live with that. Certainly, that doesn't mean Russia will agree to everything Poland wants to do."

There is also a group of obeservers advocating a more strict approach to Poland's relations with Russia. Stanislaw Janecki, editor of Wprost weekly.

"Politicians should be very tough and strong with Russia. We should be like Marshal Pilsudski before the Second World War. In matters in which we can step back, we should do it very gently. But in matters important for Polish independence and security, we should be very, very tough."

There are also those who share no illusions concerning any fundamental change of the Kremlin's policy in treating Warsaw as a solitaire partner and not part of a bigger entity. Marcin Sobczyk, Warsaw bureau chief of Interfax Central Europe.

"Russia has an agenda for Poland, it has had it for the past dozen or so years. And I don't think a single meeting changed this. Quite clearly, right now, the words are different, but the agenda has not changed all that dramatically. Which means Russia will continue to talk to Poland individually. It will, of course, continue to work with the European Union on various Polish matters, or it will try to involve EU officials in matters that concern Poland."

Undoubtedly, the immediate gain from melting the ice in Polish-Russian relations is that both sides learned they right to disagree, which is a giant step forward in itself.