Turkey, Iran and Poland are the three countries who have fought the most wars against Russia. Yet in 2018, Russia, Iran and Turkey count themselves as important partners, not only in respect of their participation in the Astana format for peace in Syria, but they also are rapidly expanding their cooperation in the commercial, security and energy sectors. Three countries that once represented the major rivals of Eurasian power geopolitics, now form a golden triangle of Eurasian cooperation that itself is all linked to China’s One Belt–One Road.
Out of the powers that Russia has historically rivalled, Poland remains the one which appears least able to engage in a post-19th century and post-Cold War rapprochement with Russia. There are some important geopolitical factors behind this.
Turkey and Iran have entered the 21st century as growing powers in respect of geopolitical influence, international diversification in international partnerships and pan-regional prestige. The same could be said of Russia which has more than recovered from the doldrums of the 1990s. Poland, on the other hand, while it continues to see economic progress by regional standards, Poland’s position in the European Union combined with the ultra-nationalism which continues to uniquely plague Europe compared to other parts of the developed world, has led to official anti-Russian sentiment remaining high among the Polish elite. By contrast, were Poland to reach out to Russia, the political class in Moscow would be all too willing to shake hands and discuss areas where mutual cooperation is possible, as Russia has fully embraced the win-win model of 21st century geopolitics. Also, while the US maintains a threatening military position on Polish soil, the US likewise still houses nuclear weapons in Turkey’s İncirlik Air Base and this has not precluded the formation of a genuine Russo-Turkish partnership.
That being said, while Turkey is becoming increasingly anti-US and while Iran has been opposed to US hegemony ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Poland is still first and foremost a US ally. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the staunchest US ally in the Arab world, continues to open doors to cooperation with both Russia and China, thus demonstrating that such relationships should never be analysed through a zero-sum prism.
As is so often the case in geopolitical rapprochements, several events external to Moscow and Warsaw, but deeply related to the feelings among Russians and Poles, have accidentally put the two countries on the same page. Both of these events stem from a new law in Poland which forbids the denial of the crimes Ukrainian Nazi collaborators committed against Poles, such as the Vohlynia Massacre. Furthermore, the law forbids the use of the offensive term “Polish death camp” to refer to the facilities built by the fascist Hitler regime on occupied Polish soil.
Predictably, the Kiev regime which lionises Ukrainian Nazis like Stepan Bandera has responded with anger to the new Polish laws. Likewise, the Kiev regime has consistently voted against Russian proposed UN resolutions calling for the condemnation of the glorification of Nazism/fascism. As the fascist political and para-military gangs in Ukrainian regime controlled territory frequently chant death laden insults aimed at both Russians and Poles, it seems only natural that Sergey Zheleznyak, the General Council of the ruling United Russia has commended Poland’s law forbidding the denial of Ukrainian crimes against humanity.
However, “Israel” has responded with anger to the fact that Warsaw seeks to eliminate the use of the offensive phrase “Polish death camp”. It is not clear why Tel Aviv is offended by this, except for the fact that some in Tel Aviv may seek to blame Poles and Poland for crimes the Hitler Reich committed during the 1940s.
While Russia has healthy relations with Tel Aviv, Moscow has always been clear that the perpetrators of Nazi atrocities during the 1940s were due to the actions of Berlin and not Warsaw. This became incredibly apparent when Poland and the Soviet Union became allies during the Cold War, a situation which clearly does not exist today.
While Russia and Poland will likely never agree on interpretations of their own shared history, the examples of Turkey and Iran demonstrate that it may be possible to at least reach a 21st century understanding with one of Russia’s western neighbours that is not predicated on rhetorical fights about the past. With Poles and Russians both coming under attack from Ukrainian fascists and with “Israel” trying to blame Poland for crimes which the Soviet Union has always only held the fascist Berlin regime responsible for, perhaps Moscow and Warsaw might be able to lessen some tensions – even if this is not what the United States would want Poland to do.
Behind all of the rhetoric also lies the important fact that Poland features on Chinese maps for One Belt–One Road’s journey into Europe. This means that as the largest Eurasian power bordering Europe, Russia will inevitably be partly linked to its European neighbours. Rather than retard the progress of what could become deeply necessary cooperation, political leaders in Warsaw ought to take this opportunity to express solidarity with Russia over one of the few historical realities that both sides can agree upon.