Tag Archives: Poland

Poland Fails to Stop Tusk EU Re-Election

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On Thursday 9 March, European Union (EU) leaders re-elected President of European Council Donald Tusk despite a bid to oust him by his home country Poland. The re-election came after earlier in the day Poland had threatened to derail Thursday’s EU summit as it attempted to bloc Tusk’s re-election.

Sources have indicated that the leaders voted 27 to one to give him another two-and-a-half-year term.

Arriving at the summit on Thursday, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo stated that nothing should be decided without Poland’s agreement. Ms Szydlo had also written a letter to EU leaders, stating that Mr Tusk has “violated multiple times his European mandate” by getting involved in Polish political disputes and supporting the opposition to the government. The EU has angered Poland’s nationalist government by criticizing changes to the country’s top court, new restrictions on journalists and it opposition to resettling refugees by quota. Meanwhile in an interview earlier with Polish television, Foreign Minister Waszczykowski stated that his country could even veto the summit’s conclusions to scupper Mr Tusk’s re-election. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, however suggested that Mr Tusk’s re-election could not be blocked, stating “one country, or a number of countries might be against that decision, but one country cannot block a decision…There are very clear rules of engagement and rules of procedure which we will follow.”

Speaking after EU leaders re-elected Mr Tusk to a second term, Poland’s Prime Minister stated that Mr Tusk’s re-appointment would damage EU efforts to recover after the UK’s departure and that it was a “question of principles” that any candidate for the post should be backed by his home country.

The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) implacably opposes Mr Tusk, who is a former minister from a rival party. While on the ground sources have indicated that such hostility among patriots is highly unusual in EU politics, Mr Tusk was expected to get enough support to keep his post. He had the backing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said that his re-election to a new 30-month term would be a “sign of stability. As European Council president, Mr Tusk would be a major role in the UK’s Brexit negotiations.

Prior to Thursday’s vote, Poland’s government was desperate in trying to prevent Mr Tusk from being re-elected to a second term as president of the European Council. They went as far as to propose its own candidate – a little-known Polish MEP called Jacek Saryusz-Wolski.

There has also been some suggestion that the UK may abstain from the vote in a bid to win Polish support over Brexit negotiations. However ultimately all but Poland voted for Mr Tusk, with the Press Association news agency quoting UK government sources as saying that Prime Minister Theresa May was “pleased” that he had been re-elected.

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Late Polish President’s Remains Exhumed as Part of New Investigation into Fatal Plane Crash

Posted on in Poland title_rule

Late on Monday 14 November, the remains of the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria were exhumed as part of a new investigation into the fatal plane crash in Smolensk six years ago. The crash killed the couple and all 94 others on board.

The remains were removed from a marble sarcophagus in the crypt of Krakow’s historic Wawel Cathedral. Prosecutors have disclosed that new examinations are necessary in order to ensure that the victims were correctly identified, noting that the original autopsies carried out in Russia contained irregularities. Indeed, several exhumations carried out four years ago found that some of the victims were buried in the wrong graves, however more than that, prosecutors say that the forensic tests may also provide new evidence about the cause of the disaster. Further exhumations are due to be carried out in stages over the next 12 months.

The decision is highly controversial as it is opposed by some of the families of the victims. Furthermore, it is being carried out without their consent. While some families agree with the procedure, 17 families appealed to church and political leaders to prevent what they called a “ruthless” and “cruel” decision. In an opinion poll last month, just 10% of respondents supported the exhumations.

President Kaczynski’s plane crashed in dense fog just shot of the runway of a former military airbase in the Russian city of Smolensk on 10 April 2010. Senior state and military officials had been on their way to a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, in which more than 20,000 Polish officers were murdered by the Soviet secret police. Russian and Polish investigations have concluded that the crash was mainly caused by pilot error. Both reports have indicated that the pilots warned officials that the weather conditions were not sufficient to attempt a landing, however a decision was taken to descent to see if the runway could be sighted. The pilots flew too fast and too low and ignored repeated electronic warnings to pull up before smashing into the ground. While the tragedy initially united the country in grief, it has since caused much division. The investigations’ findings have never satisfied President Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, who now leads the governing Law and Justice party, which took office a year ago. Mr Kaczynski’s close ally, defense minister Antoni Macierewicz, has launched a fresh investigation. He has previously spoken about two explosions moments before the plane crashed and the examinations will check for traces of explosives. Indeed, about one quarter of Poles believe that President Kaczynski was assassinated, while more than two thirds of Poles do not believe the crash has been fully explained, with a majority believing that it was an accident. Previous probes have explicitly ruled out an explosion.

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US Issues Travel Warning for Europe

Posted on in Europe, United States title_rule

The United States government on Tuesday 31 May warned Americans travelling to France this summer that stadiums hosting matches in the Euro Cup 2016 Tournament as well as other affiliated venues likely to draw large numbers of fans could be vulnerable to becoming terrorist targets. The advisory however stops short of telling Americans to stay away from Euro 16 host cities.

On Tuesday, the US State Department issued a new Europe-wide US travel advisory. In it, it highlighted concern about the potential for terror strikes aimed at the European Soccer Championships, which are due to run from 10 June – 10 July. It included venues where large numbers might gather to watch the games on jumbo screens, for instance in outdoor squares or parks, amongst the sites at risk. The advisory indicates that “we are alerting US citizens to the risk of potential terrorist attacks throughout Europe, targeting major events, tourist sites, restaurants, commercial centres and transportation.” IT states that “France will host the European Soccer Championship from June 10 – July 10…Euro Cup stadiums, fan zones, and unaffiliated entertainment venues broadcasting the tournaments in France and across Europe represent potential targets for terrorists, as do other large-scale sporting events and public gathering places throughout Europe.” It adds that “France has extended its state of emergency through July 26 to cover the period of the soccer championship, as well as the Tour de France cycling race, which will be held from July 2 – 24.” While the advisory stop short of telling travellers to stay away from areas of potential risk, it does recommend that they “exercise vigilance,” monitor local media nad law down plans to stay in touch with family in case of an emergency.

The advisory comes as French authorities are already bracing for a possible resurgence of hooliganism at some of the venues. Matches that have already been identified as having the potential for fan violence include England v. Germany and Russia V. Wales. With twenty-four teams competing, about 2.5 million fans, most form other countries, are expected to converge on France over the next month. The French government has conceded that the fear of new terror attacks, potentially carried out by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, is a reality, with Patrick Calvar, head of the DGSI intelligence agency, telling the French parliament’s defense committee in May that “we know that (IS) is planning more attacks…and that France is clearly a target.” While he did not mention the Euro 16 specifically, he added that the French police “may be coming face to face with a new type of attack – a terrorist campaign characterized by planting explosive devices where where large crowds are gathered…to create as much panic as possible.” He went on to state that “the question, when it comes to the threat, is no ‘if,’ but ‘when’ and ‘where.’”

The US travel advisory also noted that France, where police resources have been stretched since the November 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, also must contend with the staging of the annual Tour de France bicycling race, which will take place throughout July.

The US advisory also singled out the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day festival, which is set to take place for five days starting on 25 July in Krakow, Poland. It notes that this event will likely trigger unusual levels of security vigilance and associated complications for travellers. The US State Department travel advisory will remain in effect until 31 August.

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Poland and the EU Commission

Posted on in Poland title_rule

Since the elections in the autumn of last year Poland has certainly seen a hectic couple of months. Soon after forming government the Law and Justice Party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, passed a law that would weaken the court, requiring, for example, a two-thirds majority for a decision to be binding. The Polish Constitutional Tribunal has later fought this, calling it unconstitutional. However, this ruling has been dismissed by the government. Towards the end of last year the government also introduced a bill to reform the country’s public broadcasters, which would empower the government to appoint or dismiss the country’s media executives. The national media council is closely tied to the Law and Justice party, and giving this council more power would, in essence, mean that the government would have a much greater influence over the country’s broadcasting of TV and Radio. These changes of the constitution and violations of democratic values in Poland has caused the EU to react. During the spring of this year opposition protests have flared up over the legislation that gives the government more influence over the justice system. This legislation has been rejected by the top court of the country, claiming that it limits the judiciary’s ability to dispense justice. The Law and Justice Party, in response, has contested the court’s right to rule at all in the matter. The government has been pressured internationally to recognise the court’s decision, not just from the EU and from human rights organisations, but from the US as well. Jaroslaw Kaczynski has seemed fearless regarding the risk of open conflict with the EU as he has officially rejected foreign advice and pleas to reverse the changes his party has made, saying that Poland will solve these matters on its own, without foreign intervention. In January the EU Commission activated its rule of law ‘framework’ in relation to Poland. This framework is an instrument aimed at protecting EU values like the rule of law, democracy, equality and the respect of human rights. It does not give the Commission power to fine the Polish government, cut any union funds, or suspend the right to vote in union matters, but it allows the commission to talk to, and negotiate with, Poland for a solution. In May Poland was given what seemed like an ultimatum by Brussels, which stated that the country’s leaders would have to show that progress is being made to remedy the situation. Failure to respond adequately to this would lead to new actions from the EU commission under the “rule of law framework. Vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmerman, has expressed recently that the changes to the Polish judiciary pose a risk to the principle of rule of law. Poland on the other hand is directing sharp criticism toward the commission over this matter, and claims that the EU has other reasons for interfering with what is in essence Poland’s domestic concerns. Polish Justice Minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, has accused Brussels of blackmailing Poland to force the country to take more than the 7,600 Syrian migrants agreed. Since Poland did not respond adequately to the warnings from Brussels the commission has activated a second stage under the framework, marking the first time ever this had been implemented. This can ultimately lead to the revocation of voting rights, however such penalties can only be implemented by the EU council and it would take a decision with a four-fifths majority that “the clear danger of a grave infringement” of common values exists in Poland. This would mean that Poland would officially be given recommendations on how to fix the underlying problems. Failure to do so would lead to EU Council conclusion that these “grave infringements” is in fact occurring. But this must be established unanimously, and if so, it would lead to the suspension of Poland’s right to vote. It is highly unlikely however, that all remaining 27 EU members would agree on this. The Polish government has a close ally in Viktor Orbán of Hungary, for example, and he has reportedly said that he would never let such a thing happen. Poland has reportedly considered going to the top European Union court to challenge the EU commission’s procedure against it, if Brussels doesn’t lowers its pressure. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has said “The procedure that is currently being used against us is a non-treaty procedure, a made-up one, and it can be challenged in the Court of Justice of the European Union at any moment.” Some say perhaps the best chance to influence the Polish government to reverse these changes now lies with the Americans. Poland has historically considered the US a close ally and is heavily dependent on NATO military support in the face of aggressions from Russia. Since Poland will be the host of the next big NATO summit, scheduled to take place in July, and is also hoping to secure larger contingents of allied troops on its territory, a clear message from Washington officials could perhaps have the desired effect. It is a dynamic situation and many thing might come to change over the course of the summer.

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Twenty-First Century Soviet Union: Could Moscow be Looking Towards Annexing States in Eastern Europe?

Posted on in Russia, Ukraine title_rule

With the annexation of Crimea, there have been growing Western concerns of the rising number of Russian troops along the country’s eastern border with Ukraine.   Although Moscow has denied that President Vladimir Putin has an ambitious plan to resurrect vestiges of the Soviet empire and stamp his authority over eastern European nations that sought protection from the West following the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall, the presence of 30,000 troops stationed along the border is nevertheless alarming.  Furthermore, while Moscow originally stated that it was intervening in Crimea because of concerns over the ill-treatment of Russians there, who make up more than half of the population, since Crimea’s annexation, Russia has done little to ease Eastern European fears of further takeovers.  The question now remains, could similar action take place in other parts of the former Soviet Union?

Eastern Ukraine

Since the ouster of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych in February 2014, there have been frequent pro-Russian demonstrations that have taken place in Donetsk as well as in other cities in eastern Ukraine.  So far, at least one person has been killed.  Russians however have blamed far-right pro-Western demonstrators for escalating tensions throughout the country.

With Russian troops having staged military exercises near the border, and Ukrainian officials claiming Thursday that 100,000 Russian forces have massed on Ukraine’s border, it would not be difficult for them to move across into Ukraine itself.

If Putin is indeed considering more territorial expansion, than eastern Ukraine is likely to be high on his list.  The political costs however would be high, with NATO and Western leaders already warning Moscow against further expansionism.

Although Crimea, which was previously Russian territory, became part of the Ukraine in 1954, Ukraine’s eastern border goes back much further, ties which could be used by Putin in any possible future take overs.


A great deal of attention has also focused on Trans-Dniester, a separatist region of Moldova, which has already offered itself to Moscow.  Proclaiming independence in 1990, which has never been recognised internationally, Trans-Dniester is majority Russian-speaking while most Moldovans speak Romanian.  NATO’s commander in Europe has warned that Trans-Dneister may be Russia’s next target as Moscow has already deployed 1,000 troops to the region, which borders Ukraine, near the city of Odessa.

The southern region of Gagauzia, an autonomous region of Moldova which is made up of four enclaves with a total population of 160,000 also held a referendum in February 2014, in which 98.4% of voters backed integration with a Russia-led customs union.  The Moldovan government has stated that the referendum was illegitimate.


Russia’s 2008 brief war with Georgia resulted in two areas breaking away, South Ossetia and Abkhazi.  Although Abkhazia had already declared independence unilaterally in 1999, since the 2008 war, the two enclaves have existed in a grey zone as they are not recognized internationally, nor are they formally are part of Russia.  Although Moscow’s stated aim at the time was to protect Russian speakers, most residents are native speakers of Ossetian and Abkhaz respectively.  Furthermore, most residents hold Russian passports and are opposed to the Georgian government in Tbilisi.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

Although the Baltic republics regained their independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, Russians account for about a third of the population in both Estonia and Latvia.  Due to the fact that both Latvia and Estonia require knowledge of their languages in order to gain citizenship, some Russian speakers born in the countries are either unable or unwilling to become citizens.  Many Russian speakers have complained of discrimination, stating that the strict language laws make it difficult for them to get jobs.  This treatment was echoed by the Kremlin in mid-March of this year, with officials expressing “outrage” at the treatment of ethnic Russians in Estonia, the same reason, which they gave for intervening in Crimea.       

In Lithuania, ethnic Russians make up about 5% of the population and there is no requirement for them to pass a language test in order to attain citizenship.

However what must be noted is that in the case of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, all three Baltic states are members of both the European Union and NATO.  Therefore any Russian incursion would have serious consequences as article 5 of the NATO treaty states that an attack on one member state is an attack on all.


Currently, there is no reason why Russia would seek to intervene in Belarus as the country is already closely aligned with Moscow.  Furthermore, Belarus is an economic union with Russia, and Russian is an official language.  Although only 8.3% of the population identifies itself as Russian, more than 70% speak the language.

Northern Kazakhstan 

Ties between Russia and Kazakhstan go back to tsarist times, when northern cities such as Pavlodar and Uralsk were founded by the Russians as military outposts.  Russians currently account for more than half of the population in northern Kazakhstan which, like Crimea, was once a part of Russia itself.

Like Ukraine, Kazakhstan signed an agreement on nuclear disarmament in 1994 in exchange for protection.  It has no port like Sevastopol in Crimea, however it does have the Baikonur space facility.

Although Kazakhstan already has close ties with Russia, as it is one of two other members, along with Belarus, of Moscow’s customs union, it has remained officially neutral in the matter of Ukraine.

Other Central Asian Republics

After independence in 1991, large numbers of Russians emigrated to central Asia, with the percentage of ethnic Russians in the region now ranging from 1.1% in Tajikistan to 12.5% in Kyrgyzstan.  However it must be noted that the Central Asian economies remain tied to Russia, bot in terms of trade and remittances from migrants working there.

While it therefore seems unlikely that Moscow would seek to intervene in the region, the post-Crimea turmoil could still have an affect on the area.  As the Russian rouble falls, and sanctions hit Russian businesses, jobless migrants returning from Russia could cause trouble for the governments in Dushanbe or Bishkek.

Armenia and Azerbaijan 

Although Armenia has no Russian population to speak of, and Azerbaijan has just 1%, both countries tread a geopolitical tightrope between Russia and the West.  Furthermore, since Aremenia gained its independence in 1991, Russia has retained a military base at Gyumri.

As was the case in Ukraine, Armenia had been preparing to sign an association agreement with the EU, however in September 2013, officials in the country announced that Armenia would be joining the Russian-led customs union instead.

Azerbaijan on the other hand is less economically dependent on Russia as it exports oil and natural gas to the EU.  A pipeline that ends in Turkey effectively allows it to skirt Russian territory.

Russia would like to keep both countries in its sphere of influence, however in the case of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia is more likely to use economic, as opposed to military, measures.

Poland and the Baltics

Outside of Russia’s direct neighbours, countries such as Poland and those in the Baltics have also caused unease, with a sense that they too are under threat.


Although leaders in Poland have played down the danger, repeatedly reassuring the public, there remains a widespread sense of insecurity throughout the country.

While during an event to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Poland joining NATO, Prime Minister Donald Tusk stated that he saw no direct threat to his country, a view that has been echoed by Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski, an opinion poll has shown that 59% of respondents believed Russia’s foreign policy presented a threat to Poland’s security.  Some have stated that they “…feel threatened by Russia because we’re next.  Ukraine is first, then the Baltic countries and then Russia’s President Putin will make something bad here.”  These fears have been echoed across the country, with one resident stating “now they want to attack Ukraine but we are neighbours so I don’t think Poland is safe, especially because we have a shred history with Russia, and they were always aggressors.”  While these remarks to not directly indicate that most Poles fear that Russia is about to launch a military attack on the, their shared history however has generated a widespread mistrust of Russia and its leadership.

During the 18th century Catherine the Great annexed eastern Poland, with the country not regaining its independence until the end of World War One.  However after just two decades of freedom, the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland just two weeks after Nazi Germany marched into western Poland in 1939.  While the Red Army liberated Poland from the Nazis in 1945, this liberation was seen by many as a simple transfer of power, from one enemy to the next.  Upon removing Nazi troops out of Poland, Joseph Stalin quickly installed a Soviet-backed communist system throughout the country, with the last Soviet troops leaving Poland in 1993.

According to Marcin Zaborowski, director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, “…there is a sense that certain boundaries have been crossed, that precedents have been created and because of that its not clear where Putin is going to stop,” adding that “this clearly unprovoked aggression against another state is in breach of international law.  It doesn’t seem wise to hang on to the belief Putin’s not going to go further.”

Poland’s growing insecurity however is not solely tied to the country, but is also shared by the Baltic countries, which were also incorporated into the Soviet Union after World War Two.

Baltic States

Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite warned last week that Russia was trying to redraw the post-war map of Europe, adding that while Ukraine is likely to be the next on Putin’s list, Moldova, the Baltics and Poland would be next.

Estonia and Latvia both have large Russian minorities, which is of concern considering Putin’s justification for occupying Crimea has been to protect ethnic Russians there.

Military Boost 

In response of growing fears of a possible Russian takeover of Poland and/or the Baltics, the United States has announced that it is increasing its military cooperation with Poland and the Baltic states.  Officials have indicated that the US is sending six more F-15 fighters and a KC-135 refuelling tanker to increase its support for NATO’s patrolling of Baltic airspace.

In Poland, about 300 US air force personnel and 12 US F-16 fighters will be deployed for a joint training exercise.  This is a significant boost to the 10 US airmen who are already stationed in the country.  However the United States response will not solely focus on military aspects, but will also concentrate on the energy issue, which has developed out of the Ukrainian crisis.  According to sources in Poland, “our prime minister and president have said we have to work more intensely towards energy independence.  Energy is vital because the threat is not just of a military nature, its also about turning the gas taps off.”  Poland has already experienced this switch-off as much of Russia’s gas supplies to Europe transit Ukraine while on its way West.  In 2009, a price dispute between the Ukraine and Russia halted supplies to many European countries.

Despite the 2009 issue, Poland and the Baltic countries remained dependent on Russian gas supplies, with Poland last year importing 60% of the gas consumed by industry and households from Russian gas company Gazprom.  According to Poland’s Prime Minister Tusk, Central and Eastern Europe’s dependence on Russian gas effectively gave Putin too much leverage.  However after years of stating that it should liberate itself from independence of Russia’s gas supplies, and not doing much about it, Poland is now diversifying its gas sources.

By the end of this year, Poland is set to complete construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal to import gas from Qatar.  It has also increased the capacity of interconnector pipelines with German and the Czech Republic in order to boost supplies from those markets.  Poland also hopes to start producing its own shale gas in the future.

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