PLAYING WITH MATCHES
Wiesława Lewandowska talks with prof. Romuald Szeremietiew about a possible respond to the endangered safety of Poland
WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: – For all years after the cold war ended, in Poland there was a state of bliss in the issue of national safety – especially after its joining the NATO and EU – and not earlier than after a few years, particularly after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, did there appear a kind of anxiety. We are going to face up other strong maneuvers of the Russian army in Belarus, just behind the border of Poland. Is it only a routine ‘war game’ – as some experts want to see it – or is it Russia which has been pursuing the so-called hybrid, informative war for a long time, aiming at real aggression?
PROF. ROMUALD SZEREMIETIEW: Unfortunately, all this which is happening, is realistic, is not illusion and may lead to the outbreak of a war in Europe. We must ask ourselves the questions: what consequences of such and such pursued policy? What does the policy pursued by Russia today mean? The answer seems obvious – Russia would like to be a powerful country again deciding about the fate of the world.
– And has it got real chances for it?
– It mainly depends on how strong the position of Russia will get in the global dimension. In Kremlin a lot of jealousy is expressed towards the United States that it has spheres of strong influences in various parts of the world and even that it can use military force to settle various conflicts according to its own interests. Moreover, Kremlin would like to have a part of the earth in its reign so that it could build relations with the United States from the position of the powerful country.
– Władimir Putin could see that it was not enough for Russia to want, although it may be dangerous for various nations…
– Surely, in Moscow there is awareness that it is impossible to regain everything which belonged to the Soviet Union. Assets owned by Russia to carry out exhumation are vain today, but as the Russians say: ‘stremitsia nada’ – one must make efforts. Traditionally Kremlin has got ‘atomic pills’, and beside that, the only element of force it has, is in the international relations are resources of gas and oil. Russia is also trying to rebuild military power, and it has recently begun to frighten the world that the power of its army is comparable with what Stalin had.
– Is it really? In the Soviet Union expenditures on the army were 70 per cent of the national budget.
– Reinforcement costs at the times of the USSR were enormous and in this way economy was ruined. Now Russia does not intend to spend so much on the army. Experts think that Russia spends 5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product on military forces, that is less in per cent than at the times of Stalin but much more than, for example, Poland, with its 2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. Russia increased expenditures on reinforcement, but it still has a long way to the military position of the USSR. So, Russian boasts about the power of the army is, in fact, a propaganda.
– So, is it getting prepared for a military expansion or is it only older?
– The danger is that pursuing a foreign policy with the usage of force – and Russia has been behaving so for some time – by introducing a military factor as the main argument of this policy, Russia brings about a situation when we are dealing with something more than just frightening…
– There is a war in eastern Ukraine….
– Not only that. I mean such a continuous military maneuvers for which nobody from outside is invited to observe. Manipulating military force, Russia probably expects that it can, maybe even accidentally, cause a military conflict in a larger extent. Kremlin is behaving like a boy with matches, who is having fun with burning them, till he may set fire to a house…
– This ‘house’ has already been on fire in Ukraine…. And what about the next one?
– This ‘house’ is peace in Europe. In Ukraine, than ever before, ‘a few matches are burning’, but it has not caused a fire in Europe yet. Unfortunately, we are going to face up this fire. Now we have a question about the future of Belarus. The situation is becoming very serious in relation to the Russian practices of armies ‘Zapad 2017’ which are going to be held there.
– Can we fear that the Russians will stay there longer?
– Indeed, there appear suspicions that the Russian maneuvers may be an occasion to change the authority in Belarus. President Łukaszenka, not trustworthy enough towards Putin, will be changed into a Russian governor, with the assistance of the Russian armies. If Belarus becomes something like a gubernatorial of the Russian Federation, then there will appear an issue of independence of the Baltic countries.
– May the presence of NATO in this region not have sufficient frightening power?
– We are still asking ourselves the question whether and to what extent NATO will maintain the inner cohesion and will be determined in preventing any attempts from Russia in the ‘pri-baltic’ region. Among western countries there appear opinions that it will be impossible to defend the Baltic countries.
– So, may this ‘harmless’ scaring from one side and ‘effective’ – as we are comforting ourselves – deterrence from the other one – cause a war?
– Not cause a war so much, but it may not prevent it. In today’s global reality there are a lot of contradictions whose solving may lead to the outbreak of a great war. I do not say that Russia wants to cause such a war in Europe but here it has just begun its ‘play with matches’…
– ‘Zapad 2017’ in Belarus may be one of those dangerous plays?
– From the point of view of safety of Poland, Belarus is an important operational point. It is the place from which Russia has always attacked out territory- attack on Warsaw from this direction had been done a lot of times, for example, beginning with the November Uprising 1830 and finishing with the war in 1920. Now there are suspicions that Russia, wanting to conquer the Baltic countries, would try to separate these countries from Poland earlier (we have the border with Lithuania).
– How can it do it?
– It is said that in the plans of the Russians there is getting possession of the so-called Suwalski isthmus, that is, creating a corridor between Belarus subordinated to Russia and Kaliningrad oblast, which would result in a situation in which Poland, not having a direct operational contact with the Baltic countries, would not have a possibility of their military support, the Russians could easily take possession of them. However, Poland would have to be passive. In order to make it do it, Russia may threaten with using force.
– What force particularly?
– In my opinion, to achieve this purpose, allocating powerful military forces is to be used in the region of Kaliningrad; the Russians placed a set of racket systems there, used to attack targets on the land, sea and in air – targets which are on the area of Poland. being endangered so, and with its current state of its air defence, Poland would not cope with it and our intervention in defence of the Baltic countries would be difficult to imagine.
– So, maybe those are right who assume that in a further perspective of the Baltic countries it is not possible to defend oneself from Russia?
– As I mentioned such opinions are appearing in the West suddenly. It might really happen, if NATO resigned from defending Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. As long as NATO maintains its coherence, Russia will not dare to conquer these countries.
– However, Russia does not lose hope and hopes for incoherence of the West. In the maneuvers of ‘Zapad 2009’ a scenario of conquering the territory of Poland was practiced, while Western allies are not helping…. And now we can see the real presence of NATO in Poland; is it so significant that we can stop being frightened if anything?
– Today this presence prevents Russia, but it does not influence the change of long-term plans of Kremlin. We can be certain about our safety, as long as the Atlantic Alliance maintains its coherence, which has not been so certain recently, after the elections of the president in the USA. Concerns about the direction of the policy of Donald Trump were not confirmed. It does not seem that he would like to give way to Russia. However, we should not forget that the issue of safety in our region is still dependent on what policy the United States will be pursuing. What the president of the USA thinks as compatible with the American interest, and what consequence for our safety will result from it.
– But now the very presence of even a few dozen American soldiers gives us confidence and we feel safe… Too naive, as usually?
– Morales of the society which is not afraid of dangers, is an important thing. Whereas, there is a difference between reactions of people who are glad that NATO armies have finally got to our territory and what our reasonable evaluation of politicians’ situation should be when they are responsible for national safety. They are not only to welcome American soldiers joyfully, but also consider the fact that their presence in Poland may be a transitory state. In September the president of the USA will have to make a decision about further financing the stay of American armies in our region. About 4 milliard dollars will have to be spent on it. President Obama assigned this amount of money, now president Trump is to do the same.
– What if he does not assign it?
– Then there will not be American armies in Poland, and Poland will be in a difficult situation.
– Should only Poland be afraid of Russia? Don’t western countries have to be afraid?
– The West is hardly aware of the Russian endanger. If one looks into the history of relations between Russia and countries of Western Europe, it is seen that history repeats; what is unchangeable is hope on the side of the West that Russia will be a useful partner when an enemy appears. It was so recently in the years of the Second World War. Now the Europeans think that Russia can be an ally in a fight with the Islamists. Whereas it is not all about the fact that the Russian armies will get to Paris, like at the times of Napoleon, but danger is that Russia will cause a war comprising European countries, especially Poland.
– Anyway – Professor has repeated it for a long time – we should take care of our own safety more, that is, mainly recognized the state of danger well and create suitable military solutions. Do we have this good way of recognizing the danger?
– In my opinion, the very recognizing – more intuitive than deep investigation, which we have had in Poland for a long time – is too little now. Now we should have a prepared answer to the question what particularly we will do if something bad happens….I have been raising the issue for a long time, which has always seemed obvious to me, that we should have our own Polish way to defend our country, but not in a sense that we will have some racket ‘tusks’ which we will throw at an enemy.
– So, how could we defend ourselves effectively?
– I mean such a way of defending our country which will convince a potential enemy that he will not manage to subordinate or conquer us. This is possible! In Poland the authority has been changed a political camp which had been neglecting defence issues has been removed. There appeared a chance for a far-going, necessary change of the Polish doctrine and defensive strategy, for a change of military forces, suitable to needs. There is only a question: is this change taking place not only quickly but also in as good way as possible, respond to issues of defence and will provide Poland with safety?
– How does Professor evaluate this aiming at providing safety of the country at present – also this particularly needed ‘ defensive self-sufficiency’ – against a possible aggression of the enemy?
– This is surely the most difficult ‘good change’ to carry out in politics, among the ones announced by the prime minister. Therefore, I would not like to evaluate particular steps of the National Defence Ministry. I am only worried by a kind of chaotic behavior. Reforming this area is like building a house on a plot overgrown with weeds, on which there are still old buildings, fundaments….There is a need of a good architect, a professional building engineer, but first the owner should know what he wants and what he can afford, building a new house. If the house is to be built quickly, the owner cannot get involved in removing the weeds too much. As for the issue of building a defensive system in Poland, we are in a situation in which we are more engaged in removing the weeds, rather than in an idea how to build such a house.