Medvedev in Warsaw to reinforce ties with Poland, EU

4th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The arrival Monday of Dmitry Medvedev in Poland for the first state visit by a Russian president in nine years signals a warming in often difficult bilateral ties and Warsaw's increasing role in EU-Russia relations.

The two-day visit comes eight months after the April 10 air disaster in Smolensk, western Russia, in which Polish president Lech Kaczynski was among 96 Poles killed en route to Katyn for memorial ceremonies for 22,000 Polish officers murdered in 1940 on orders of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

"There is an effort at reconciliation, which in my view, goes beyond words" and "has been accelerated by the Smolensk tragedy," says Thomas Gomart, an expert on Russia at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI).

A country of 38 million, Poland has become the most powerful among the former satellites of the Soviet Union and "is becoming a pillar in the relationship between Europe and Russia, just like Berlin, Paris and Rome," Gomart believes.

Cooperation "will be a long road, a long march, but we are starting strong, strengthened by the support of the European Union and NATO and by Poland's good economic situation," Poland's liberal President Bronislaw Komorowski said Friday in a televised national address.

Medvedev took a symbolic step on the path to reconciliation in April when he braved a volcanic ash cloud to fly to Kaczynski's funeral in Krakow, southern Poland, as almost all Western leaders cancelled.

Ahead of the Russian president's Monday visit, the Russian State Duma lower house of parliament admitted the Katyn massacre had been ordered by Stalin. The resolution broke more than half a century of official reluctance to admit that the Soviet leadership under Stalin ordered the killing of thousands of Polish officers in 1940.

Moscow also issued new documents Friday on the massacre.

For decades, the Soviet Union falsely blamed Nazi Germany for the crime. It was not until 1990 that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged Soviet responsibility.

A gradual warming of relations between Warsaw and Moscow has particularly been evident since Poland's pragmatic, liberal Prime Minister Donald Tusk took office in late 2007.

"The reset in Polish-Russian relations is not limited to Poland, but is also part of Russian foreign policy at the European and even global level," says Marek Menkiszak, head of the Russian department of the Polish Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW).

The effects of the global economic crisis on Russia have shown up the shortcomings of its "anachronistic business model based on the export of raw materials" and seen Moscow make conciliatory gestures towards the EU since mid-2009, says Jaroslaw Cwiek-Karpowicz, a research fellow at the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM).

There is also "a more and more openly expressed fear in Russia of being sucked up by an increasingly powerful China," Gomart observes.

Modernizing the economy is a central theme of the Monday visit. An accord on joint projects in the high tech sector is to be inked as are agreements on maritime transport, combating pollution in the Baltic Sea and co-operation between national prosecutors' offices.

"Poland is perceived in Russia as an influential member of NATO and the EU and we would very much like our Polish friends to use their potential to contribute to the rapprochement of Russia with these organizations," Russia's ambassador to Warsaw, Alexander Alexeev, said Thursday.

"We would wish of course for the same kind of not just normalization but reconciliation that we've had with Germany," Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told journalists Friday in Warsaw.

"But you should remember that in that relationship it's mainly because the Germans have changed, have become fully democratic and have become an ally and a friend and we hope the same will happen with Russia," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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