Russia's Medvedev to boost ties with Poland in key visit

6th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was due in Poland Monday for the highest-level visit in nine years, as Moscow moves to boost cooperation with its western neighbour amid fast-thawing ties.

The Kremlin is counting on breakthrough talks with Polish leaders including President Bronislaw Komorowski, after a "resetting" of relations that contrasts with a post-Soviet diplomatic chill and a spell of mistrust in the mid 2000s.

"This relaunch of Russo-Polish relations is not limited to Poland, but is indicative of Russia's foreign policy in Europe and even globally," said Marek Menkiszak, who heads the Russia department of the Centre for Eastern Studies, a Warsaw think-tank.

Medvedev's visit comes almost exactly eight months after the April 10 air crash near Smolensk, western Russia, which killed 96 Poles including then-president Lech Kaczynski, as their official jet landed for a World War II memorial ceremony.

The crash has unexpectedly contributed to a renaissance of bilateral ties.

Medvedev was one of the few European leaders to fly to Poland for Kaczynski's funeral despite the volcanic ash from an Icelandic volcano, which grounded most regular air traffic in Europe.

Over recent months, Russia has also gradually released archive documents related to the Katyn massacre, the shooting of some 22,000 captured Polish officers by the Soviet secret police ordered by Joseph Stalin in 1940.

Kaczynski had been heading to Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, which the Kremlin blamed on Nazi Germany for decades and could not be discussed in public in Poland under its post-war, pro-Soviet regime.

Moscow acknowledged responsibility in 1990 -- months after Warsaw's communist regime crumbled and a year before the Soviet Union itself collapsed -- but Katyn remained a stumbling block in relations.

Last month, however, the Russian parliament pinned the blame for Katyn on Stalin personally, in a move hailed by Poland.

Beyond history, Monday's talks will focus on economic ties.

Poland depends on Russian gas and the two countries agreed in October to boost supplies. The Russian delegation in Warsaw is set to include senior energy industry figures such as Lukoil chief Vagit Alekperov, Gazprom's Alexei Miller, and Rosatom corporation's Sergei Kiriyenko.

Besides energy cooperation, talks will touch upon military issues, which are often sensitive. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and has become a major player in the alliance as well as one of Washington's most vocal European allies.

A particularly contentious issue for Russia is a planned European missile defence shield -- pitched by Washington as needed to ward off attacks by what it dubs rogue states, chiefly Iran.

Moscow has said that a new arms race is possible unless it participates equally in the project, but its former satellite nations in eastern Europe have been wary.

Although US President Barack Obama reconsidered US plans to base anti-missile facilities in Poland last year, Russia cried foul in May when the US deployed a Patriot missile training unit -- albeit minus warheads -- at a Polish military base near the border with Russia's Kaliningrad territory.

"Poland is perceived in Russia as an influential member of NATO and the European Union and we would like very much that our Polish friends use the potential to contribute to improving ties between these organizations and Russia," Russian ambassador to Warsaw Alexander Alekseyev said last week.

Medvedev is expected to continue on to Brussels Tuesday for a Russia-EU summit. Komorowski, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet with Obama in Washington on Wednesday.

© 2010 AFP

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