|Poland Table of Contents
The geopolitical realities of postwar Europe allowed Poland little room to maneuver in foreign policy. Until the late 1980s, the ever present threat of Soviet intervention kept Poland a compliant member of the Warsaw Pact. In fact, Jaruzelski maintained that the decision to impose martial law in December 1981 was taken to preempt a Soviet invasion. Such an invasion would have been consistent with the Brezhnev Doctrine, which justified military intervention in any Warsaw Pact member where socialism was threatened. In early 1992, Jaruzelski's claim received corroboration when a high official in the former Red Army revealed the Soviet Union's plan to invade Poland at the end of 1981 under precisely that pretext.
In the late 1980s, the Brezhnev Doctrine was suspended when Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev enunciated a new world view, which he called "new thinking." For the first time in the postwar era, the Soviet Union acknowledged the right of its East European neighbors to pursue their own paths of social and economic development. Thus, Moscow reluctantly accepted Poland's 1989 Round Table Agreement, the defeat of the communists in Poland's first open parliamentary elections, and the ensuing installation of a noncommunist government as beyond its legitimate concern.
As the first postcommunist leadership of Poland, the Mazowiecki government approached its relationship with the Soviet Union with cautious resolve, reassuring Moscow that Poland would fulfill its obligations as a member of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. Nevertheless, Poland soon demonstrated its determination to transform these Soviet-dominated military and economic alliances into consultative bodies respecting the sovereignty of all member countries. Foreign Minister Skubiszewski guided foreign affairs skillfully through this delicate period, as the Warsaw Pact, Comecon, and the Soviet Union itself disintegrated.
Among the difficult issues the new government confronted in redefining its relationship with the Soviet Union were the presence of some 58,000 Soviet troops on Polish territory; the future role of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon; new terms of bilateral trade; the plight of more than 1 million ethnic Poles living on Soviet territory; clarification of the "blank spots" in the history of Soviet-Polish relations; and the Polish relationship to Soviet republics seeking independence.
Skubiszewski handled the issue of Soviet troop withdrawal delicately. In negotiating with Moscow, the government faced accusations of timidity from presidential candidate Walesa on the one hand and the risk of antagonizing Moscow and strengthening the position of Kremlin hardliners on the other. Walesa and some of the center-right parties believed the Mazowiecki government was moving too cautiously on the issue. But Mazowiecki viewed Warsaw Pact forces as a counterbalance to a reunited, possibly expansionist Germany. In September 1990, Mazowiecki yielded to domestic pressure by demanding negotiations on the withdrawal of Soviet forces and cleanup of the extensive environmental damage they had caused. By the end of 1990, the Polish side was pushing Moscow to remove all its forces within one year.
Postcommunist Poland's trade relationship with the Soviet Union also presented a complex problem. Moscow was Poland's most important trading partner, the source of nearly all its imported oil and gas, and the market for 70 percent of its industrial exports. Poland had benefited from the comfortable if inefficient Comecon trading arrangements of administered prices denominated in transferable rubles. Although the impending end of Comecon clearly signaled the need for drastic reorientation of trade policy, in 1990 no source could replace rapidly the fundamental supplies available from the old system. Thus, Moscow retained its economic influence on Polish foreign policy despite Gorbachev's pledges to respect Polish sovereignty.
Yet another obstacle to normalized relations was the legacy of Stalin's crimes against the Polish people in World War II and the plight of Polish nationals who remained in Soviet territory after the war. In April 1990, Gorbachev finally acknowledged Soviet culpability in the massacre of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest, which until that time the Soviets had attributed to the German army despite widespread knowledge of the true situation. Indeed, early in 1989 the Jaruzelski government had declared that Stalin's secret police, not the German army, had committed the atrocities. Gorbachev's action in 1990 did not placate Poland. The Polish government continued to demand information on critical "blank spots" in the history of the World War II era, notably the fate of Poles whom Stalin exiled to Siberia and Central Asia.
In 1990 and 1991, the Bielecki government continued Mazowiecki's policy toward Moscow. The withdrawal of Soviet forces, the interruption of oil and gas deliveries, and the collapse of the Soviet market for Polish exports dominated bilateral relations during Bielecki's tenure. Moscow's decision to shift to hard-currency trade at world prices as of January 1, 1992 had painful consequences for Poland. In response to severe disruption of its export market, fuel delivery, and domestic employment, Warsaw established ad hoc barter arrangements with the Soviet Union and individual neighboring republics.
Meanwhile, on the security front, the Soviets pressured Poland and other members of the dying Warsaw Pact to sign new bilateral treaties giving Moscow the right to veto entry into alliances inimical to Soviet interests. Among the East European nations formerly in the Soviet sphere, however, only Romania yielded to Moscow's pressure. Poland refused to surrender its sovereign right to choose allies. After a failed attempt by hardliners to take over the Soviet government in August 1991, Moscow dropped its demand, and bilateral negotiations proceeded more smoothly.
The coup attempt in the Soviet Union placed Warsaw in a precarious situation and emphasized the real possibility that Soviet hegemony would return to Eastern Europe if reactionaries overthrew Gorbachev. For Warsaw such a scenario was quite plausible because substantial Soviet forces remained in Poland and the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) at the time of the coup, and no bilateral treaty guaranteed withdrawal. Although Walesa's official statements during the crisis affirmed Poland's sovereignty and commitment to democracy, later rumors suggested that he had considered recognizing the Moscow junta.
Galvanized by the coup events, Poland pressed the Soviet Union for a withdrawal timetable. In October 1991, the countries initialed a treaty providing for the removal of all combat troops by November 15, 1992, leaving only 6,000 support personnel by the beginning of 1993. Signature of a final treaty, however, was delayed by disagreement on compensation details. Moscow claimed compensation for fixed assets left in Poland, while Warsaw demanded compensation for damage done to its environment and infrastructure by the basing and transport of Soviet troops and equipment. Walesa and Russian president Boris Yeltsin signed the final accords in May 1992.
The presidents also signed several other bilateral agreements on that occasion. The most important was a new cooperation treaty to replace the Polish-Soviet friendship treaty of 1965. The breakthrough on the new treaty had come soon after the failed August coup, which dramatically changed the relationship among the republics of the Soviet Union. Moscow conceded to Poland the right to pursue its own security relationships and to deal directly with individual republics. During his Moscow visit, Walesa announced the beginning of a new chapter in Polish-Russian relations; in return, Yeltsin expressed hope for mutual understanding and partnership in future relations.
Walesa's visit to Moscow also yielded a Polish-Russian consular convention; a declaration on cultural, scientific, and educational cooperation; a provisional settlement of the issue of double taxation; and an agreement on border crossing points. The presidents issued a joint statement condemning the crimes of Stalinism against both the Polish and Russian peoples and pledging to base bilateral relations on the principles of international law, democracy, and the observance of human rights.
More about the Government of Poland.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress