Poland–Russia relations

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Poland–Russia relations
Map indicating locations of Poland and Russia



Poland–Russia relations have a long history, dating to the late Middle Ages, when the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Muscovy struggled over control of their borderlands. Over centuries, there have been several Polish-Russian wars, with Poland once occupying Moscow and later Russians controlling much of Poland in the 19th century as well as in the 20th century. Polish-Russian relations have entered a new phase since the fall of communism in both countries around 1989–1993. Since then Polish-Russian relations have seen both improvement and deterioration, depending on various factors.

According to a 2013 BBC World Service poll, 19% of Poles view Russia's influence positively, with 49% expressing a negative view.[1]


Muscovy and Russian Empire[edit]

Relations between Poland and Russia (Muscovy) have been tense from the beginning, as the increasingly desperate Grand Duchy of Lithuania involved the Kingdom of Poland into its war with Muscovy around 16th century.[2] As Polish historian Andrzej Nowak wrote, while there were occasional contacts between Poles and Russians before that, it was the Polish union with Lithuania which brought pro-Western Catholic Poland and Orthodox Russia into a real, constant relation with both states engaged in "the contest for the political, strategic and civilizational preponderance in Central and Eastern Europe".[2] While there were occasional attempts to create an alliance between the new Polish–Lithuanian state and the Muscovy (including several attempts to elect the Muscovite tsars to the Polish throne and create the Polish–Lithuanian–Muscovite Commonwealth), they all failed.[2] Instead, several wars occurred. Notably, during the Polish–Muscovite War (1605–18), Polish forces took Moscow[2] – an event that would become one of the many defining moments of the future Polish–Russian relations.[2][3][4] Muscovy, now transforming into the Russian Empire, was able to take advantage of the weakening Commonwealth, taking over disputed territories and moving its borders westwards in the aftermath of the Russo-Polish War (1654–67).[2] By the beginning of the 18th century, with the deterioration of the Commonwealth political system (Golden Liberty) into anarchy, Russians were able to intervene in internal Polish affairs at will, politically and militarily, see (Silent Sejm, War of the Polish Succession).[2] Around the mid-18th century, the influence of ambassadors and envoys from Russia to Poland, could be compared to those of colonial viceroys[5] and the Commonwealth was seen by Russians as a form of protectorate.[2][6][7] With the failure of the Bar Confederation, opposing the Russian influence, the First Partition took place in 1772; by 1795 three partitions of Poland erased Poland from the map.[2] As Nowak remarked, "a new justification for Russian colonialism gathered strength from the Enlightenment": Poland was portrayed by Russians as an anarchic, dangerous country: its Catholic and democratic ideas had to be suppressed by the more enlightened neighbors."[2]

Over the next 123 years, a large part of Polish population and former territory would be subject to the rule of the Russian Empire.[2] Several uprisings (most notably, the November Uprising and the January Uprising) would take place, attempting to regain Polish independence and stop the Russification and similar policies, aimed at removal of any traces of former Polish rule or Polish cultural influence, however only in the aftermath of the First World War would Poland regain independence (as the Second Polish Republic).[2]

Soviet Union[edit]

Immediately after regaining independence in 1918, Poland was faced with a war with the new Bolshevik Russia, with the Polish–Soviet War eventually ending up with a Polish victory at Warsaw, spoiling Lenin's plans of sending his Red Army west to spread the communist revolution.[2] For the next two decades, Poland was seen by the Soviet Union as an enemy; eventually a secret agreement with Nazi Germany allowed the Soviet Union to successfully invade and destroy the Second Republic in 1939.[2] The following years of Soviet repressions of Polish citizens, especially the brutal mass murder in 1940, known as the Katyn massacre, of more than 20,000 Polish officers and its subsequent Soviet denial for 50 years, became additional events with lasting repercussions on the Polish–Russian relations.[2][4]

In 1944 the Polish Home Army timed their capital's uprising to coincide with the approaching Red Army on the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces. However, the Red Army stopped at the city limits and remained inactive there for several weeks. Similarly, the Soviet Union did not allow its Western Allies to use its nearby airports for airdrops into Warsaw for several weeks. This allowed the German forces to regroup and demolish the city while defeating the Polish resistance and causing between 150,000 and 200,000 civilian deaths. The tragic circumstances under which Poland's capital was liberated further strained the Polish–Russian relations.

After the Second World War and with the Allies' permission during the Yalta Conference, the Soviet Union whose Eastern front rolled up Nazi Germany from the East ended up in control of the Polish territory. Joseph Stalin decided to create a communist, Soviet allied Polish state subservient to him, the People's Republic of Poland.[2] Thus Poland forcibly became part of the Eastern Bloc, as the People's Republic of Poland. Soviet control over Poland lessened after Stalin's death and Gomułka's Thaw, and ceased completely after the fall of the communist government in Poland in late 1989, although the Soviet Northern Group of Forces did not leave Polish soil until 1993.


President of Russia and Prime Minister of Poland Leszek Miller in 2002

Modern Polish–Russian relations begin with the fall of communism – 1989 in Poland (Solidarity and the Polish Round Table Agreement) and 1991 in Russia (dissolution of the Soviet Union). With a new democratic government after the 1989 elections, Poland regained full sovereignty,[2] and what was the USSR became 15 newly independent states, including the Russian Federation.

Relations between modern Poland and Russia suffer from constant ups and downs.[4] Among the constantly revisited issues is the fact that Poland has moved away from the Russian sphere of influence (joining NATO and the European Union)[2][3] and pursuing an independent politic, including establishing a significant relations with post-Soviet states;[3] for example, Polish support for the pro-democratic Orange Revolution in 2004 in Ukraine has resulted in a temporary crisis in the Polish–Russian relations.[3] Occasionally, relations will worsen due to remembrance of uneasy historical events and anniversaries, such as when Polish politicians bring up the issue of Russia apologizing for the '39 invasion, the Katyn massacre. (Many Polish citizens and politicians see as genocide, but Russian officials refer to it as a war crime rather than a genocide[3][4]) or for the ensuing decades of Soviet occupation;[3] in turn Russians criticize Poles' perceived lack of thankfulness for liberation from Nazi occupation (despite later being taken into Soviet occupation).[4] During the 1990s, assistance granted by Polish government and civilian agencies to members of the Chechen separatist movement had been met with criticism by Russian authorities.[8]

In 2009, there had been controversy over the Russian government and state media publishing claims that Nazi Germany, the Empire of Japan and the Second Polish Republic had allied or intended to ally against the Soviet Union before the Second World War.[9][10][11] These claims were denounced by Polish politicians and diplomats as an attempt at historical revision.[12][13][14] Other issues important in the recent Polish–Russian relations include the establishment of visas for Russian citizens,[4] US plans for an anti-missile site in Poland,[15] the Nord Stream pipeline[3][15] (Poland, which imports over 90 percent of oil and 60 percent of gas from Russia,[16] continues to be concerned about its energy security which the pipeline threatens to undermine), Polish influence on the EU-Russian relations[3][15] and various economic issues (ex. Russian ban on Polish food imports[16]).[15] Since the fall of the Soviet Union, with Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus regaining independence, Polish–Russian border has mostly been replaced by borders with the respective countries, but there still is a 210 km long border between Poland and the Russian Kaliningrad exclave.[17]

Dmitry Medvedev in Poland – meeting with Donald Tusk

2010 plane crash[edit]

The BBC reported that one of the main effects of the 2010 Polish Air Force Tu-154 crash would be the impact it has on Russian-Polish relations.[18] It is thought if the inquiry into the crash is not transparent, it will increase suspicions toward Russia in Poland.[18]

The Wall Street Journal states that the result of the joint declaration by the PM's Vladimir Putin and Donald Tusk on Katyn on the verge of the crash, and the aftermath Russia's response has united the two nations, and presents a unique opportunity at a fresh start, ending centuries long rivalry and confrontation.[19]

2014 plane crash[edit]

Following the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, the Polish government on July 24 cancelled the "Polish Year in Russia" and "Russian Year in Poland" that were planned for 2015.[20][21]

Ukraine revolution aftermath[edit]

Poland has repeatedly requested additional permanent deployment of NATO military assets to Poland following Russia's annexation of Crimea and subsequent support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.[22] Poland has been a staunch supporter of tougher sanctions by the EU against Russia in response to these events.[citation needed] Poland's continued support of the new Ukrainian government and criticism of Russian interference has angered Russia and increased tensions between both countries.[citation needed]

On July 30, 2014, Russia banned import of Polish fruit and vegetables amid the Ukraine sanctions war. Russia's food hygiene authorities said the imports had unacceptable levels of pesticide residues and nitrates. They earn Poland more than 1bn euros (£795m; $1.3bn) annually. Russia is Poland's biggest market for apples. The move follows EU sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. [23]

Russian intelligence and influence operations in Poland[edit]

The 1997 textbook Foundations of Geopolitics by a Russian controversial sociologist and philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, among other things, dwells upon the Eurasianism, and within Dugin's plans, Poland (like Latvia and Lithuania) would have a "special status" within the Eurasian-Russian sphere of influence.[24]

In 1996, Poland's Prime Minister Józef Oleksy resigned because of his links to SVR agent Vladimir Alganov.[25] In 2004 Polish intelligence recorded SVR agent Vladimir Alganov talking about bribery of top Polish politicians.[26][27]

Russian military exercises have practiced attack against Poland. Exercise Zapad in September 2009 practiced a simulated nuclear attack against Poland, suppression of an uprising by a Polish minority in Belarus, and many operations of an offensive nature.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 2013 World Service Poll, BBC
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Andrzej Nowak, The Russo-Polish Historical Confrontation, Sarmatian Review, January 1997 Issue
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Richard Bernstein, After Centuries of Enmity, Relations Between Poland and Russia Are as Bad as Ever, New York Times, July 3, 2005
  4. ^ a b c d e f Peter Cheremushkin, "Russian-Polish relations: A long way from stereotype to reconciliation", Intermarium, vol. 5, no. 3. (2003), School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
  5. ^ Hamish M. Scott, The Emergence of the Eastern Powers, 1756–1775, Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-521-79269-X, [1] Google Print, p.249]
  6. ^ Jerzy Lukowski, Hubert Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-521-55917-0, Google Print, p.84
  7. ^ Hamish M. Scott, The Emergence of the Eastern Powers, 1756–1775, Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-521-79269-X, Gooble Print, p.181-182
  8. ^ The Garden Times, Associated Press, "Information center a thorn in Polish-Russian relations", 31 May 1995.
  9. ^ Brisbane Times, Traynor, I., and Harding, L., "Remembrance of things past puts Russia at odds", 3 September 2009.
  10. ^ "Польша обиделась на телеканал «Россия» (Poland offended by the Rossiya channel)", Infox.ru, 24 June 2009, (Russian)
  11. ^ "Poland accuses Russian TV channel of rewriting history", Russia Today, 26 June 2009.
  12. ^ Euranet, "Russian TV accuses Poland of secret Nazi pact", 24 August 2009
  13. ^ Harding, Luke. The Guardian, "Fury as Russia presents 'evidence' Poland sided with Nazis before war" 1 September 2009. [2]
  14. ^ Brisbane Times, Traynor, I., and Harding, L., "Survivor denounced pact as blaming the victim", 3 September 2009 [3]
  15. ^ a b c d Breaking the Ice?, Warsaw Voice, 20 February 2008
  16. ^ a b Adam Grzeszak, Polish-Russian Relations: Bones of Contention Piling Up, Polityka, 2006
  17. ^ (Polish) Informacje o Polsce – informacje ogólne. Page gives Polish PWN Encyklopedia as reference.
  18. ^ a b Looking beyond Poland's "unprecedented disaster", BBC News, April 12, 2010.
  19. ^ "Poles and Russians unite", The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2010.
  20. ^ Polish Year in Russia cancelled following MH17 catastrophe, Thenews.pl, July 24, 2014.
  21. ^ Poland Cancels Year of Bilateral Celebration With Russia Over Ukraine, The Moscow Times, July 24, 2014.
  22. ^ "Ukraine crisis: Poland asks Nato to station 10,000 troops on its territory", The Telegraph, April 1, 2014.
  23. ^ Russia bans Polish fruit and veg amid sanctions war, BBC News, August 1, 2014.
  24. ^ John B. Dunlop (August 2003). "Aleksandr Dugin's Foundations of Geopolitics" (PDF). Princeton University. 
  25. ^ "Polish PM forced to resign over links with KGB man". The Independent (London). 25 January 1996. Retrieved 2009-10-17. 
  26. ^ Barnett, Neil (8 January 2006). "From Poland to Hungary, Gazprom takes stealth route to domination". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2009-10-17. 
  27. ^ Fleishman, Jeffrey (2004-12-05). "Oil scandal rocks Polish leadership – Some fear Moscow gaining influence". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-10-17. 
  28. ^ "Intel Brief: Poland On Edge Over Russian Drills". ISN ETH Zurich. 18 Nov 2009. 

External links[edit]

  • Dabrowski, Patrice M. "Russian–Polish Relations Revisited, or The ABC's of 'Treason' under Tsarist Rule", Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History – Volume 4, Number 1, Winter 2003, pp. 177–199 muse
  • Goldman, Minton F., "Polish–Russian relations and the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections", East European Quarterly, 22 December 2006
  • Oscar Halecki, "Polish–Russian Relations: Past and Present", The Review of Politics, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Jul., 1943), pp. 322–338, JSTOR
  • Library of Congress, On Polish–Soviet relations in the early 1990s
  • Lubecki, J. "In the Shadow of the Bear: Polish–Russian Relations 1999–2005" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois. 2008-05-08 allacademic
  • Cornelius Ochmann, Alexey Ignatiev, Petr Shopin, "Polish–Russian Relations", Koszalin Institute of Comparative European Studies, working paper
  • Unge et al., Polish–Russian Relations in an Eastern Dimension Context
  • Harding, Luke, The Guardian. 2009-09-01 [4]