Reports of Polish, Czech and Slovakian special services in recent years have been mentioning Russia’s involvement in efforts to pit Eastern Europe and Old Europe against each other. National conservationist party that has come to power in Poland proclaims the same as Hungarian President Viktor Orbán – conservative values, intolerance towards refugees and euro-scepticism.
Even the first steps of the new government in Poland have been similar to those once made by Hungary – limitation of court and civil freedom. That is something Brussels opposes.
In 2014, Polish Internal Security Agency had noticed an unusually high activity of Russia security services aimed at creating a dispute between Poland and other EU and NATO member states. Russia had worked hard to help voice the rhetoric of politicians who stand in favour of euro-scepticism and anti-American policy. Russia had made sure the voices of those who oppose sanctions were heard, as reported by Nekā personīga programme.
Slovak Security Service had reported in 2014 that security services of some country were trying to gain access to institutes of central power and internal security. Czech Security Service had also reported an incredibly high concentration of Russian spies in the country. Spies were reported working in the Russian embassy and hiding among tourists, experts, scientists and businessmen.
Law and Justice right-wing party with conservative policy and a stern position against refugees had won elections in Poland last year. One of the first steps the part had made was limiting the freedom of independent state institutions. The new government has since dismissed judges of the country’s Constitutional Court. Brussels opposed these initiatives, saying that they would go against European civil values. Hungarian President Viktor Orbán, on the other hand, supports the new Polish government, saying that Budapest will not allow Europe to punish Poland. Andris Pruds, researcher of Latvian Foreign Policy Institute, believes Poland’s new course is beneficial for Russia, because it creates a conflict with Brussels.
«Considering that it is not Europe on the foreground, but Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, it is possible that this scenario and development of events in such a way is beneficial for Russia even despite the position of some of those countries in regards to certain matters. This is because it only serves to weaken the influence of the Visegrád Group in Europe as a whole,» – comments Spruds.
He believes what happened in Poland can reduce the country’s influence in the EU. It is even possible the new government may not nominate Donald Tusk for another term in the European Council. This would be an unfortunate turn of events for Latvia. Poland represents the region’s interests in Brussels, especially in the field of security.
«The country has become the region’s main lobbyist. This is also beneficial for Baltic States. In regards to deployment of military forces in the region, let’s be realistic, it is not about Baltic States. It is about Poland,» – said Spruds.
Maris Cepuritis, expert of the Eastern European Political Research Centre, believes Russia will likely use political changes in Poland not only to put a wedge between Eastern Europe and Old Europe, but also to make money. Economic interests for Russia are just as important as political support at the moment.
Cepuritis specifically points out that nationalism proclaimed by Eastern European countries creates a rich soil for all kinds of groups opposing NATO and EU. Czech Republic already has movements that oppose the deployment of NATO missile-defence systems in the country. The researcher reminds that Russian Security Services had even managed to mobilize Czech residents to gather for protests against a military convoy on the Czech border.
Russian-supported organisations are also active in Slovakia. Their objective is to convince young men not to enter military service in the event of Slovak government re-instituting mandatory military service. There are also groups that oppose the development of shale gas deposits in Poland and other countries of the region.
Pavel Reshka, a journalist of Polish Tygodnik Powszechny newspaper, is an optimist. He agrees that Russia is currently trying to influence Eastern Europe’s politics at any cost. However, he believes it is unlikely to be successful in Poland.
«I believe Russia will have to look for other roads to divide the EU. It is unlikely that such a plan will be successful with the new government, because we have just heard the deputy Foreign Minister talking in a very sharp was about Russia. In addition, Russia is an aggressor in Ukraine and a destabilizing factor in central and eastern Europe. It is a country that ruins the order of Europe and the world. Any project should be considered very carefully. This includes Nord Stream. The Foreign Minister has said Nord Stream should not be supported. Because whoever supports this project also supports and aggressor state,» – said Reshka.
Spruds believes the outcome of elections in Poland hinged on the refugee matter. The scars of WW II had inspired Polish citizens to vote the way they did. «The proud nations say – you know, the west won’t tell us how to live. That’s one thing. The other – Germans won’t be the ones to tell us how to live. We have seen less from Orbán’s side, where relations with Germany are not as sensitive. With Poland, however, relations with Germany are very sensitive and WW II left a very deep trauma that remains in the hearts of people,» – said Spruds.
Journalist Reshka agrees that the Polish government will remain rigid in its position in regards to refugees and no more of them will be accepted.