By guest writer Benedek Sipocz
During the Cold War Henry Kissinger asked, “Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?“, referring to the unclear situation regarding the actual leadership of Europe. In the case of Poland, a country in Central Europe, with a history of deeply being affected by the conflicts of neighbouring great powers – such as those of Germany or Russia – the question coined by Kissinger could be reconceived. As Tim Marshall in Prisoners of Geography notes, today Poland’s question would rather be “if the Russians threaten, do we call Brussels or Washington”. The fresh interpretation of the situation stems from Poland’s geographical situation within Europe, the history of the country, as well as the size of its military power compared to that of its Eastern and Western neighbours. Poland’s military relies on external assistance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to fully defend itself. However, doubts over the triggering of Article 5 leaves Warsaw with a dilemma; calling Brussels and convincing all members of triggering the collective defence mechanism (of NATO) or calling Washington to give a hand unilaterally. The fall of the Iron Curtain and the process of turning towards the West led Poland and Germany to be in the same political bodies, namely NATO and the European Union. This ultimately ruled out an invasion from the Western border, and allowed Poland to focus resources and attention to threats from the East, and from the North in Kaliningrad.
Over the course of history, but especially over the last 300 years, the Polish nation has seen its state disappear, reappear and its borders being altered repeatedly. Overcoming the challenges caused by conflicts with neighbours, brought about a political thinking of focusing on minimizing these difficulties. History has shaped the mentality not just of the Polish nation, but also of the decision-makers who seek to prevent history from repeating itself; in other words to safeguard the security of Poland and its citizens, as well as pursuing and adapting to the contemporary challenges of the 21st century.
As with every other country in the world, historical eras and events have shaped the foreign and security policy of Poland as well. Understanding such events enables a better understanding of the actions, and decisions taken by a country. In the case of Poland, the most prominent of these are the Polish Golden Age, the Partitions, horrors of The Second World War, life behind the Iron Curtain during socialism, and the fall of the Soviet Union.
Lasting from the end of the 15th century to the middle of the 17th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was one of the largest, most powerful kingdoms in Europe. Thanks to its dynamic economy, powerful army, and huge territory, the Commonwealth’s era is often dubbed the Golden Age of Poland. The advanced production and exporting of differing products gave it significant economic growth and power. The army was advanced and was engaged in military missions within its neighbourhood. However, these missions were unsustainable; the Commonwealth’s wealth and population were declining, and conflicts amongst the nobles resulted in domestic instability. The simultaneous invasion of Sweden and Russia called the Deluge, resulted in the Commonwealth’s power, territory, and wealth being significantly reduced. From being a prosperous, large, and growing kingdom, Poland’s survival was at risk.
Reforms aimed at tackling the decline first proved successful, however, due to the internal instability were ultimately unsuccessful. As foreign troops were already inside the country, and reforms were not being able to be carried out successfully, the Polish parliament, the Sejm, agreed to the First Partition. Poland was divided up between the Habsburg Empire, Prussia, and the Russian Empire. Efforts to stabilize internal affairs proved ineffective, and as a consequence of the Polish-Russian War of 1792, where Catherine the Great invaded Poland, the Second Partition of Poland took place. As a pis aller, there was an uprising attempt to liberate the Commonwealth from foreign forces. The uprising was crushed, and the divided territories were extended, thus creating the Third Partition of Poland in 1795. Poland ceased to exist.
The once-great power of Europe only existed in people’s minds, memories, and the language they spoke for 123 years, until 1918 when Poland regained its independence. The Polish anthem, which was composed during a period when Poland physically didn’t exist reflects the mentality of the nation. The chorus which goes “Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła, kiedy my żyjemy”, translates into “Poland is not yet lost until we are alive” illustrates the optimism regarding the future, as well the patriotism of the nation. Poland could only survive the partition for more than a hundred years if Poles are proud of where they came from, thus speak the language and do what is necessary to regain independence. The feelings and thinking implemented in the anthem reflected the Pole’s attitude then, and elements such as the quest for a sovereign Poland are very much present today, both at an individual and state level. The Golden Years, the shock of disappearing, and finally reappearing again constitutes the strive for a sovereign Poland of today’s foreign policy.
Skipping ahead twenty years, the events leading up to, and during The Second World War have also affected Polish foreign and security policy. Both the Invasion of Poland and the damage caused by the war had significant impacts on Poland’s thinking. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between Germany and the Soviet Union on the 23rd of August 1939, the powers agreed not to attack each other unilaterally or with other states, as well as not to support third party states that might do so. Furthermore, in what is called the Secret Protocol of the pact, Germany and the Soviet Union divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence. In the case of Poland, the division meant the Western part of the country was in the sphere of influence of the Third Reich, whilst the Eastern was in that of the Soviet Union. A week after the signing of the pact, on the 1st of September 1939, Germany attacked Poland, and on the 17th the Soviet Union did so as well. The invasion of the two powers was concluded by October 6th, establishing a divided-up Poland under the conditions set out in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The agreement signed by the foreign ministers of the two powers in 1939, allowed Germany to invade Poland, and execute its goal in Western Europe, without having to worry about the Soviet Union and fight an Eastern war as well. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, gained time to arm itself before an eventual German invasion.
The Second World War was devastating to Poland. Besides the near-complete demolition of its capital, Warsaw, Poland also suffered significant human losses. Six million Poles died as a result of the war, out of which three million people got killed in concentration camps. Furthermore, during the ordered mass executions also known as the Katyn Massacre, more than twenty thousand members of the Polish elite were killed by the Soviet Union’s NKVD. These included military commanders, professors, government representatives, lawyers, physicians, engineers, writers, and journalists. In 1943, the Third Reich reported the discovery of mass graves in the Katyn Forest, located in Smolensk Oblast. In 1990 the Soviet Union admitted to being responsible for ordering the mass executions.
The horrors of the Second World War, and the feeling of being alone when it matters the most, Poland has sought to seek reliable allies, alliances to prevent history from repeating itself. It is because of this period – complemented by the shock of the Partitions – that NATO constitutes a major component of the Polish security policy. The mutual defensive clause of the organisation is a guarantee to Poland to the respect of its territorial integrity, a reassurance of allies having its back. The security policy of Poland, therefore, has two elements: preventing historical traumas from taking place again and being ready, responding to contemporary challenges of the 21st century.
Following the division of Europe into spheres of influence after the Second World War, Poland for the next four decades was ruled by a communist regime. Being in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, Poland had little – if any – say in its foreign or security policy. As a satellite state Poland was formally a sovereign state, however, in practice was under political, economic, and military control and influence from the Soviet Union. As a way to counter NATO, the Eastern Bloc had its own collective defence organisation, the Warsaw Pact. The membership of the organisation consisted of Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union. Besides the societal implications of the communist era, such as on average a lower trust in the state, paternalism, and being prone to believing conspiracies, the era also had future implications for the Polish foreign and security policy. On one hand, the lack of sovereignty reinforces future aspirations for a sovereign foreign policy. In 1989 with the fall of communism in Poland, the country regained independence, and as such sovereignty, and saw a process of turning towards the West. On the other hand, this very process meant Poland joined international organisations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the European Union (EU). The Central European country not only gained or strengthened crucial allies and alliances thus ensuring security, but also the opportunity to develop economically, and to set a path for a new foreign policy orientation.
THE CONTEMPORARY FOREIGN AND SECURITY POLICY OF POLAND
The more-than-ever changing world in 2022, filled with armed conflicts, an ongoing global pandemic, and increasing global migration makes for a challenging international political landscape to navigate in. The contemporary Polish foreign and security policy, therefore, besides adapting to and managing the challenges posed by the 21st century, also needs to implement the conclusions drawn from history. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland outlined three main goals for the Polish Foreign Policy Strategy. These are maintaining the security of Poland, ensuring development, and promoting a positive image of the country.
Following the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Poland had two main periods in its foreign (and security) policy. Firstly, that of a determined effort of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The effort, and later the accession meant Poland fixed its position within the transatlantic alliance, and reinstated the political relationship and alliances with the West. Secondly, that of joining the European Union, which further reinforced the political affiliation of the country, but also the success of leaving the past behind and democratizing. Besides the aforementioned organisations, Poland also joined the Council of Europe (COE), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Accordingly, the contemporary Polish foreign and security policy lies on the following foundations, with the additional emphasis on keeping them in balance; maintaining and strengthening the transatlantic relations which are embodied in the bilateral relations with the United States of America and in NATO, having a good relation with member states of the European Union in order to achieve economic growth and a coherent Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), boosting regional security cooperation, for example through the Visegrad Group, the Bucharest Nine or the Weimar Triangle, and finally, Poland’s own Eastern strategy focusing on its Eastern neighbours (Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine).
The main pillar of maintaining and strengthening the transatlantic relations is that of the continued commitment of the United States to European security. In the case of Poland, this means achieving the longstanding dream and push of having a US – or NATO – military base in the country. Polish security is primarily determined by the events and developments that occur in its immediate surroundings. Therefore, the stability of Central and Eastern Europe affects Poland’s security, where the developments and security policies of the governments’ of the region, notably those of Russia, have an influence on Poland’s security.
Having boots on the ground in Poland would signal that the United States is committed to European security, particularly to that of Central and Eastern Europe. Hence, the announcement of the AUKUS deal between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom had differing interpretations and reactions in Poland. On one hand, it has been viewed as a disregard and decreasing attention to European security. On the other hand, it has been viewed with optimism as standing up to a great, rising power, China. To Poland, AUKUS showed the United States remains committed to the balance of power, thus, will have similar commitments within Europe in regards to the Russian Federation. The collective defence mechanism (Article 5) of NATO is another such guarantee to Poland. For years, Poland has been lobbying for an American military base to be built in the country as an assurance of security measures. In 2018, the country offered 2 billion US dollars for an American base and to have boots on the ground. Achieving this would mean the permanent presence of American troops, systems, and weapons in Poland at all times. In the case of an attack, the present forces can provide a faster reaction, something that would otherwise take weeks. Complementary to this, as an additional pillar of the Polish security policy, Poland places considerable effort on improving and developing its national defence capabilities. After conducting a virtual war game simulating a possible Russian invasion at the beginning of 2021, and seeing a much worse result than hoped, Poland has decided to increase its capabilities. For years, Poland has been among the few NATO member states, that spend the required 2 percent of their GDP on defence. In 2021, the allocation of funds for the financing of defence capabilities constituted almost 2.2 percent of the GDP. In reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Poland will increase defence spending from a planned 2,5% to 3%.
Poland’s acquisition of defence capabilities such as military weapons also constitutes with its security policy. Poland for some time has placed effort and money into making its defence forces compatible with that of the United States. First of all, Poland is buying American weapons. Having the same weapons, same ammunition, same toolkit makes for better compatible armed forces. Number of NATO members have different acquisition strategies, acquiring weapons and systems made by different manufacturers, thus, making the armed forces less compatible with each other. Furthermore, in supporting US-led NATO missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Poland has not only modernized its armed forces, but also gained valuable experience in fighting side-by-side with American and other NATO forces. The latter is important, as it signals Poland’s dedication to the bolstering of transatlantic relations, but also shows Poland’s overall effort in creating a compatible defence force, not just in terms of weaponry, but in practice as well. Having compatible armed forces with that of the United States makes lobbying for boots on the ground easier and more realistic. Overall, the strong transatlantic orientation of Poland stems from its history. On one hand, it is an opportunity to decrease the possibility of a Russian threat, and thus stopping history from repeating itself. On the other hand, belonging to the transatlantic alliance, signals a successful closure of a historic chapter. During its time in the Warsaw Pact Poland not only viewed the transatlantic alliance as hostile, but also as a community to which belonging can be ruled out.
The second pillar of the Polish security policy is that of strengthening the ties with the members of the European Union. Ultimately, having strong ties means increasing the export of goods and services, and thus fostering economic growth. Since joining the EU in 2004, Poland has multiplied its exports to member states of the EU and saw its economy grow significantly and consistently. Maintaining this is a major goal of Polish diplomacy. However, having strong ties also means strengthening the cooperation of sovereign member states in the scope of the CFSP. Amongst others, its goal is to “preserve peace, strengthen international security and promote international cooperation”. As an important component of CFSP, the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is another focal point for the foreign and security policy of Poland.
In the context of the CFSP, Poland’s main focus is on the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Being an instrument in the EU’s foreign policy, the goal of the ENP is to avoid conflict and instability within its neighbourhood, and therefore seeks to strengthen ties with countries, particularly by deepening economic and political relations. The ENP has two dimensions, the Southern Partnership – Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, and Tunisia, and the Eastern Partnership (EaP) focusing on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. As the security and stability of Poland’s immediate neighbourhood affects the security of Poland as well, the Eastern Partnership plays a significant role in the country’s foreign and security policy. On one hand, through the Eastern Partnership – which Poland initiated together with Sweden – by deepening political and economic ties with the strategic partners, Poland seeks to prevent the Russian Federation from being the only power with influence within its direct neighbourhood. The Eastern Partnership is a complementary mean for Poland to achieve its goal in its Eastern neighbourhood. Efforts range from preventing internal destabilisation, through countering contemporary challenges such as dealing with hybrid threats such as disinformation or cyber threats, to strengthening the democratic institutions. On the other hand, as the largest country in the Eastern part of the EU, and as one of the main motors behind the Eastern Partnership, Poland hopes to strengthen its bilateral relations with the respective countries. Strong bilateral relations means the additional ability to pursue diplomatic goals independent of the EU.
With regards to the Southern Partnership, although playing a less important role in the strategic orientation of the country, Poland places attention to the EU’s Southern neighbourhood and the security within the region as well. With the ultimate goal of preventing instability in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and North Africa, Poland hopes to prevent mass migration, which would endanger security within its direct neighbourhood. Furthermore, and complementary to preventing to mass migration, Poland is determined to curb terrorism within the region. As such the death of innocent civilians – both local and international – can be prevented, along with the departure of hundreds of thousands in fear of their lives. To achieve the goals of the EU in the ENP, Poland is pushing for a closer EU-NATO cooperation in the two neighbourhoods. The two organisations in cooperation would increase their efficiency in maintaining stability within both neighbourhoods and aiding the response to contemporary challenges to Poland.
Another aspect of the European dimension of the Polish security policy is maintaining sovereignty. This means keeping the European Union a confederation of strong sovereign states, rather than a federation. Poland’s stance stems from the numerous historical traumas of losing or not being a sovereign state. Having regained the autonomy to make decisions for its own foreign and security policy after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Poland is keen to prevent losing this ability once again.
As recent conflicts, and the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has shown, the Central and Eastern European region poses and will pose the greatest challenge and threat to the Polish foreign and security policy. Therefore, the ultimate goal of Polish diplomatic efforts is to achieve and maintain long-term peace and stability in the region. As mentioned above, the Eastern Partnership of the ENP is a way for Poland to achieve its goal within the region: presenting an alternative, and preventing Russia to be the only state with influence in Central and Eastern Europe. Complementary to the efforts of the Eastern Partnership, Poland pursues diplomatic relationships in the region. The Eastern dimension of Polish diplomacy is, therefore, one hand focusing on the countries of Eastern Europe, located East of its border; amongst others Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine. On the other hand, putting in motion the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) is another fundamental element of the country’s Eastern dimension.
The Russian Federation being the biggest and most influential country in the region, Poland is determined to have a constructive relationship with the country. However, stemming from historical difficulties, debates over the interpretation of historic events, and conflicts over the last 15 years in Georgia and Ukraine have made Poland alarmed and skeptical of Russia’s intentions. Further stemming from historical events, Poland views Belarus and Ukraine as a buffer zone between the Russian Federation. Current events such as the presence of Russian troops, and the invasion of Ukraine worries Poland, as it may reduce or even remove the buffer zone. Nevertheless, Poland is determined to have a cooperative relationship with Russia, where communication channels can convey and solve issues and make developments. As the Foreign Policy Strategy of Poland writes, however, the normalisation of the relations cannot be based on the acceptance of the creation of spheres of influence in Europe. For Poland, that would be history repeating itself. And since Polish foreign and security policy is based on pursuing and adapting to the contemporary challenges of the world, whilst making sure history doesn’t repeat itself, the acceptance of spheres of influence is off the table.
Although also having disputes over history, Poland is nevertheless one of Ukraine’s biggest backers in European integration, as well as during its invasion. Poland has been leading efforts to propose and impose sanctions on the Russian Federation, to give Ukraine a fast-track to EU candidate status, and in accepting people fleeing the war. The goal of Polish diplomacy is clear: maintaining and keeping a check on Russian influence in the country, and supporting Ukraine in the process of European integration. The two both fall within the scope of the EaP, where reforms aimed at strengthening democracy and the rule of law are incentivized. Besides the political support of Poland, the Polish commitment to Ukraine also has economic, social, and even military dimensions.
Trade between the two countries has an increasing tendency, which made Poland Ukraine’s second-biggest trading partner. Moreover, Poland has become a popular destination for over a million of Ukrainians to live, work, or study. For the fourth year in a row, Poland has issued more first-time residence permits to people from outside the EU than any other member state. Also, as a result of the invasion, over one million Ukrainians have fled to Poland so far. The large number of Ukrainians in Poland settling down has been beneficial to Poland. On one hand, this makes the geopolitical goal of presenting an alternative to Ukrainian citizens possible. On the other hand, Poland has benefited economically from the larger number of Ukrainians. As the National Bank of Poland has noted, between 2014 and 2019, Ukrainians have contributed 11% of Poland’s GDP growth. The military dimension has two foundations: the creation of (trilateral) alliances, and the provision of military assistance. In 2020, Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine created the Lublin Triangle, to deepen cultural, economic, political, and military ties. At the beginning of 2022, Poland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom have created a trilateral alliance of their own, aimed at boosting cooperation. The trilateral alliances show Poland’s efforts in strengthening cooperation on a regional and continental level. The provision of military assistance consists of training of Ukrainian soldiers, conducting joint exercises, and more recently providing of equipment.
The Invasion of Ukraine in February has important geopolitical implications for Poland. On one hand, Poland will play a greater and very crucial role in the alliance’s effort to contain Russian influence in the region. The increased weight of the country in the alliance stems from its locational proximity, size, and defence spending. Poland is NATO’s largest member in Eastern Europe, and the second largest defence spender after the Russian Federation in the region. As one of the most determined countries in suggesting and lobbying members states for sanctions against the Russian Federation, Poland is likely to be the target one of the possible retaliatory measure. Although, the likelihood of a direct military threat from Russia is low, unconventional measures such as increased disinformation campaigns, or cyberattacks against critical infrastructures or institutions are more likely. As such, Poland has already boosted the planned increased of the defence spending to 3%, with also an increased emphasis on cybersecurity. On the other hand, Poland is determined to maintain and enhance its effort in supporting Ukraine in the European integration.
Ultimately with the goal of maintaining Ukraine as buffer zone between Russian Federation. However, besides security, Poland is driven to maintain its economic and social interests in Ukraine. This mean continuing and protecting trade relations and investments, as well as the close social relationship between the two nations. All things considered, the invasion of Ukraine reinforced Poland’s previous and current efforts to limit Russia’s influence in the region as much as possible.
The geographical location of Belarus makes it another geopolitically important point in the region. Both Poland and the EU regard the country as a buffer zone between the Russian Federation, therefore, both the EaP and Poland’s own Eastern policy is determined to maintain this, and to present an alternative and prevent the Russian Federation from being the sole influential state in Belarus. To achieve this, the EaP and Poland’s agenda is aimed at strengthening political and economic ties with Belarus. This is mainly done by incentivizing and supporting reforms aimed at strengthening the rule of law, the strength of the institutions, and increasing the Pro-European affiliation of the country. Similar to that in Ukraine, Poland is one of the biggest trade partners of Belarus, coming in a few places behind the Russian Federation. Maintaining a high level of commerce between the two countries can be a signal to Minsk that the Russian Federation is not the only option for trading and maintaining stability. Furthermore, Belarus is home to a large Polish Diaspora, whose rights and treatment are of great importance to Poland. In this regard, Poland has taken unilateral efforts to give ethnic Poles and Belarusians wishing to work or study in Poland the opportunity to do so. These include having flexible visa policies, and number of scholarships to motivate the application to Polish universities. The goal is to portray once again, an alternative. For example, the Karta Polaka – the Pole’s Card – is a document given to members of the Polish diaspora to confirm their belongingness to the nation, who are otherwise not able to acquire citizenship because of citizenship laws. The efforts to maintain stability inside Belarus are, therefore, not only to maintain the buffer zone and check Russian influence, but also to protect the large number of ethnic Poles.
As a deterrence to the influence of Russia, and the rising influence of China in Central and Eastern Europe, Poland and Croatia created a forum called the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) consisting of 12 countries from the region to increase cooperation in various fields. Located between the Adriatic Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Black Sea, the participating members are Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to prevent Russia and China from further increasing their influence in the region, and to promote regional cooperation in the fields of energy, infrastructure, and digitalisation.
The creation of a North-South emphasis in the cooperation is very significant, and a regional strategic determination of the participating states. Currently, most infrastructure is connected on an East-West axis. On one hand, this means the CEE region is not as interconnected as other regions within the EU, for example, Western Europe. As such the development of the CEE region is dependent on the development of Western Europe. On the other hand, the creation of the North-South axis is a means to prevent and reduce the influence of Russia in the region. During the Cold War, and the current direction of the axis means the main flow of energy is also within this direction. One of the most prominent components of the 3SI is, therefore, to increase energy cooperation in the region to reduce the dependence on Russian gas.
Complementary, and simultaneous to the three – the Transatlantic, the European, and the Eastern – dimensions of the security policy, the question of energy security is of high importance to Poland. As the Energy Policy of Poland until 2040 outlines, besides meeting the EU’s climate and energy goals for 2030, and climate neutrality by 2050, the Polish energy policies’ two objectives are to expand the electricity generation and grid infrastructure and most importantly to diversify the supply of gas, oil, and liquid fuels.
Ever since the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis in 2009, diversifying natural gas supplies has been of great importance for Polish diplomatic efforts. The crisis saw many countries’ Russian gas supply in Central and Eastern Europe drop significantly. Poland’s gas supply dropped by 33%, however, in countries such as Bulgaria or Slovakia, the gas imports were cut by more than 95% (100% in the case of Bulgaria, and 97% in Slovakia), resulting in the stopping of production in important industrial plants or in the declaration of a state of emergency. To prevent the latter from happening in Poland, efforts of diversification have been focused on increasing the imports of non-Russian gas, thus, decreasing the country’s dependence on Russia. Complementary to this, Poland is placing efforts to make the country’s gas infrastructure suitable for the import of non-Russian gas, as well as upgrading the storage facilities for the capability to hold more gas. Currently, Poland is receiving gas from two main directions: from Russia through the Yamal Pipeline, and as of late 2015 to the LNG terminal in Świnoujście, from Norway, Qatar, and the United States. The construction of the LNG terminal in Świnoujście is of great strategic importance not just to Poland, but also to Central Europe.
Firstly, this terminal makes it possible for Poland to decrease its dependence on Russian gas, and to buy and receive LNG gas from other countries. As the efforts of diversification intensify, and the LNG market expands, Poland estimates the LNG might account for up to 30% of total natural gas usage. As the increasing tendency shows, the United States is importing more-and-more LNG to Europe. Importing from the United States does not only strengthen Poland’s commitment to the Transatlantic relation – thus achieving permanent boots on the ground easier – but evidently, the ability to further increase the supply of alternative gas. The more suppliers, the lower the possibility of huge disruptions in the event of a cut in the import of one of them. Second of all, as the only terminal of such dimensions in the region, the terminal will also be able to supply LNG gas to neighbouring countries. Increasing energy cooperation within Central and Eastern Europe is one of the most prominent goals of the Three Seas Initiative. As the overall goal of the 3SI is to limit and prevent Russian influence from further increasing in the CEE region, the energy cooperation builds around the objective of decreasing reliance on Russian gas. The effort of creating a North-South Gas Corridor seeks to connect the region’s gas pipelines. For Poland this means the connection of the terminal in Świnoujście and the Baltic Pipe into one pipeline, which further will be connected to the region’s pipelines.
The Baltic Pipe which connects Norway’s gas fields and Poland via Denmark will become operational in October 2022. Once operational, the pipeline will first carry 8.1 billion m³ to Poland annually, and will seek to replace the Yamal contract which ends at the end of 2022, and supplies roughly 60% of the imports. In practice, this would mean Poland becoming independent of Russian gas. Poland is also placing effort to increase interconnectedness with neighbouring countries. Gas interconnections are being constructed and increased with Lithuania and Slovakia, with planned projects for creating interconnectedness with the Czech Republic or Ukraine. As the gas from Norway will arrive to Świnoujście, Poland can decide between consuming or supplying neighbouring countries through the connected pipelines. The pipeline allows gas to be delivered directly from Norwegian reserves to Poland, and to connected countries subsequently. Poland is developing interconnectors so that surplus volumes can be delivered and sold to nearby markets.
Besides infrastructure, it is also important to highlight Poland’s demand for natural gas when describing the push for independence from Russian gas. Currently, Poland consumes 18 billion m³ of gas yearly. The number is estimated to increase to 20.6 billion m³ in the following years and will reach 26.4 billion m³ by 2030. The huge increase in demand over the coming year means Poland will increase and upgrade the capacities of existing terminals. Today the terminal in Świnoujście is able to receive 5 billion m³ yearly, which Poland will upgrade first to a capacity of 8.3 billion m³, then to 12.5 billion m³ the following years. Furthermore, Poland plans to construct a regasification LNG terminal in Gdansk by 2025, with an annual capacity of 4.5 billion m³. On top of this, once the Baltic Pipe is operational in 2022, the initial yearly amount will be 8.1 billion m³ out of the total capacity of 10 billion m³.
All of the above is complemented by the interconnectedness with neighbours, which can further increase the supply of gas in case of a delay, or if something goes south. If everything goes by plan, Poland could become independent of Russian gas. However, as the Warsaw Institute notes, this does not mean Poland is not open to the idea for negotiation of a new gas deal with Russia. They argue, a short-term agreement that includes the ability to resell the gas purchased would only strengthen Poland’s position in the CEE region. By buying Russian gas, Poland could have an excess supply of gas allowing it to redistribute it to connected countries, making Poland a crucial player and trader in the energy supply of various countries in the region.
The geographical location of Poland has always affected the country’s geopolitical orientation and strategic compass. Situated between two great powers, Germany, and the Soviet Union (now the Russian Federation) meant Poland has often been affected by the conflict or the invasion of the two. Traumas of various invasions from the neighbours, disappearing from the map for 123 years, and fighting for sovereignty for a very considerable part of its history, have shaped Poland’s geopolitical thinking. The Central European country, on one hand, is determined to learn from, and prevent history from repeating itself. This means creating a strategic policy that prevents historic traumas from seeing the day again. On the other hand, and in parallel, Poland is seeking to respond to the challenges posed by the ever-changing world in 2022. Having a strong transatlantic relation is embodied in Poland’s commitment to NATO and for a strong a bilateral relation with the United States.
Ultimately, these are ways for Poland to guarantee security in case of a conflict. By joining NATO and the EU Poland not only gained powerful and reliable allies but also eliminated the threat of an invasion from the West. Poland, therefore, is able to look East of its border and concentrate resources there. Through the EU’s CFSP and through its bilateral relations, Poland is determined to show an alternative and limit the Russian influence in its neighbourhood. It has supported reforms, accepted millions of immigrants, and pushed for the European integration of countries. Poland’s energy policy resembles not only its history but also its place in the 21st century; having control over its energy decision means its sovereign, whilst being the motor of the regional quest for cooperation. Such comprehensive approach is both required and suitable to not only manage security and stability on the long term, but also to provide sufficient flexibility and toolkits to manage upcoming challenges.
Photo by Iwona Castiello d’Antonio on Unsplash