How Do You Avoid Others Talking Over Your Head? Poland's Approach to Russia at a Time of Confrontation

By contributing to a mature dialogue with Moscow aiming at developing policies that will satisfy the entire trans-Atlantic community Poland has an opportunity to become a co-architect of the relations between the West and Russia. It can also overcome historic entanglement with our largest eastern neighbour.
Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz, "Open Europe" Programme Director, Stefan Batory Foundation; former Ambassador of Poland to Russia
Publication source: http://bit.ly/Batory_PolandsApproachToRussia

The conflict between Russia and the West originates from the weakness of Russia but it is its future that will largely define the power and resilience of the trans-Atlantic community. Poland is the largest NATO/EU member that borders on Russia. Moreover, it borders on Ukraine, a country that is effectively in war with Moscow. Relations with Russia is one of the major 'big games' in Europe played by Poland as they broadly affect security and prosperity in the region. If Poland wants to be played with and not by others it is critical that it takes an active part in the conflict management and resolution process.

First and foremost, policy must not rely on angst and confine limit itself almost exclusively to alerting the public and allies about threats coming from Russia. Any act of interaction with Russia has often been seen as 'collaborating with the enemy', an accusation often made by all political parties. This approach is both convenient for the elites (not only political ones) and utterly ineffective for the pursuit of Poland's national interest. Giving up on dialogue is a tempting proposition: it relieves one of the liability of difficult decisions, rotten concessions and helps avoid accusations of dealing with 'shady partner'. The problem is however, that excluding ourselves from talks does not mean we are avoiding compromise. All we are doing is letting others reach compromise over our heads. By refusing to enter into any dialogue, Poland is accepting what it has always feared: marginalisation. This policy is particularly dangerous in an era of numerous crises in Europe when our allies may be tempted to sweep issues with Russia under the carpet in the face of more urgent challenges.

Therefore, Poland should take pro-active measures to build peace beside engaging in clearly essential measures to prevent aggression. By contributing to a mature dialogue with Moscow aiming at developing policies that will satisfy the entire trans-Atlantic community Poland has an opportunity to become a co-architect of the relations between the West and Russia. It can also overcome historic entanglement with our largest eastern neighbour.

This paper makes recommendations for policy towards Russia from the perspective of the Poland and its society. A good policy will always be based on a thorough diagnosis, especially in a time of crisis. Therefore, the recommendations section is preceded by a review of the sources of conflict and the resulting challenges for the security of Poland and the entire Europe.

I. Part One: Sources of Conflict

The annexation of Crimea and the use of military instruments by Moscow to deprive Ukraine of its control over Donbas have demonstrated that Russia is a country that generates serious threats to European security. However, an adequate policy response must be inspired by something more than this obvious proposition. It is essential that the nature and likelihood of threats from our eastern neighbour should be assessed. Questions must be asked about what actually happened in Russia that has pushed Kremlin to such confrontational actions.

It is of fundamental importance that one understands that there was no sudden turn in Russian politics in February 2014. Military action against Ukraine was a culmination of four earlier evolutionary processes.

1. The Consolidation of the Post-Communist Political Order

Components of the political and institutional culture that are traditionally strong in Russia have gained momentum since the beginning of the 21st century. They include centralisation and personalisation of power, the perception of society by those in power as a 'mass' that must be

controlled and guided1. The government instrumentalises the individual (state interests not only justifies but actually demands individual sacrifice) and privatises much of the state resources. In return, the government is expected to give subjects a sense of economic stability, collective force and grandeur. If that is ensured the majority of the subjects will defend the authoritarian order hand in hand with the government. The protesting minority is perceived as a threat to the power and authority of the state and the entire community2.

Another feature of the system, and quite new in Russian history, is that the ruling elites are dominated by Soviet and post-Soviet secret service agents.3 This quality of the people in power has turned the state into a 'special operation', both in internal and external policy dimensions. Tactics have inherently become non-transparent and unpredictable. Yet, the 'new' Russian elite is not guided by any distinct ideology; its world view is on the one hand a carbon copy of the Soviet mindset (anti-Americanism, sphere of influence as a policy framework) and is cynical and pragmatic, on the other.

While the post-Communist political order in Russia has used the nomenclature of democracy (constitution, elections) it has stood in contradiction to the concept and value of democracy. Despite intense (and effective) efforts to manage the collective consciousness to harness support for the present regime Western democracies are perceived by the ruling elites as models that may at some point be accepted by the Russian society as an attractive alternative4.

The signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union that was supposed to happen in later 2013 was interpreted by the Russian government at the approximation of the political liberalism to 'Kremlin's gates'. According to this logic, the success of the democratic project in Ukraine would challenge the Russian regime. Thus, the condemnation of 'coloured revolutions' and the aggression in Ukraine were designed as a protection against revolution. The method of condemnation was a typical choice of secret service agents rather than of civilian politicians.

2. Compensation of the Weakness of the State by Militarisation

The consolidation of the authoritarian political model has inhibited modernisation mechanisms in the Russian public and private sector. As a result, the quality of government institutions, public services and the economic prosperity of the country suffered enormously.5 The process has

remained invisible to the general public in Russia due to the decade-long influx of money from the strong commodity markets which camouflaged the mounting governance problems. The militarisation of internal and foreign policy, as demonstrated by the annexation of Crimea, has become an instrument of compensating for the weakening capabilities of the Russian state. This mechanism has proven highly effective to the Russian authorities: it has given the illusion of a great state to the Russian citizens and has prevented Russia being ignored by international partners.6 At the same time, id has not infringed on the vested interests of major groups of influence (it has strengthened the military elites and weakened the post-Yeltsin oligarchs) thus fossilised the present system of governance in Russia.

3. The Growing Frustration at the Marginalisation of Russia in the Global and Particularly European Decision-Making Processs.

As a non-member of the EU and NATO, i.e. of the major European political and economic organisation and the world's largest military alliance affiliating most European countries and the USA, Russia has remained outside of mainstream decision making fora. The idea of Great Europe, where Russia would be integrated with the West has proven unrealistic. First, approximating legal standards and practices to those applicable in the European Union would necessitate a very deep transformation of Russian state institutions and traditional mindframes. Secondly, this would have to involve the recognition of the superiority of the West, the sources of the standards and practices. This would not be acceptable to the Russian government and, to some extent, the Russian society. Consequently, as the integration process continues in Europe, Russia would have to accept the fact that former satellite countries are influencing decision-making processes while Russia itself has been sliding to peripheries. The expansion of the institutions of Russia-EU and Russia-NATO dialogue7 has not met the Moscow's expectations. Clearly, these institutions have not allowed Russia to interfere with decision-making processes of either organisation. Over time, Russia has been increasingly expressed its discontentment with the situation. The Kremlin was particularly vociferous in Putin's speech delivered on 10 February 2007 in Munich.8 The impending conclusion of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine without obtaining Moscow's consent and then the loss of power by the pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Victor Yanukovych just crossed the red line for the Kremlin. Not only did Russia think its aspirations to 'co-rule in the Great Europe' had been ostensibly ignored but it felt it was an attempt by the United States and its allies to assume economic power and take control in the sphere of security in a territory 'governed' by Moscow to date.

4. A Progressive Collapse of the 'Post-Soviet Russian Zone of Influence'.

The Russian concept of security is dominated by the dogmas of territory and geography. It implies that in its security policy Russia relies less on the international legal order, economic and political links but on a territorial buffer that separates it from a potential opponent. Such a definition of security means that controlling the immediate surroundings is not only derives from an imperial identity but is first and foremost a pillar of the country's security policy. Therefore, the collapse of the USSR has by no means implied that Russia would give up control over former Soviet republics (with the exception of the Baltic States). This time, the imperial politics has been dressed up as 'sponsorship'. Russia has shared the commodity advantage with post-Soviet countries while giving the elites access to lucrative 'shady deals' and spread its political umbrella over the corrupt, criminal and authoritarian regimes established by the elites. In return, it has received the right to exercise military and political patronage with a flexible and negotiable scope. The only non-negotiable condition has been exclusivity, i.e. not allowing the US and 'its acolytes' to exert any political or military influence. Over the past 15 years, this rule has been broken more and more frequently: Georgia, ale less so Ukraine, revealed their NATO aspirations, EU association agreements were negotiated by Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine. Each time, Moscow reaction was rather edgy. Military aggression in Georgia in 2008, which essentially buried the country's dreams of becoming a NATO member very soon and demonstrated that deterrence is effective in extreme situations and carries no risk of long-term international ostracism.

The 'Ukrainian revolution' was interpreted as another attempt at breaking the exclusivity rule. Moreover, Moscow believed that the 'post-Soviet empire' had essentially no raison d'etre without Ukraine. The annexation of Crimea, and more importantly the operation in Donbas, was designed to prevent such a scenario.

All the said processes are still active: (1) the consolidation of the 'secret service oligarchy' as an alternative regime to liberal democracies, (2) compensation of state deterioration by re-militarisation (3) decomposition of the 'post-Soviet Russian zone of influence” perceived as a pillar of Russia's security and (4) seeking to review the mechanisms of determining international order. These processes define the scope and nature of the challenges posed by Russian politics towards the EU and NATO, including Poland.

Part II - What Are the Challenges?

First and foremost, confrontational relations with Russia must not be perceived as a single act of escalation but as a long-term phenomenon fueled by processes which are unlikely to be suppressed in the nearest future.

The motifs behind Russia's decision to antagonise its relations with the EU, NATO and USA seem to suggest a rather ambivalent attitude to the West. On the one hand, the West is perceived as the most important source of threats and an attractive partner, on the other. Making big politics on par with Western leaders (especially with USA), the opportunity of participating in the decision-making process regarding Europe and the trans-Atlantic area has been for Russia one of the key determinants of its position in the international arena.

It must be remembered that pragmatism is one of the major qualities of Russian ruling elites. While the Russian propaganda (speaking to the general public) explains the country's actions as motivated by ideology (defence of the traditional values, support for fellow country citizens etc.) the actual motivation appears to be more than distant from ideological fanatism. Instead, they are dominated by utilitarianism and cynicism, which is illustrated by the fact that the West remains a destination for Russian investment capital, a place of education for children of political and financial elites, a place of medical treatment and holidays for affluent Russians, despite the chilly mutual relations.

The pragmatism of the Russian government has manifested itself in the use of military instruments when confronting the West. There two qualities that describe the Russian involvement in this respect. First, it has been peripheral: Moscow has hit in sensitive spots yet far from the political and geographic conflict centres (e.g. the aggression in Donbas was in fact against Kiev and the influence of Washington and Brussels, the military presents in Syria was mainly designed to strengthen Russia's position vis-a-vis the EU and US). The modus operandi points to Russia's unwillingness to face head-on confrontation. Secondly, military measures were closely coupled with a diplomatic process. In other words, military operations were to support and not replace the arguments presented via diplomatic channels.

In the light of the above, a head-on military conflict seem rather unlikely at the moment. Moreover, the tension between Russia and the West will not necessarily be linear but may soften from time to time; when they peak again, some room for co-operation is likely to co-exist with conflict. What is likely is that Moscow will continue its hybrid diplomacy, including tactics that allow a limited peripheral armed conflict, provocation and other illegitimate measures to be acceptable means of pressure in matters of key importance to its national interest. While it is hard to predict any specific measures today, the Post-Soviet area with its European part will be the most sensitive area (except for Baltic States).

This is a context in which to examine the future of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia's withdrawal from Donbas seems very unlikely now. The armed forces of the separatists essentially operated as a Russian contingent9. Russia's goal is not to conquer new territories but the convert the military potential accumulated in Donbas into a political capacity that would ensure structural mechanisms of influence on the future of Ukraine.

While there are many signs of Russia's inherent pragmatism and ability to self-restrain the escalation of conflicts a negative scenario, i.e. a larger-scale armed conflict, cannot be ruled out completely. The biggest risk may not lie in unexpected incidents — Russia will react strongly but with self-restraint. The biggest risk is long-term and is related to militarisation as a result of accumulated weakness. Defence spending requires an ever greater sacrifice of the country's economic growth, human capital, education or research. Consequently, the gap between the military capabilities and economic prosperity has been widening and pushing for a greater use of hard force in international relations to compensate for 'civilisational backwardness'.

Challenges in connection with Russia go much beyond hard security threats. First and foremost, this is observed in the post-Soviet space. The combination of three trends: (1) inhibited modernisation both in Russia and in most post-Soviet republics, (2) the depletion of Russian resources that support inefficient 'satellite countries' and (3) Kremlin's objections to their emancipation and forging closer

ties with the West, may lead to an ever deeper crisis of state structures in these regions. The cost of the negative scenario are hard to estimate but would almost certainly be particularly painful for Central Europe.

Soft security challenges arising from the confrontation with Russia also affect countries in the European Union and NATO. The main challenge comes from the binary nature of the Russian foreign policy and the tendency to exploit the weaknesses of other players. Needless to say, Russia's actions will often be very quick and effective. Its administration is highly responsive because it is not entangled in complicated bureaucratic procedures and democratic accountabilities10. Russia has a wide spectrum of 'soft aggression' tools, including a propaganda apparatus in the form of Russia Today, a TV channel that enjoys quite a strong popularity in the West. It breeds hostility to democratic elites, fuels Euro-skepticism and trans-Atlantic discrepancies. Russia has also used hybrid online tools (pro-Russian trolling).11

Yet, it would be an exaggeration to claim that Russia has the potential to 'dismantle' European liberal democracies. Even though Moscow does not have the instruments to evoke crises in the EU or NATO, it can still exacerbate existing problems in these organisation. The most vulnerable targets may include the failure of state institutions, especially uniformed services and the secret service, corruption and conflicts caused by an identity crisis within some Member States (division within the EU and NATO, anti-democratic, nationalist and populist tendencies).12

Part III: How to Act? Five Recommendations

There are two general premises on which to build relations with Russia:

First, it could be argued that nearly everything Poland does on the international arena (and much of our domestic developments) directly affects our attitude to towards Russia one way or the other. Our policy towards Moscow largely transcends bilateral affairs or discussions within the EU or NATO about our largest neighbour in the East. Poland's strategy towards Moscow is built in parallel to our

actions regarding Brussels, Berlin or Washington, and Minsk and Kiev. Much depends on the way we form and deliver on our vision of European and trans-Atlantic integration.

Secondly, a realistic policy towards Moscow must rely on a broader perspective of the world and the reality of international relations. In the increasingly multipolar world of today, lines of division cross and alliances overlap. A friend of a friend may be an enemy and an enemy of an enemy may be a friend. All major players are enmeshed in numerous conflicts of variable weight depending of developments.

Under the circumstances, Poland cannot reasonably expect that it is the conflict with Russia that will be the top priority for all our allies at all times. Moreover, it would be naive to believe other players will position themselves as Russia's enemies only because they are in one bloc with countries such as Poland, i.e. countries that see Russia as a strategic challenge. Those who believe that Moscow may the a source of threats will not always, and often do not, carry the confrontation into all fields. Today, the ability to continue a selective dialogue inside a confrontation is perceived as a natural and desirable one. This is the nature of relations between two global superpowers: USA and China. Most EU Member States are working towards that type of a relationship with Russia. Conflicts are expensive and the cost can be reduced if a space for co-operation is carved out. Moreover, a partner who is not capable of engaging in a parallel strategy of both co-operation and confrontation is perceived as an extreme and menace (inflates cost of conflict for allies and itself) and will often be eliminated from the decision-making process.

Five Recommendations

First: Teamwork. The confrontation with Russia that has increased a sense of threat in Poland does not result from bilateral disputes but from a fundamental conflict between Moscow and the Western world regarding compliance with international law. Problems like these can only be resolved in a collective format. Poland's natural allies are to be found in the European Union and NATO. Notwithstanding the above, there are players in both groups who are more or less committed or influential. Effective teamwork requires a highly intense co-operation not with those with whom we find interactions easier but with those who have the biggest influence on policy. In the NATO, the US is an unquestionable leader in shaping the policy towards Russia is USA, and Germany is a leader in the EU. Without these partners, no Polish policy towards Russia will be effective. This does not entail that Warsaw should not pro-actively co-ordinate its policy with as many allies and in as many formats as possible. The Weimar Triangle may play a particularly instrumental role (France is also a member of the Normandy Format) as can the Nordic-Baltic co-operation and other. Caution should be exercised with respect to regional formats in the context of policy towards Russia. Their common denominator is almost exclusively geographic proximity and shared Communist past (e.g. Visegrad Group). It is in the interest of Poland and the entire European Community that divisions between Western and Central Europe should not be revived. The policy towards Russia, a country that formed the core of an empire controlling the entire Europe east off the River Elbe, is a sensitive issue. This is why Poland should make special efforts to engage in co-operation formats that included EU Member States from both sides of the iron curtain.

Teamwork is about reciprocity. Poland can hope for as much recognition of its problems as it recognises the problems of other Member States. Today, more than ever, we must be engaged in technical, political, financial aspects of military and advisory missions conducted by the EU in various parts of the world. It would mean a great deal in this context if Poland stepped up its involvement in EUNAVFOR Med, a military mission that is designed to combat smuggling and illegal transport of

people across the Mediterranean and is therefore of paramount importance for the security of southern Member States.13

Second: Deterrence and Dialogue. A policy towards Russia must combine the logic of force and the logic of co-operation. The former is taken for granted after the events of 2014. It is commonly accepted, and indeed rightly so, that Russia only understands the language of force because it uses one. If you speak it you had better have a powerful case. Poland has applied the logic of force by focusing on deterrence and preventing aggressive actions of our eastern neighbour. Major examples include the strengthening of the eastern flank of the NATO and the support for EU sanctions. However, by limiting the policy towards Moscow just to these measures is in fact equal to accepting the Russian perspective on international interaction. This perspective puts the highest value on the fight for domination rather than on co-operation and mutual benefits for all parties. The European Union, and Poland in particular, should try talking to Russia not only using Russia's language but also its own.

What it means is being ready for a maximum openness to using the existing principles of confidence building (e.g. Vienna Document mechanisms of observation of military exercises)14 and a pro-active policy of initiating and engaging in dialogue.

Meanwhile, the commitment to co-operation and dialog must have solid pragmatic foundations. The processes outlined in the first sections of the paper, that have lead Moscow to aggression against Ukraine, call for caution while assessing any underlying agreement between the West and Russia in the political, economic or security dimension. All appeals for the creation of a new European security order or building a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok are far detached from reality today. Such initiatives only give rise to an illusion of normalcy and do not solve but camouflage problems. Therefore, the dialogue with Russia should concentrate first and foremost on the difficult and conflicting aspects of the current situation. Given its geographic location, Poland should be a fervent advocate of debates on security in Central Europe, including discussions about the Missile Defence System and NATO presence in the region. Furthermore, Poland should be at the forefront of support for initiatives on mechanisms of building trust and transparency in the Baltic Sea region. The debates may take the form of a multilateral expert dialogue (with the participation of Germany, USA or other partners). Openness to debates makes sense not only for logical but for pragmatic reasons as well. Whenever Poland initiates dialogue it will be well positioned to contribute to the selection of topics. Notably, the dialogue between Russia and EU Member States and the NATO has continued all the time and it has grown in intensity in recent time. By excluding itself from the process Poland and Polish experts are turning into outsiders at their own discretion and leave it to others to present the Western narrative in discussions with Russia.

Third: Be Pro-active in the EU. Poland should brand itself in EU as a country for which relations with Russia are a priority and which has the ambition to be the co-architect of the EU policy towards Russia. In order to do this, Poland will need to develop a skill of seeing these relations as part of a big

picture that includes the perspectives of other Member States and different mechanisms/dimensions of EU-Russian co-operation. First and foremost, Poland cannot solely rely on a strategy of minimising EU engagement towards Russia at all levels. A more intense EU-Russian interaction is inevitable in the nearest future but it is vital that this process should not be chaotic or conducted in isolation by individual Member States. Instead, it should be focused and coherent so that it secures the Community's overall interests. Now seems to be the right time to propose a debate on the subject within the EU. By doing so Poland could become one of the architects of the process and avoid erratic and excessively radical decisions in the future.

The key step now will be to focus on providing broad funding to support personal interactions: youth exchange, university and NGO co-operation. Following the withdrawal of some of the US sponsors in recent years, European funding will be critical for the survival of many independent civil society initiatives in Russia and some of the valuable non-governmental formats of co-operation between the EU and Russia.

Secondly, the future of EU sanctions against Russia must be considered. The concept of maintaining sanctions until Minsk agreements are fulfilled seems insufficient today. While the process of imposing sanctions was uniting and mobilising for the EU lifting them may have quite an opposite effect if not well planned and agreed. A pro-active and creative reflection on the future of the Minsk process and sanction sis required in partnership with partners within the EU. The reflection must be cautious and not necessarily done in public. The goal should be to develop a B scenario rather than exacerbating and escalating diferrences within the EU. Further, the reflection should identify which provision of the Minsk agreement are implementable at the moment. When the time is ripe a strategy of softening or possibly redefining sanctions will be needed within well identified EU priorities so as to retain instruments of pressure on Russia, if appropriate.

An active involvement in EU sectoral policies towards Russia will be instrumental for Poland. Sectoral policies include energy policy, competition within the common market, and a Common EU Security and Foreign Policy.

Fourth: Unlock Communication Channels. No Chinese wall strategy is useful these days and no mental wall (no travel, no interaction, no positive feelings) can protect us against anything.

On the contrary, excessive isolation carries social, economic and political losses with it. It breeds hostile stereotypes and hampers economic co-operation. Clearly, some reduction of high level political dialogue is a natural consequence of every conflict. Still, sectoral dialogue can continue to further economic exchange as well as interactions at the community level. The latter field should see some major mobilisation given that Russia's relations with European Union and Poland are in crisis. It is a mistake to think that if our societies do not trust each other there is no space for collaboration.15 On the contrary, it only means there are huge challenges to be faced. This mindset is acceptable to Russian intellectual elites (they are relatively friendly towards Poland, thinks well or highly of us but do not demonstrate it in public too much) and to a major group of Poles. In 2014, several months after the annexation of Crimea, 65 per cent of Poles assessed Polish-Russian relations as bad, however 38 per cent of respondents said they want good relations to be maintained (in contrast, the

figure was 34 per cent of other countries of the former USSR such as Ukraine or Georgia)16. Societies that interact are less vulnerable to top-down manipulation and a mutual aggressive upheaval. Networking with opinion leaders help understand Russia better, which is key for situational awareness and identifying possible options for co-operation. They create pockets of opportunity to present the Polish narrative.

Our ability to maintain bilateral dialogue is one way of building Poland's credibility in the EU. The ability to keep the discussion going with a difficult partner is a sign of maturity and capacity to share the responsibility for Russian-EU relations. The communication potential is a form of an insurance policy. Actually, communication with the right groups or individuals may prove absolutely essential in 'emergency situations'. Poland should work out its own 'insurance policy' not to rely on the intermediation of others if the crisis hits the bottom.

In light of the above, it is reasonable that selected institutions of intergovernmental dialogue and bilateral social dialogue fora should be reactivated, including the Polish-Russian Group for Difficult Issues and the Civic Dialogue Forum, support for youth, academic and cultural exchange and engaging in active public diplomacy in Russia and towards Russians. A significant role in sustaining and even broadening channels of communication with Russia can and should be played by the Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding (CPRDU). Even if cooperation with its twin institution in Moscow is currently difficult, it is worth the Centre maintaining contacts with the widest possible range of people and opinions in Russia, including people representing views different than those prevailing in Poland.

Fifth: Strategic over Narrow Interests. Strategic goals that should guide EU policies towards Russia should include: (i) Ensure energy security for all Member States; (ii) Respond to threats arising from Moscow's actions in relation to Eastern Europe and EU Member States, and (iii) Prevent divisions over interests towards Russia in the EU and NATO. Given the positive scenario, which seems rather unlikely today, albeit still worth considering, the strategic goal ought to be the restoration of confidence between Moscow and the West, reconstruction of the security architecture in Europe and ensure mutual benefits from trade, tourism, infrastructure projects etc. These goals are not relevant for Poland alone but indeed for the whole of Europe. The game with Russia is a team game — if we want to accomplish strategic goals we must put short term interest aside if they stand in the way. If we expect Italy, Spain, France or Germany to give up on their short-term gains in the name of common policy or to provide military support to countries in the eastern flank of the NATO we have to be ready for such concessions ourselves. This does not mean giving up on all bilateral issues. On the contrary, Poland has the right and should demand the return of the wreck of the presidential plane, defend competitive rules for Polish shipping companies or work towards confirming the status of diplomatic properties. There is possibly one issue that may clash with EU strategic goals and Poland engagement in co-designing the EU strategy: politics of memory. The escalation of the conflict of memory is beneficial for Russia as it needs a negative impulse to mobilise its society. As for Poland, escalation is perceived by our EU partners as opening up new fronts, thus making things even more complicated. Obviously, 'cautious' politics of memory does not mean that issues caused by the difficult past should be abandoned. It does mean, however, that the dialogue should be as non-political as possible with much of the debate diverted to experts and historians rather than to emotional high level polemics in media. Excessive emotions in historical debates hinder Poland's participation in European policy debates. In order to play in the first league, we have to convince others that the likelihood of problems being solved rather than exacerbated will be higher if they work together with us.

***

Policy towards Russia at a European level is a most difficult challenge. One has to assume that Moscow will not necessarily be keen on treating Poland as a partner. There are many individuals in the Russian administration who have purposefully sidelined our country to the role of an unconstructive peripheral player.

Despite that, or maybe exactly for this reason, Poland cannot afford to give up its active role in formulating Western policies towards Russia. It would be particularly dangerous in the face of a multilevel crisis in Europe that makes our allies attach a possibly lower priority to the Russian problem.

It is time that Poland joined the collective policy effort regarding Russia. It is in Poland's interest that Europe demonstrates its capability to defend against aggression and to de-escalate the conflict effectively, which will benefit both Poland and the European Community.

The publication ‘How to avoid others talking over our heads? Poland and Russia in an era of confrontation’ was founded as part of the Stefan Batory Open Europe Foundation.

We recommend other publications by the Open Europe programme available on our website: http://www.batory.org.pl/en