Prime Minister Donald Tusk makes his first visit to Russia, Friday. Whatever happens when he gets to Moscow, he is going to take some flak at home, and maybe abroad.
Ex-Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski always said that he would go to Moscow after, ‘Putin comes to Warsaw.’
It didn’t happen.
Since the October election, Tusk has been to see Chancellor Merkel, he has been at the Lisbon summit to discuss the EU Constitution (oops, sorry, I meant ‘Reform’) Treaty. In March he is going to see George W. Bush. But a little chat with Putin comes first.
The decision to prioritize warming up the, up until now, Siberian temperatures that characterized the Kaczynski government’s relations with Russia has prompted a snow storm of criticism from the... Kaczynski brothers.
“Sell out!” They shout. President Kaczinski is particularly incensed that Tusk is taking unilateral decisions about foreign policy. “Isn’t the government constitutionally obliged to consult the president?”
“If you appear weak before the bear, then the bear will eat you alive...agggghhhhgurgle...burp,” etc.
What’s worse, Tusk decided to go and see Putin in Moscow before he sees Yushchenko and Tymoshenko in Kiev. “But Ukrainians are our friends..,” the Kaczynskis skweem.
But Tusk has never hid his desire to calm down diplomatic relations between Warsaw and Moscow. The row over the gas pipeline between Russia and western Europe, by-passing Poland; the row over Moscow’s ban on Polish meat imports; the row over the anti-missile shield being placed in Poland; the row over allowing a NATO base in Poland. There have been more rows between Warsaw and Moscow in the last two years than there have been between Tom and Jerry. And some of those rows had the same cartoon quality about them.
Tusk has not helped himself with his desire to want to please everyone, all the time. To say the Polish government has been sending mixed signals of late would be to understate an understatement.
Take NATO: when foreign minister, the Atlanticist Radek Sikorski, was in Washington last week he signaled Poland’s willingness to have a NATO base in Poland. Or did he?
Putin is outraged by this, as the Russian government think that Poland should be sensitive to having too many of the US’s power vehicles parked right outside their front door. Maybe they still see Poland as a ‘buffer’ against the West, just as they used to during Soviet times.
And then PM Tusk goes and confuses matters this week by saying that Poland never had any plans to have the NATO base on its soil, in the first place. Er...? Um...
This followed a December meeting between the Polish government and NATO which indicated that having a radar base in Powidz, western Poland, was very much on the cards. Since then the two sides failed to agree on the sharing of costs – meaning, how much Warsaw will have to cough up.
All very confusing. Tusk is trying to look (at two different directions at once) more independant from both Moscow and Washington than he really is, or ever can be.
And then there is that anti-missile shield unpleasantness. During the election Tusk was keen to show that, like the electorate, he was for getting troops out of Iraq, but against a blank check for the US to place ten interceptor rockets in northern Poland.
In Washington, Radek Sikorski was clear that ‘in principle’ they are for having the missile shield in Poland. On condition. The negotiations will continue to be of a ‘marathon’ length.
But is Tusk tough enough to get enough from Bush in return?
Bush versus Tusk? No contest.
In this context, Donald goes to Moscow to see the Man himself. What can Tusk get from this that will make him look good? It’s a tricky one.
It would be very easy for Putin, playing to his adoring gallery at home, to make Tusk look like the weed he gives the appearance of being. Putin is practiced in looking tough, but also making alternative suggestions, in very reasonable language, of how Russia should be consulted on absolutely everything Poland, and everyone else, does. Always. Tusk says he wants ‘open discussions,’ but how open will he leave himself?
So what can Tusk do? Act tough, and get nowhere – or act weak and look like...well, Donald Tusk?
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Posted by beatroot at 2/07/2008