Mr Lavrov's Offer

Mr Lavrov's Offer

Stop supporting Georgia - and, it is implied, Ukraine - respect our right to influence in the ex-Soviet area. Then we`ll swallow the anti-missile shield and admit you to business with us as one of the `old Europe` countries...

Stop supporting Georgia - and, it is implied, Ukraine - respect our right to influence in the ex-Soviet area. Then we`ll swallow the anti-missile shield and admit you to business with us as one of the `old Europe` countries - that is the main message of Sergey Lavrov`s article for Gazeta.

Sergey Lavrov`s visit to Warsaw is the first trip of a major Russian politician to an EU country following the Russia-Georgia war. It hung by the thread - in mid-August signals came from the Russian Foreign Ministry it might be cancelled to punish Poland for her support for Georgia.

But Russia changed its tactics. Mr Lavrov said a couple of days ago no one would be punished for supporting Georgia.

Today he goes further than that. In a text written exclusively for Gazeta, he lays out the Russian proposition for Poland and Europe.

He rejects Poland`s view of the conflict in the Caucasus. He writes that it was Georgia that attacked Russian peace-keeping forces: `By attacking South Ossetia and violating its own international obligations, the Tbilisi regime itself gave up on Georgia`s territorial integrity. We call our partners to follow Russia`s example and acknowledge the new realities`.

This means that despite international pressure, Russia will not backtrack on its recognition of the independence of Georgia`s two breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Mr Lavrov stresses that Russia follows a number of principles in its foreign policy, among which are a `readiness to develop friendly relations with all countries, including Poland, the defence of the life and dignity of ethnic Russians, wherever they live, and paying particular attention to regions where Russia has its privileged interests`.

This is a summary of the Russian imperial doctrine, providing for the rebuilding of Russia`s influence in the ex-Soviet area and reserving her the right to intervene on behalf of ethnic Russians, even outside Russian borders.

Besides these tough words, Mr Lavrov offers also a carrot. He suggests Russia is prepared to accept the US anti-missile shield in Poland. Until now, Moscow threatened to respond by deploying its missiles in the direct vicinity of Polish borders and aiming its nuclear weapons at Polish military bases.

Mr Lavrov invites Poland to do business with Russia, provided we stop protesting the Nord Stream pipeline built jointly by Russia and Germany on the bottom of the Baltic and circumventing Poland. `Energy producers and consumers and transit countries`, he writes, `are in one boat and can create security only by acting together, like partners, or, at least, not against each other. With those who share this view, and they are the majority in Europe, we easily find a common language`.

This sounds like an invitation for Poland to join the club of the EU states sympathetic towards Russia, such as Germany, Italy, France, or Spain. With his visit Mr Lavrov suggests that Moscow acknowledges Warsaw`s growing role in Europe and makes an offer of reconciliation, but on Russia`s own terms.

The Russian Foreign Minister stresses that Poland and others (which probably means the Baltic states) won`t manage to isolate Russia in Europe, `just as it is impossible to isolate the US, Europe, China, or other leading states`. I trust that pragmatism, common sense, and a positive - devoid of illusions and self-deception - attitude will prevail in international relations, as they have prevailed in the EU`.

Commentary by Marcin Wojciechowski

Poland has never received such an offer from Russia before. But Mr Lavrov has miscalculated. It is unacceptable for Poland. There are no politicians, even in the traditionally pro-Russian Polish Peasant Party (PSL) or Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), willing to accept it. Accepting Mr Lavrov`s terms would be agreeing to Moscow`s long-postulated `new concert of powers for the 21st century`. To a world dominated by the largest countries, supported by their smaller allies.

We can flatter ourselves that Russia sees Poland as a candidate for the exclusive club. But agreeing to such a balance of power would be a betrayal of European solidarity, Polish historical experience, as well as the pledges we have made towards Ukraine and other neighbours in the East.

Thanks to Mr Lavrov`s visit we know what Russia will tempt Europe with to cover over the bad impression left by the war against Georgia. Accepting the Russian offer would be a major mistake, though we shouldn`t shun dialogue.

Mer Lavrov doesn`t stand for the whole Russia of today, and especially of tomorrow. There are still democratic forces there which perceive Russia`s future in the world quite differently.

Mr Lavrov`s message should mobilise Polish politicians to work out a new European strategy towards Russia and its neighbours, chiefly Georgia and Ukraine. Otherwise, a `concert of powers` will divide Europe into zones of countries of greater and lesser sovereignty. Though Moscow would see Poland among the former, our eastern neighbours would definitely find themselves among the latter.

Because of its history, Poland is not a candidate for participating in such a `new Yalta`.

By Marcin Wojciechowski, Gazeta Wyborcza

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