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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » December 30, 2010
Politics & Society
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Thaw to the East
December 30, 2010   
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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s Dec. 6-7 visit to Warsaw may have opened a new chapter in troubled Polish-Russian relations.

While commenting on the visit, Polish politicians have stopped short of calling it a turning point in bilateral relations, but it is clear that the trip was more productive than similar visits before.

This was the third official visit to Poland by a Russian president. The recent history of Polish-Russian relations started with a 1990 declaration on the principles of bilateral relations. Boris Yeltsin paid an official visit to Warsaw in 1993 and Vladimir Putin in 2002. Putin was also in Poland unofficially in 2005 to take part in the commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

While in Warsaw Dec. 6 and 7, Medvedev was accompanied by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Justice Minister Alexandr Konovalov, high-ranking Economy Ministry officials and officials from other ministries, including the Culture Ministry. Russian Prosecutor-General Yuri Chayka arrived in Poland a day earlier.

An agreement on cooperation between Polish and Russian prosecutors was among the documents signed during Medvedev’s visit.

After the official welcoming ceremony in front of the President’s Palace, Medvedev and Komorowski held a face-to-face talk. They also took part in some of the plenary talks. In the evening, the Polish head of state hosted a dinner in honor of his Russian guest. Medvedev also laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and—on the second day of his visit—at a monument to Soviet soldiers who were killed in Poland during World War II.

One of the most awaited talks were those on the 1940 Katyn massacre, one of the most difficult problems in Polish-Russian relations. Medvedev came to Poland soon after the Russian parliament approved an unprecedented resolution which described the killing of thousands of Polish nationals in the spring of 1940—including thousands of officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland—as a crime of the Stalinist regime.

When presenting the draft resolution, which was eventually passed Nov. 26, Konstantin Kosachov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian parliament, said its adoption would be another step on the road towards reconciliation with the Poles. “It is not an easy decision. It is a moment of truth for each of us,” Kosachov said. The draft was supported by 342 deputies, 57 deputies voted against, and no one abstained.

After the Russian parliament’s decision, Komorowski called the resolution “a positive signal coming from Moscow shortly before the Russian president’s visit.”

Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski said the resolution was “another gesture towards Polish-Russian reconciliation based on truth.”

Several days before Medvedev’s visit, the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office handed over another 50 volumes of files concerning the Katyn massacre to the Polish embassy in Moscow. The documents come from the 1940s and 1990s and Polish researchers never before had access to most of them.

Finally, soon before the visit began, a task force known as the Polish-Russian Commission for Difficult Issues presented its findings in a book entitled Blank Pages—Dark Pages: Difficult Issues in Polish-Russian Relations (1918-2008), edited by Prof. Adam Rotfeld and Prof. Anatoly Torkunov, the two co-chairmen of the commission.

At a news conference summing up the visit, Komorowski thanked Russia for the parliamentary resolution and described it as a major step forward in talks on historical problems.

Another important topic of the talks between the two presidents was the April 10 crash near the Russian city of Smolensk of a plane carrying Polish officials, including the former Polish president and his wife, and dozens of Poland’s top civilian and military officials. All 96 on board the plane died in the crash. Komorowski and Medvedev said that joint commemorations would be held for the victims on the site of the crash under the auspices of the two presidents. The presidents are expected to attend the unveiling of a monument to the victims.

The Russian president’s visit provided an opportunity to talk about Russia’s relations with NATO and the European Union. Russian Ambassador to Poland Alexandr Alekseyev said before Medvedev’s visit that the abolition of the visa requirement was a priority issue in Russia’s relations with the EU. He added that Poland could take an active part in the process as it prepares to take over the rotating presidency of the European Union as of July 1, 2011.

Economic issues were another group of topics discussed in Warsaw. Medvedev said Russian companies were interested in taking part in the privatization of Polish companies operating in sectors such as chemicals and petrochemicals and energy. However, an agreement on the mutual protection of investment projects was not finalized during the visit—teams of experts will still be working on it.

A tone of satisfaction dominated in Russian media comments following Medvedev’s visit to Poland. The Russian media stressed that relations between the two countries were taking on a new character after a long period of stagnation, with the partners ready for dialogue despite differences of opinion on some bilateral and international issues.

Most Polish politicians praised the Warsaw talks with Medvedev. The only exception were hardline rightist politicians from the opposition Law and Justice Party (PiS), who said that Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk pursued a submissive policy toward Moscow. But this comment comes as no surprise. In 2005-2007, the PiS government pursued a policy of no dialogue with Russia. The late President Lech Kaczyński, the co-founder of PiS, also avoided contact with Russian politicians.
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