August 21, 2015

Realpolitik Trumps Religious Ideology

Andrzej Duda (R), the new Polish President and the Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas enjoy a view during his one day visit to Tallinn on August 23, 2015.
Andrzej Duda (R), the new Polish President and the Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas enjoy a view during his one day visit to Tallinn on August 23, 2015.

The fact that Poland’s new President Andrzej Duda made his first visit to Estonia – on the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, no less – shows Poland’s greater stake in the region following the change in the security situation. For Estonia, it’s undoubtedly a boon for a large regional power to devote so much attention to Tallinn.

Already before Duda took office, Lithuanian analysts in regional weekly The Baltic Times predicted that the new president would put more weight on cooperation with the Baltics. It seems they were right. A diplomatic source told Reuters that Duda was coming to Estonia to launch a campaign to deploy permanent NATO troops in the region. Many members of the alliance, including Poland’s neighbour Germany, have thus far been in support of rotations rather than a permanent presence.

Naturally the calls for permanent NATO troop presence did not come out of thin air – they are due to Russia’s behaviour. And the attitude of the various countries toward Russia helps to explain why Duda came to Estonia. Very often, presidents and prime ministers will make their first visit to a neighbouring country. In the case of Poland, these would be Russia (because of Kaliningrad), then Belarus, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany and Ukraine. Russia would be off the list because of the Ukraine crisis. It would be strange, to say the least, if the new president visited his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenka. With Lithuania, Poland still has unresolved issues over the writing of Polish names. Slovakia and the Czech Republic – especially the latter’s president Milos Zeman – have been relatively friendly to Russia. Germany would probably not be an appropriate country for a first visit due to historical reasons; moreover, before becoming president Duda was associated with the Law and Justice Party, which has no love lost with Germany. Ukraine would seem quite a natural choice, but perhaps Duda would want to turn to his face to the Western allies first. Estonia is one such ally. Also telling is the fact that the Vatican is not among the countries that Duda is due to visit first. To sum up: the first foreign visit of one of Europe’s most religious and Catholic countries is to one of Europe’s least devout nations. Realpolitik trumps religious ideology.

Berlin is also among Duda’s first destinations for visits, but not Paris or Brussels. Already before the events in Crimea, Poland has talked about the need for stronger European Union unity. Radek Sikorski, a previous foreign minister, has spoken both in Germany and the UK of the need for stronger European foreign policy. This week, Sikorski had an article in the Financial Times where the current chairman of the Polish Seim states with regret that the EU still does not have a common foreign policy. For instance, France and Germany were behind the Minsk ceasefire agreements – countries that do not even have a common border with Ukraine. So it is no wonder that Poland wants to change this situation and Duda’s visits to Estonia, Germany, the UK and US send a clear signal that Poland is not content with the current situation in the European Union. Besides, the Minsk ceasefire has not worked as it should have, as in recent days, the attacks in eastern Ukraine have once again escalated. Estonia should certainly join in with Poland’s initiative, as it will strengthen Estonian security. And it will also undoubtedly have a positive effect on the security of the European Union as a whole.

This piece, originally in Estonian, aired on Retro FM’s European news on 21 August 2015.