The poet Aeschylus: “You have been trapped in the inescapable net of ruin by your own want of sense.” Not really and not on this occasion, but our old friend Radek Sikorski, the former foreign minister of Poland, now speaker of the parliament, and no stranger to unwelcome reporting (please see Shattered Reputations) does appear to be trying to distance himself from some comments he made during an interview with American magazine Politico.
The cause of all the excitement is Sikorski’s revelation that President Putin wanted Poland to participate with Russia in the partition of Ukraine. Apparently, this was one of the first things that Putin said to the then Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, during a visit to Moscow in 2008: Ukraine is an artificial country and Lwow is a Polish city and why don’t we just sort it out together. Luckily, according to Sikorski, Tusk did not answer as he knew he was being recorded. Which is a pity, you might think, as a resounding ‘no’, recorded or not, is what one assumes would have been the answer – there was no need to have been silent.
The speaker of the Russian parliament Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Sikorski said, sent a message to the Polish government offering Poland five provinces of western Ukraine in an attempt to overcome Polish opposition to Russia’s designs in eastern Ukraine, which designs have now been realised with the annexation of Crimea. “We made it very, very clear to them – we wanted nothing to do with this”. In Sikorski’s view, Russia simply cannot accept Ukraine as an independent country. “They cannot admit that a separate nation exists. And if they want to go head to head against Ukrainian nationalism, well, then be my guest. Then Russia will learn that Ukraine is really a nation and face a situation of 20 years of partisan war.” According to Sikorski, the current civil war in eastern Ukraine, with government forces fighting rebels backed by Moscow, did actually begin as early as 2008 and, as he also pointed out, it was at a NATO summit in Bucharest that year that Putin gave his extraordinary speech saying Ukraine was an artificial country the greater part of whose lands historically belonged to Russia.
Be that as it may, Sikorski took to Twitter yesterday to say that the interview with Politico was not authorized, and some of his words had been over-interpreted. This in turn lead Ben Judah, the journalist who interviewed Sikorski for Politico magazine, to tell Polish TVN24 that he was not sure what Sikorski had in mind when saying that some of his comments had been “over-interpreted”. And, he added, that in the United States, journalists are not required to have an interview authorised before publication, as they technically might be in Poland.
Needless to say, the Kremlin response was unequivocal. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian newspaper RBK that the interview was “nonsense”, adding for good measure that “the Kremlin does not plan to respond to comments made by the former foreign minister of Poland that a few years ago Russian president Vladimir Putin proposed to Polish prime minister Donald Tusk to divide Ukraine”.
Actually, it’s hard to see really what all the fuss is about. Sikorski and Tusk should be rather proud – a point made by Ben Judah on Twitter – that Poland did not fall into brother Putin’s 1930s divide and conquer trap to drag it “into the darkness”. Putin probably thought, wrongly, that Poland could again be tempted to become an accomplice in the annexation of a neighbour’s territory as it had been in 1938. But, of course, this attempt at a modern day Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was doomed from the outset. The historical precedent of being a dictator’s accomplice is hardly encouraging, Poland is part of NATO and had nothing gain and everything to lose by playing such games such and, as if there first two were not reason enough, Sikorski as foreign minister was simply of a higher calibre than Jozef Beck, a man noted for playing a bad hand badly. No, to have fallen for brother Putin’s attempt to awaken an imperial fantasy would have betrayed Poland’s present and as Aeschylus counsels: “I have learned to hate all traitors, and there is no disease that I spit on more than treachery.”