In the words of Victor Hugo: “Intelligence is the wife, imagination is the mistress, memory is the servant.” And in the actions of our old friend Radek Sikorski proof, if proof were needed, that not only should you be very careful with mistresses but you simply can’t get the staff these days. No sooner had we all become excited about yet more apparent dastardly doings of brother Putin (please see Interview) and our hero’s brilliance in not walking into the trap, than Sikorski rather spoils the fun by claiming memory failure.
At a press conference yesterday, Sikorski said that his memory had failed him and, after checking, the meeting at which Putin is supposed to have invited the then Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, to join Russia in annexing Ukrainian territory, did not take place in Moscow as he had originally claimed in an interview with US magazine Politico. Apparently, he was actually referring to comments made by Putin at a NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008. And, even more disappointingly, not only was the location of the meeting which didn’t take place wrong, but it appears that the claim Putin offered parts of Ukraine to Poland could have been a joke whose sinister import became clearer only as events have unfolded.
To the obvious question why he and Tusk had not revealed Putin’s suggestion before, Sikorski answered that these “surreal” remarks appeared to be significant only following the NATO summit, after the war in Georgia and the annexation of the Crimea. According to Sikorski, the detail of the conversation was open to interpretation but in the light of what is now happening in Ukraine which puts rather different complexion on it of course.
Sikorski does still maintain that a conversation did indeed take place although he was not himself a witness to it. The former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, told the TVN24 news station that the Russian president had offered to divide up Ukraine many years ago to Polish and other national leaders. Furthermore, Putin had told him that he was very unhappy with Moldova, something must be done and that NATO will not be able to defend the Baltic States. In support of Sikorski, Saakashvili also said that Donald Tusk had told him about the conversation with Putin and had said that he thought Putin was joking. Tusk, the new president of the European Council from December, has yet to comment.
Needless to say, Sikorski’s reticence regarding the alleged offer from Putin has not gone down well. The original interview will be raised at a meeting of Poland’s National Security Council. Prime minister Ewa Kopacz said she was surprised that Sikorski had kept these remarks to himself for so long saying that she would not tolerate such standards of behavior even apologising to journalists on his behalf. Of Sikorski’s lapse of memory, the leader of the SLD, Leszek Miller, said that a politician who confuses fact and fantasy undermines the authority of the country (something of which the non-confused ones are perfectly capable) while the leader of the largest opposition party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, inevitably called for Sikorski’s resignation.
Be that as it may, it would be a pity to allow Sikorski’s blotting of his copy book to obscure the fact that his warnings about Russian intentions and the need for NATO and the EU to demonstrate clearly that they have the will to resist Putin’s designs have been proved correct by events. As it stands now, Putin may simply dismiss Sikorski’s warnings as the ravings of a fantasist and it would be a tragedy worthy of Aeschylus himself if we let Putin have the last laugh.
Albert Einstein wrote: “Memory is deceptive because it is coloured by today’s events.” Perhaps. But Aeschylus, with whom we started yesterday, wrote that memory is the mother of all wisdom. We would be wise not to allow Sikorski’s memory lapse to prevent us from remembering what is really important in all this.