Poland Is the Boy Who Didn't Cry Wolf

The Brezhnev Doctrine on Steroids

What we have witnessed in Moscow on March 18, 2014, was in fact the formal announcement of the Putin Doctrine, which he spelled out during his illegal annexation of the Crimea. When looked at closely, it is basically the Brezhnev Doctrine ... but on steroids. In November, 1968, Leonid Brezhnev (nota bene, during a congress of the Polish Communist party) proclaimed that if the Warsaw Pact had not intervened in Czechoslovakia, "NATO troops would have been able to come up to the Soviet border..." Two weeks ago, Putin warned that if Crimea and Sevastopol were not part of Russia, "It would have meant that NATO's navy would be right there in this city of Russia's military glory, and this would create not an illusory but a perfectly real threat to the whole of southern Russia." Brezhnev manifested that "socialist countries resolutely come out against the exporting and importing of counterrevolution."

Almost 50 years later, Putin lamented that a "whole series of controlled 'color' revolutions" was carried out in nations whose citizens' "feelings were taken advantage of cynically." Brezhnev said that (like other socialist countries), Czechoslovakia has and "should have freedom for determining its ways to advance." Putin insisted, "We want Ukraine to be a strong, sovereign and self-sufficient country." While Russian forces invaded Ukraine's territory, he assured that, "Our relations with Ukraine, with the fraternal Ukrainian people, have always been and will remain of foremost importance for us"; When Brezhnev struck down Czechoslovakia he justified his actions with the "internationalist duty toward the fraternal peoples of Czechoslovakia." In 1968, Brezhnev affirmed that "the U.S.S.R. and the other socialist states had to act decisively [...] against the anti-socialist forces in Czechoslovakia." Putin, on the other hand, trumpeted that Russia "could not abandon Crimea and its residents in distress" because the events in Ukraine were orchestrated by the "heirs of Bandera, Hitler's accomplice" and "nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites."

The similarities between the two doctrines are striking, but Putin has taken the Brezhnev Doctrine to a whole new level. Brezhnev reserved the Soviet Union's right to intervene in all socialist countries; Putin reserves the right to intervene in any country where there is a Russian minority. He asserted that "residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and lives." What will Putin do if some Russian-speaking residents of Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia turn to him for help? What will he do if the Russians in Kaliningrad suddenly feel threatened? What will Putin's move be if the Russians in Trans-Dniester ask the Kremlin for military assistance? Will Moscow order its troops to march through Ukrainian territory to reach this breakaway region in Moldova? The haunting questions of "what will Putin do?" should raise an even more important one: What will we do?

We Didn't Cry "Wolf!"

Poland and the Russian Federation are important partners. Russia is our fifth largest trade partner and our second largest export market (the EU is in first place). This number has increased tenfold from 2000 to 2012. Our nations are united not only by trade and common borders, but a centuries-long history, which -- although often turbulent -- has not resulted in Russo-phobia in Poland. Poles share a deep love of Russian art, literature, ballet, and above all, Russian music. Public opinion polls show that Poles regard the Russian people as friends and clearly differentiate between individual Russians and the government and state. Despite the aggressive rhetoric of certain circles, Poles are immune to anti-Russian hysteria, which has allowed Poland's government to pursue a constructive dialogue with our neighbor.

Over the past few years, the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk has engaged our Russian partners in order to foster good neighborly relations on a bilateral and multilateral level. Contrary to the Kremlin's belief, the European Union's Eastern Partnership initiative was not meant to undermine Russia's relations with its neighbors; it was meant to upgrade relations with our neighbors. The Eastern Partnership is a win-win initiative and Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski has often reiterated that it is not aimed against anyone and is not driven by any hidden agenda.

On a bilateral plane, an agreement between Poland and Russia that entered into force in July, 2012 has created a Local Border Traffic zone near the Kalinigrad oblast, which allows Russian citizens to cross a Schengen border into Poland for tourist and commercial purposes. The LBT zone, in effect, has raised human traffic on the Polish-Russian border by 74 percent, from 2.3 million people in 2011 to 4.1 million in 2012. This achievement is important not only to our economies, but to foster people-to-people contacts. The Civic Platform government correctly believed that an open hand is better than a closed fist and this message of good faith has been repeatedly conveyed to our allies in the EU and NATO.

Poland has been more than patient with its neighbor even in the face of military maneuvers and the stationing nuclear-capable Iskander tactical ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad, or the unjustified trade embargoes imposed on Polish meat, which have been detrimental to our producers and may soon cause hundreds of workers to lose their jobs. We had not cried "wolf!" when there was not need to do so. And the wolf may not be here yet, but he's closing in fast, so it's high time to turn him back. If not, we may all be dragged into a conflict that we really want to avoid.

The Kuklinski Doctrine: Deeds, Not Words

Historically, Poles have not been the benefactors of doctrines, but rather their victims. Bearing in mind that doctrines are usually the domain of empires and superpowers, for Poland they have meant foreign aggression, deportations, and partitions. Thus, Mr. Zhirinovsky's recent suggestions to divide Ukraine between Poland and Russia are so preposterous that they raise questions about his mental well-being. However, since doctrines create user-friendly paradigms that give a clearer understanding of one's guiding principles, I would argue that Poland follows the Kuklinski Doctrine. Ryszard Kuklinski was the Polish officer who covertly worked for the CIA from 1971 and 1981. Both Bill Clinton and Zbigniew Brzezinski had humorously, but pertinently, suggested that Kuklinski was the first Polish officer in NATO. While being a senior-level officer in Communist Poland, he supplied NATO with the Warsaw Pact's military plans in order to prevent the nuclear annihilation of his homeland. But his bravery came with great personal sacrifice and his courageous attitude can be summarized as: doing the right thing, against all odds, no matter what. Thus, the Kuklinski Doctrine is defined not by his words, but by his deeds. It is only fair that our NATO and EU allies understand that the principles enshrined in this doctrine have guided Poland and will continue to do so during difficult times.

As the Secretary of State in the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, in 2009 I visited the Polish troops in the Ghazni province in Afghanistan. Our soldiers were proud to be serving their country and didn't complain, but when I asked them about the hardest thing about their mission they said that it was being away from their families. So why do it? They told me, "We want to do the right thing; we want to prove our loyalty to our allies." When America was attacked on 9/11, Poland had passed the test of loyalty and commitment with flying colors. Our troops have paid the ultimate sacrifice because many of them did not make it back home to their families.

A Line Has Been Crossed

Putin has professed that the U.S. and EU are "constantly trying to sweep us into a corner [...] But there is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our western partners have crossed the line..." I completely agree that a line has been crossed, but it wasn't we who crossed it. We need to show Russia some tough love and if this means a more frigid approach to our cooperation, so be it. Anne Applebaum has recently said that one thing worth remembering about the Cold War was that it was designed to prevent a real war, and it did.

There is still hope that the current crisis can be resolved peacefully. But if the Kremlin doesn't deescalate the conflict and there is real threat to Poland's security, then we can't promise to sit on our hands. I recently heard a thought-provoking radio interview with Kimberly Marten from Columbia's Harriman Institute. While commenting possible scenarios, she said, "My fear is that there could be a Ukrainian insurgency campaign, a Ukrainian guerrilla campaign, against those Russian forces if they were to go into mainland Ukraine. And then at that point people in Poland who had sympathy for Ukraine, again, because of that long history of western Ukraine, of being part of the Polish Lithuanian Empire, and of that piece of territory being taken away from Poland as a result of the Yalta Agreements that closed War World II, that Poland might feel obligated to give some form of support to the Ukrainian guerrilla movement against the Russians. And at that point, you have a NATO member state that is taking sides in a civil war in Ukraine that involves Russian forces. And that would be, I think, the biggest danger that could result."

Let's hope that it won't come to that.