Staunton, August 23 – By going to Tallinn rather than Berlin on his first foreign trip and by doing so on August 23rd, the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that led to the occupation of Poland and the Baltic countries, Polish President Andrzej Duda has taken a major step toward the formation of an alliance of the countries in between Germany and Russia.
The first foreign trip any leader makes says a lot about his intentions. In contrast to his post-Soviet predecessors, Duda has chosen to go to the Estonian capital rather than Berlin, an indication of his focus on the Intermarium, the countries between the Baltic and the Black Sea that he has said he wants to make the focus of his presidency.
And in what is an even more symbolic act, Duda has done so on the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which not only made Hitler and Stalin allies opening the way for World War II in Europe but which also led to the division of Poland between the two dictators and the occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Neither of these points will be lost either on the Poles, the Baltic nations, the peoples of the other countries “in between,” or perhaps most importantly on Europe and on Moscow. On the one hand, it is the latest assertion by those “in between” that they are going to insist that “no decisions about them are to be taken without them.”
And on the other, Duda’s action is a clear challenge to Moscow and the EU, the former because it has pursued a divide and dominate strategy in the region, and the latter because it has increasingly acted as if Berlin and Paris can make deals with Moscow over the objections of the countries there.
(For background, see Marek Jan Chodakiewicz’s magisterial Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas (Transaction, 2012), and the present author’s “New Polish President Makes Baltic-Black Sea Alliance a Centerpiece of His Foreign Policy,” August 13, at jamestownfoundation.blogspot.com/2015/08/new-polish-president-makes-balticblack.html.)
In one of the first Russian reactions to Duda’s trip, Aleksandr Shtorm of Regnum.ru is alternatively dismissive of Poland’s move, hopeful that it will divide Europe and thus provide an opening for Moscow, and clearly alarmed by the prospect that Duda may gain traction for his ideas (regnum.ru/news/polit/1955831.html).
More reaction from Moscow and Europe is certain over the next few days, but it is already clear that however much some in both places oppose the Intermarium idea, President Duda by going to Estonia has created a new reality, what diplomats like to call “facts on the ground.”
And that means that an idea that has its roots in the time of Jozef Pilsudski may now be about to come to flower, a challenge for those who think that only the great powers should make history and who forget that on many occasions, as the Poles, the Balts, and the Ukrainians have proved, the peoples in between actually do.