Lech Kaczynski: How
The West Got Georgia Wrong
'The Russians showed the helplessness in the West. That's terrible, because
the West is much stronger than they are.'
By Andrew Nagorski | NEWSWEEK
Sep 27, 2008
From the magazine
issue dated Oct 6, 2008
During the war between Georgia and Russia, no European leader denounced Russia as strongly as Poland's president, Lech Kaczynski.
He has also been a fervent backer of U.S. plans to deploy 10 interceptor
missiles on Polish territory. U.S.
and Polish officials signed the agreement for the missile shield soon after
Russian troops crossed into Georgian territory. While visiting the United
Nations last week, he talked with Andrew Nagorski, a former NEWSWEEK senior
editor and now director of public policy at the EastWest Institute. Excerpts:
NAGORSKI: What lessons did we
learn from the conflict between Russia
KACZYNSKI: First, Russia wanted
to carry out an annexation of two provinces. Second, there was an attempt to
topple the government. The West was capable of one thing: not allowing this
toppling of the government. Third, this has huge strategic importance for Europe. I've been pushing for years for building
alternative routes for oil and natural gas on a big scale from Azerbaijan—and,
maybe in the future, from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan—that would bypass Russia.
The attack on Georgia
has made this more difficult.
You ' re convinced the Russians wanted to depose the Georgian government?
Yes. My intervention and that of the presidents of Lithuania, Latvia
and Estonia, and some
engagement of the United
States, forcing the engagement of NATO and, the least willingly, the European Union caused the
Russians to not go for that. They always act with different options in mind,
and that was the optimal one for them. They left the territory
of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to
occupy part of Georgia.
The Russians showed a certain helplessness on the part of the West. That's
terrible because the West is much stronger than they are.
Didn ' t Georgia make a huge
mistake attacking South Ossetia on Aug. 7?
This mistake was provoked. There was a test of
strength, and Russia
showed the face it wanted to show—an imperial face. Ukraine is now threatened. We won't
see the rebirth of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union.
This is just the old Russia.
Your personal involvement has
left the impression that you '
re the most anti-Russian leader in Europe. Fair?
I'm rational and not anti-Russian. I've been aware
of these dangerous tendencies for many years, from the late Yeltsin era. We
have to convince Russia
that the imperial era is over.
Many Europeans say you go too
far in your criticism of Russia.
I'm not going too far. This is a situation a bit
Those who were then appeasing Hitler were firmly convinced that they were
right. Time showed something different. There's never an exact analogy. We
aren't threatened by a Russian invasion right now.
The Polish government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk wasn ' t as enthusiastic about the U.S. missile shield as you were.
I won. [Smiles]
Was this because of conflict in Georgia?
Yes, that's it. I'm a proponent of this [missile shield] not because I
believe Iran will launch a
nuclear attack or that this is a tool in the struggle with Russia, but because this deepens the interest of
the United States
in this area. It's in the interests of my country to have the closest possible
relations with the United
If you ' re not afraid of an
attack from Iran or Russia,
what is the shield defending against?
Theoretically, against world terrorism. But I know how it defends Poland: by ensuring that Americans do not become
indifferent to any attempts to include Poland
sphere of influence.
In that sense, the Russians are right: the shield is
aimed against them?
If you insist that my country should become part of the outer ring of the
Russian empire, my fundamental duty is to prevent this. But obviously this
isn't militarily aimed against Russia
in any way.
Can NATO and Russia become friends?
We're not yet returning to the cold war, and it's up to Russia if we
will or not. Georgia was
hugely significant, and Europe didn't come to
the right conclusions about what the lessons are. If NATO had offered the MAP
[Membership Action Plan] to Ukraine
and Georgia in Bucharest, I doubt we
would have had this crisis. NATO has its serious drawbacks, but it's an
exporter of stabilization.