Poland’s Kaczynski Backs Ukraine’s NATO Bid, Seeks Better Ties With Moscow

MOSCOW, Russia -- Poland’s new president said his country hopes to see neighbor Ukraine join NATO in 2008 and wants better relations with Russia while urging Moscow to drop ideas of having a “zone of influence” in the region, Lech Kaczynski told The Associated Press.

Poland's President Lech Kaczynski

President Lech Kaczynski, a social conservative, took over in December from former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, who had served the maximum two terms. Kaczynski travels Wednesday to the U.S. for his first meeting with President George W. Bush.

Poles have been eager to win more U.S. investment and easier access to visas, but Kaczynski stressed that strategic issues like Iraq and hopes for further NATO expansion would be a priority during his meeting with Bush on Thursday. Many of his comments looked to Poland’s immediate neighborhood in Eastern Europe.

“The main issue of the talks will be related to our political-military alliance, NATO, the enlargement of NATO,” Kaczynski, 56, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Poland is very much interested in the enlargement of NATO.”

He indicated that Poland would push for building stronger Western ties with Ukraine — a former part of the Soviet Union where Russian influence is still strong. “Poland is very deeply interested in Ukraine joining NATO. We would very much like that to happen in 2008,” he said, reiterating Polish support for Ukraine eventually joining the European Union as well.

Poland, where memories of domination by Moscow during the Cold War are still fresh, angered Moscow with its support for Ukraine’s so-called “Orange Revolution,” in which pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko won election over a candidate backed by Moscow.

He said Poland would continue efforts to diversify its sources of oil and gas to reduce its dependence on Russia, and would focus on efforts to obtain more natural gas from Norway and plans to build a terminal on the Baltic Sea to take delivery of gas by ship from sources such as Algeria and Qatar. “We never know what fate may bring,” he said. “We must have the possibility of getting gas from many sources.”

Kaczynski won the election in October after his twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, led their Law and Justice Party to victory in parliamentary elections the month before. Both are former activists in the Solidarity trade union movement that helped topple communist rule in 1989-90. Jaroslaw Kaczynski decided not to seek the prime minister’s job because the brothers believed many people wouldn’t want identical twins in the two top political posts. Law and Justice’s Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz became prime minister instead.

After talking tough about Moscow during the election campaign and immediately afterward, Kaczynski’s remarks Tuesday were nuanced. He declined to criticize Russia for briefly turning off natural gas to Ukraine in a dispute that underlined fears that Moscow may use its energy reserves as a lever to enhance its influence over other countries.

“As far as Russia is concerned, we are interested in good cooperation and we are also interested in Russians forgetting that there is a sphere of influence here,” he said. “I am aware that this is particularly difficult for the Russians. But for the sake of good European cooperation, they should forget about it, and be aware that Poles are eager for cooperation with Russia.”

He said Russia’s campaign against separatist rebels in the Muslim Chechen region did not meet standards of democracy. But he added that not all President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to centralize political control were bad.

“Putin is consolidating the state in a very strong manner. Some of his actions truly fit in the true standards of democracy,” Kaczynski said. “But people who think that every centralization is anti-democratic and every decentralization is pro-democratic, will always say ... that are many anti-democratic processes there. I don’t share this opinion.”

“But if we are dealing with actions aimed at curbing the opposition, then that does not fit the standards of democracy and certainly the issues of Chechnya cannot be reconciled with the standards of democracy.”

Source: MosNews