Summary: Poland is one of the EU and NATO member states which were formerly in the Eastern Block, notable for its high economic growth and strong military. Though it is traditionally suspicious of Russia, Poland’s strong stance on common EU policies and complex history with Ukraine do not translate into sympathy towards its eastern neighbour. Poland’s already chilly relations with Russia in the aftermath of Lech Kaczynski’s death in Smolensk have been worsened by the annexation of Crimea. Poland’s history left it aware that international treaties alone cannot protect the country, leading to a military build-up as a reaction to events in Ukraine. Furthermore, Poland is firm on abandoning Russian natural gas imports in favour of alternative import sources from Denmark and Norway. Naturally, Poland has shown full support to sanctions against Russia, urging the parties in the conflict in Ukraine to respect the Minsk agreements.

I. Relationship Parameters

Distance: Borders with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast.  Due to the suspension of Small border traffic (SBT), entrance to the Kaliningrad Region is carried out only on the basis of valid visa.[1]

History: Deep historical burden prevents normalisation of relations with Russia. Issues from the past are causing distrust towards Russia and are being translated into political as well as economic ties. Especially the crimes committed against Poles during the Second World War by Soviet authorities, the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, the Katyn Massacre in 1940 (which many Poles see as genocide, Russians rather as a war crime) and subsequent denial of truth about the massacre (by blaming Germans for it) have lasting repercussions on the mutual relations. On the other hand, Russia blames Poles for not showing any gratitude for liberation from the Nazi occupation.[2]

Investigation of Smolensk airplane crash: Russia is criticised for its failure to examine all the circumstances of the airplane crash in Smolensk in 2010 which killed 96 people onboard, among them President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria, the chief of the Polish General Staff and other top military officers and politicians. Moreover, the ruling party Law and Justice has long challenged the official investigation of the crash.[3] Poland is considering the possibility of submitting a dispute regarding the investigation to the ICJ.[4]

Security services activity: Poland is of high interest for Russian intelligence services, therefore Russia is the country with extensive spy network in Poland. In 2006, Polish president Lech Kaczynski dissolved the Military Intelligence Service (WSI) which was considered the base of communist-era spies. Subsequently, a report[5] on the operations of the WSI was published.[6] Number or Russian intelligence officers operate under diplomatic cover as well. In 2014, several Russian diplomats were expelled on suspicion of spying in favour of the Russian intelligence services. As a response, Russia has expelled several Polish diplomats for what was described as an “unfriendly and unfounded” step.[7] Former Russian military attaché in Poland Eduard Shishmakov who was expelled for espionage is accused of participating in the plot in Montenegro.[8]

Diplomatic mission: Number of diplomats accredited at Russian embassy in Poland is 64, 118 with their spouses.

Migration: EU’s most popular destination country for Ukrainian temporary migrants.[9] Currently, most refugees applying for asylum in Poland come from Russia, Ukraine and Georgia.[10]

Economy and trade: Poland’s most important trade partner from outside the EU. Poland supports the EU-Russia Partnership for Modernization. Nevertheless, Russia’s trade with Poland has halved since 2014. Following anti-Russian sanctions in 2014, Russia has banned import of Polish fruit and vegetables. Russia’s food hygiene authorities claimed it had contained unacceptable levels of pesticide residues and nitrates.[11] In 2013, Poland exported to Russia agriculture products valued at 1,3 bln. EUR (6,2% of all agriculture export) – which made Russian market the third most important destination. In 2015 this value dropped to 398 mln. EUR. At the same time, the overall value of agriculture export in 2015 rose by 7,7% to 23,6 bln. EUR.

Energy: Poland opposed the Nord Stream pipeline. A liquid-natural-gas terminal LNG in Poland reducing its dependence on Russia was inaugurated in 2015. The Polish government has decided not to prolong an agreement with Russia on the purchase of gas which is due to expire in 2022; instead they started to negotiate with Denmark and Norway on the construction of a gas pipeline from the North Sea to Poland’s LNG port. In order to diverse its gas deliveries, several plans for connections in the region exist on paper, including routes such as: Poland-Czech Republic, Czech Republic-Slovakia, Poland-Slovakia, Poland-Lithuania, Slovakia-Hungary, Hungary-Croatia and Hungary-Romania.[12]

Military tensions: Acute security concerns of a “frontier” state with memories of Soviet takeover of 1939. Poland fears being left alone in a confrontation with Russia. Therefore, it has requested for increased presence of NATO in the country[13] and has increased its military spendings from 1,6% GDP in 2013 to 2,2% in 2015.[14] As a part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, American soldiers are being deployed in Poland along with tanks and heavy equipment serving as a deterrence. The Kremlin considers this to be an aggressive step along its borders and a threat to its security. It has already deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad which borders with Poland and Lithuania. Russian media often heats up the atmosphere between both countries by spreading fabrications, such as the alleged crash between Polish and Russian submarines which have allegedly taken place in 2016. In fact, the the Polish submarine was anchored in Gdynia at the time.[15]

Dispute over the US missile shield: Russia opposes plans to build a part of the NATO missile defence system in Poland that is due to be ready in 2018. As a response, Putin said that Russia “will do everything needed to ensure and preserve the strategic balance, which is the most reliable guarantee from large-scale military conflicts,” in addition, the Kremlin has vowed to modernize the Dnepr Missile Launch Detection System located in Crimea.[16] Russian media also usually reminds of the presence of the Iskander missile system in Kaliningrad whenever discussion about the construction begins within NATO.[17]

Eastern Partnership: Polish diplomacy flagship initiative. Promoting eastern dimension in the EU, as well as within the V4 countries. Strongly supporting EU and NATO aspirations of EaP countries (including commitment to Ukraine’s “European perspective”).[18] Ukraine has always been its priority country and Poland was active in supporting the Orange Revolution. Nevertheless, Poland is reluctant to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons, its military support is focused mainly on military training of Ukrainian soldiers. Poland underpins anti-Russian sanctions until the full implementation of the Minsk agreement.

View of Russia: According to the latest Eurobarometr, 27% of Poles had a positive view of Russia.

II. Expert Assessment

Power Audit (2007):[19] New Cold Warrior: overtly hostile relationship with Moscow, willing to use the veto to block EU negotiations with Russia. Suspecting Russia of waging a new cold war against the EU. Active in shaping a more critical EU stance towards Russia. Frosty political relations with Russia that often spills over into the economic field (meat and vegetable embargo, disputes over phytosanitary norms). Poland blocked negotiations on the new PCA with Russia.

National Perspectives (2013):[20] Energy security, common neighbourhood and historical issues key subjects of cooperation. Anyway, feelings between Poles and Russians are a mix of admiration, envy and disrespect, with a prevailing mistrust.

EU-28 Watch (2015):[21] Polish-Russian relations have deteriorated due to the annexation of Crimea with no sign of future improvement. Poland is a leader in maintaining anti-Russian sanctions and supporting Euro-Atlantic ties of EaP countries. Its tough approach toward Russia is not widely shared by the entire EU. Ukraine’s association remains the long-term aim, but the objective is currently seen with more realism.

Views from the capitals (2015-2016):[22] Poland´s security concerns and distrust exacerbated by Russian imperialist turn has brought their relationship to its lowest level in 25 years. Official contacts are limited. Poland is convicted that the conventional military conflict with Russia is possible, therefore deterrence is the pillar of its strategy. Anyway, it prefers sanctions to any military operations and thinks the EU should reconfirm its commitments towards the EaP countries. Conflict in Ukraine and Syria should be dealt with separately. Nevertheless, the political consensus on approach towards Russia is not as clear as it has been in the past.

European Foreign Policy Scorecard[23] Leader on ambitious agenda in the Eastern neighbourhood, support for ratifying and implementing Association Agreements with Georgia and Moldova, promoting a tough sanctions policy and a response towards Russian aggression in the Donbas. Strong political, financial and military support of Ukraine (2016). Leader on diversifying gas supplies away from Russia and author of the initiative for an Energy Union, trying to hold Russia to its WTO commitments and pushing for EU-US cooperation on Russia (2015), pushing for assistance to EaP and visa-free travel, supporting European Commission in resisting Russian pressure on EaP countries (2014) and leader on putting pressure on Belarus for political liberalization (2013).

III. Policy Documents

Annual address on foreign policy goals (2017):[24]

Stability in our neighbourhood and beyond – in the European neighbourhood – is a key task for Poland…[Russia´s] withdrawal from the deal on plutonium disposal with the U.S. was a chance to learn about Russian ambitions vis-à-vis CEE, such as, the de facto pulling out of NATO from the entire region, and drawing a dozen or so countries with their tens of millions of citizens into a grey zone condemning them instability and uncertainty. Poland will not accept such a vision of the political order in Europe, and will not condone the carving up of our continent into spheres of influence. Never again Munich or Yalta. Russia’s political actions go hand-in-hand with concrete military steps. We are concerned by the expansion of the Western Military District, to which three new divisions were added in 2016. The militarization of Kaliningrad Oblast continues, with the deployment of new types of weaponry, such as medium-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads….At the same time, we recognize the need for dialogue with our Russian neighbour. We are going to take steps to develop social dialogue, people-to-people contacts, and cultural cooperation, as well as to restore bilateral economic relations.

Annual address on foreign policy goals (2016):[25]

Russia aims to revise the post-Cold War European order and is ready to use force, as its aggression against Ukraine shows. Russia seeks to expand its own sphere of influence and inhibit democratic transition of those Eastern European countries which aspire to rapprochement with the West. It is a policy supported by the expansion of the Russian military potential and hybrid activities, including propaganda…Pragmatic and substantive relations with Russia are in the interest of Poland and Europe alike. Rather than based on one-sided concessions, however, cooperation with Russia should be built in the spirit of constructive dialogue, respect for bilateral agreements and international law.

Eastern Policy: Russia[26]

Since 2013, relations between Poland and Russia have lost their dynamics. The basis thereof was different attitude towards the architecture of the European security, controversies regarding the role and position of the countries of the Central Europe, as well as energy security. Differences between Poland and Russia have been exposed to the biggest extent after Russian aggression in Ukraine. Poland, fulfilling joint EU policy, limited its political contacts with Moscow – at the same time keeping open different channels of dialogue and technical cooperation.

National Security Strategy (2014):[27]

As a neighbour of the Russian Federation, Poland considers that both bilateral relations and NATO-Russia and EU-Russia relations should be developed on the basis of full respect for international law, including sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, as well as freedom to choose their own path of development, political and military alliances…The reassertion of Russia’s position as a major power at the expense of its neighbourhood, as well as the escalation of its confrontational policy, has a negative impact on the security in the region.

Internal Security Agency Report (2014):[28]       

ISA confirmed continued high level of activity of Russian intelligence services directed against Poland and linked with the Kremlin’s propaganda strategy. Their aims were discrediting the position of Poland and other NATO member states in the Ukraine crisis; bringing attention to the complex history of relations between Poland and Ukraine to cause antagonism between their societies; creating and highlighting divisions among the EU and NATO members. Kremlin media spread anti-EU and anti-American statements, especially by Euro-sceptic politicians and voices speaking against further sanctions and tougher policy on Russia. The strategy relied on Russian media as well as Polish citizens representing the pro-Russian stance, and in some cases paid by the Russian state institutions.




[2] Cichocki, B., Poland, chapter 6 in M. David, J. Gower and H. Haukkala, ‘National Perspectives on Russia: European Foreign Policy in the Making?’, Routledge 2013.

[3] https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_view_from_warsaw_deterrence_above_all7150

[4] https://www.thenews.pl/1/10/Artykul/291622,Poland-to-lodge-complaint-in-Hague-tribunal-over-Russian-Smolensk-inquiry-FM


[6] https://www.stratfor.com/geopolitical-diary/geopolitical-diary-trying-redefine-poland

[7] https://www.euractiv.com/section/europe-s-east/news/russia-orders-out-polish-and-german-diplomats-in-tit-for-tat-expulsions/

[8] https://www.euractiv.com/section/enlargement/news/eu-calls-for-rapid-investigation-into-montenegro-coup/

[9] https://www.osw.waw.pl/en/publikacje/osw-commentary/2015-10-19/migration-ukrainians-times-crisis

[10] https://politicalcritique.org/cee/poland/2016/forgotten-refugees-chechen-asylum-seekers-in-poland/

[11] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28603140

[12] https://www.neweasterneurope.eu/interviews/2007-russia-ukraine-and-europe-s-energy-security

[13] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS?locations=PL

[14] https://eu-28watch.org/issues/issue-no-11/poland/

[15] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-russia-poland-idUSKBN14W1E4

[16] https://www.rferl.org/a/us-nordic-summit-russian-aggression/27733484.html

[17] https://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/2057-from-prussia-to-russia-how-koenigsberg-the-fortress-city-became-kaliningrad-the-iskander-base


[19] https://www.ecfr.eu/page/-/ECFR-02_A_POWER_AUDIT_OF_EU-RUSSIA_RELATIONS.pdf

[20] Cichocki, B., Poland, chapter 6 in M. David, J. Gower and H. Haukkala, ‘National Perspectives on Russia: European Foreign Policy in the Making?’, Routledge 2013.

[20] https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_view_from_warsaw_deterrence_above_all7150

[21] https://eu-28watch.org/issues/issue-no-11/poland/

[22] https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_view_from_warsaw_deterrence_above_all7150



[23] https://www.ecfr.eu/scorecard

[24] https://www.msz.gov.pl/en/foreign_policy/goals_of_foreign_policy/annual_address_2011/

[25] https://www.msz.gov.pl/resource/601901dd-1db8-4a64-ba4a-9c80f2d5811b:JCR

[26] https://www.msz.gov.pl/en/foreign_policy/eastern_policy/russia

[27] https://www.bbn.gov.pl/ftp/dok/NSS_RP.pdf

[28] https://bs.net.pl/sites/default/files/media/rozne/raport_2015_int.pdf