Vienna, November 6 – Ten days ago, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that Moscow would identify those countries which have supplied Georgia with weaponry, “never forget” which side they were on, and adjust Russia’s bilateral relations with those which have done so as a consequence.
For most of the intervening period, the Russian government has focused its attention in this regard on Ukraine, Israel and the United States (www.islamdag.ru/index2.php?pageid=738), but now it has turned its attention to Poland, prompting Warsaw to declare that all its sales to Tbilisi were entirely legal (www.rg.ru/2008/11/06/orujie.html).
The timing of Moscow’s attack should come as no surprise. After all, two days ago, Russians marked as their own national holiday the anniversary of the expulsion of Polish forces from Moscow, an occasion which featured a variety of anti-Polish commentaries in the Russian media.
Moreover, the timing of this attack is transparently linked to Medvedev’s statement this week that Moscow hopes to prevent NATO from installing missile defense systems in Poland by threatening to place missiles in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad that could threaten the countries of the European Union
But there are two other aspects of Poland’s involvement with Georgia and Russia’s reaction to it that go far beyond that increasingly xenophobic event. On the one hand, Poland’s involvement with Georgia calls attention to its extraordinarily large but often neglected role in promoting democratic change in many of the countries on the former Soviet space.
And on the other, Russia’s reaction to this involvement and especially its role in helping to arm Georgia suggests that Moscow is increasingly likely to carry out Medvedev’s threat and engage in the kind of vindictive actions that will deepen the divide between the Russian Federation and the rest of the world.
Speaking to a session of the Russian Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation at the end of October, Medvedev said that the Russian authorities “know” who dispatched arms and why to Tbilisi in advance of the conflict and who has been sending arms there since in order to rebuilt Georgia’s military establishment.
“We will not forget [such actions] and will naturally consider [them] in the course of our practical policy,” the Russian president said, underscoring that he “would like that everyone keep this in mind.” His remarks triggered a new outburst of charges against Israel, the United States and especially Ukraine, but that wave appeared to have crested.
Now, however, the Russian government has accused Warsaw of “illegal arms” sales to Georgia, a charge that the Polish foreign ministry has heatedly denied. In fact, Warsaw has sold arms to Georgia, the ministry said, but all of its actions were both entirely legal and entirely public (www.rg.ru/2008/11/06/orujie.html).
According to Warsaw, in 2007, Poland sold Georgia approximately 30 Grom E2 rocket complexes and100 rockets, a sale that the ministry said conformed to “all necessary international procedures,” an assertion that the Russian government and especially the Russian media are now challenging.
First, the Russian side says, Poland has ignored its obligations as a member of the European Union and OSCE not to exacerbate armed conflicts by providing any of the sides with arms. Second, Moscow officials add, Warsaw is obligated under international law not to increase the level of instability in any region by providing arms to one of the parties.
And third, there is, in the words of “Rossiiskaya gazeta,” “yet another important legal aspect” to the case. Warsaw manufactured these missile launchers and missiles on the basis of a licensing arrangement with the Russian companies that had developed them. And under the terms of that agreement, Poland was only to use these weapon systems for its own defense.
Such legal restrictions, of course, are often ignored, but Moscow’s decision to bring them up in this case highlights the growing anger in the Russian government about Polish activism in the former Soviet republics and a willingness to follow through on Medvedev’s tough line on this issue to lash out.
But these attacks may not work out as the Russian president intends. The selectiveness with which these standards are applied and the vindictiveness Moscow is displaying in making them at all may not intimidate either their immediate objects or others but rather cause both to adopt a tougher line against Russia.