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Moscow revisits Russian-Polish history

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Despite a bitter rivalry between Poland and Russia that goes back for centuries, the pro-Kremlin media in Poland tries to create the narrative of benign Russian intentions and irrational Polish fears of its eastern neighbor.

In a 13 December interview, Sputnik website asked Sławomir Dębski, director of the Polish Institute for International Affairs (PISM), about the state of bilateral relations with Russia. After the interviewer cited Poland’s allegedly long friendship with Russia and asked if there was any room for reconciliation, Dębski denied any such thing ever existed. To the contrary, he said Polish-Russian relations are bad today because Russia has oppressed Poles since the late 18th century.

Imperial Russia, with Prussian assistance, partitioned Poland in 1771, 1793 and 1795, wiping Poland off the map for the next 123 years. In the 20th century, Russia invaded Poland twice. After World War II, Poland found itself on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain, and ruled by a communist dictatorship installed by Moscow. Poland remained under Soviet dominance until 1989. Since Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, Polish-Russian relations have deteriorated. Yet the Sputnik article conceals the real context of those relations. It doesn’t mention Russia’s military action in Ukraine, which halted a policy of rapprochement toward Moscow led by the previous Polish government in 2014. Moreover, it was Russia, not Poland, which did not respond to multiple diplomatic initiatives from Warsaw aimed at keeping contacts despite worsening relations.

The interview with Dębski is accompanied by a comment from Zofia Bąbczyńska-Jelonek, whom Sputnik describes as a “Polish commentator.” This suggests that the author’s opinions are independent. In an article in Polish titled “Old year ends, let us grow up!” Bąbczyńska-Jelonek refers to Russophobia as an effective political tool and praises Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration that “Poland is not adolescent enough” to get over its troubled history of bilateral relations with Russia. She also quotes Putin telling Polish politicians to “grow up and finally take responsibility for your national interests.” In so doing, Putin paints Poles as irrational and immature in their policy towards Russia., a pro-Kremlin fake news site, also ridicules Polish policy on Russia by joking about Poland’s Foreign Ministry—especially regarding its investigation into the 2010 airplane crash near the Russian city of Smoleńsk that killed all 96 people on board, including Polish President Lech Kaczyński.

Sputnik’s approach in this case—patronizing, ridiculing, and minimizing—is known as card stacking. The facts it presents about Polish-Russian relations are only partially true. By leaving out other facts, the Kremlin tries to guide audiences to a conclusion that fits into its pre-conceived, false narrative—that Polish policy towards Russia is based on prejudice, not reality. Sputnik’s propaganda aims to create popular discontent with Poland’s current policy toward Moscow by portraying it as irrational and going against Polish interests. This points to a clear connection linking the Kremlin (Putin’s comments), the Russian media (Sputnik interview with Dębski), and the Polish commentator (Bąbczyńska-Jelonek article).

Photo: “Russian embassy in Warsaw 07 (main-entry)” by Ency under CC BY-SA 3.0