Betrayals All Around
Western Europe’s self-interested policies in regards to Poland were most clearly seen in the 1939 betrayal of the country, however, one can provocatively argue that there were two other important betrayals that preceded this and are not popularly recognized. In the run-up to World War II, Poland was a firm anti-communist (then a byword for anti-Russian) ally that was solidly in the Western sphere, however, it had begun to dangerously flirt with Nazi Germany. In 1938, Poland exploited the Munich Agreement in order to take part in the dismantling of Czechoslovakia by occupying the small area of Zaolzie. This is an element of the infamous Munich Agreement that is commonly left out of public discussion on the topic. Seeing as how Poland’s annexation of Czechoslovak territory began on the day that the Munich Agreement was signed (30 September, 1938), it is probable that outside parties such as France and the UK viewed Poland’s actions in the same aggressive light as they viewed Germany’s, and quite possibly, it may even appear as though both Warsaw and Berlin had coordinated their actions.
This is especially likely considering that earlier during March 1938, Poland issued an ultimatum to Lithuania that coerced it, under the threat of implied military force, to restore diplomatic relations with Warsaw. Relations had been frozen for over a decade as a result of the Polish-Lithuanian War, whereby Warsaw occupied Vilnius, the city which Lithuania continued to lay claim to as its official capital. What is most interesting about the 14 March ultimatum to Lithuania is that it occurred one day after the Nazi annexation of Austria. Five days later, on 19 March, Lithuania accepted the Polish ultimatum and forwent with its previous claims to Vilnius. The perception that Poland and Germany had coordinated their actions isn’t merely the realm of the hypothetical, as even the New York Times headlined an article on 16 March, 1938 that “Reich-Polish Deal Feared in Geneva; Cession of Part of Corridor and Warsaw Annexation of Lithuania Envisaged”.
Whereas Poland was in the past seen as a satellite state that could be used to destabilize Germany and the USSR, it now appeared to the West that it was siding with the same enemy (Germany) that threatened to upend the peace in Europe. Poland may have thought that it was safe from German betrayal because of a non-aggression pact signed in 1934, but just in case, it had a 30 March, 1939 security guarantee from France and the UK. When Germany suddenly (but not unpredictably) turned on its “ally-in-annexation”, Poland, Western leaders expressed disgust but did not take any concrete action to stop it. Thus, one can see a triangle of betrayals centered on Poland. First, Poland seemingly betrayed the West by acting in step with Nazi Germany in its Czechoslovak and Lithuanian annexations, despite previously being a geostrategic ally of France and the UK. Next, Poland’s ally-in-annexation betrayed it and launched an aggressive war to force Danzig/Gdansk into the Reich. Finally, Poland’s Western ‘allies’ refused to follow through on their commitments (not even 6 months old) and totally abandoned it, signifying perhaps the greatest betrayal of the 20th century. This demonstrated that the West only viewed Poland as a geopolitical toy that was not important enough to go to war over, just as it did almost 150 years prior.
The interwar policy of Prometheism didn’t die with Pilsudski in the 1930s, but instead de-facto returned to the scene in 1980s Poland during Solidarity and the Papacy of John Paul II. In the case of the former, the Secretary of the National Security Council of Russia, Nikolai Patrushev, says that it was incited to “[provoke] Moscow into additional expenditures on stabilizing the situation in Eastern Europe”. As for Pope John Paul II, investigative reporter Carl Bernstein writes that
“Reagan and the Pope agreed to undertake a clandestine campaign to hasten the dissolution of the communist empire…Both the Pope and the President were convinced that Poland could be broken out of the Soviet orbit if the Vatican and the U.S. committed their resources to destabilizing the Polish government and keeping the outlawed Solidarity movement alive after the declaration of martial law in 1981.”
What was happening was that Washington and the Vatican were conspiring together to initiate a de-facto cultural insurgency against the USSR, fusing Liberal-Democratic ideology, Catholicism, and a radical pro-Western political outlook. The Soviet Union did not take the bait and invade, but had it done so, it could very likely be that the West would have betrayed Poland once more, just as it did Hungary in 1956 after it instigated the violence and subsequent crackdown there. At the end of the clandestine campaign, Poland became the first non-communist country in the Warsaw Pact, beginning a lightning-fast process that ripped the Eastern Bloc totally apart, much as Pilsudski dreamed of doing to the Soviet Union via Prometheism.
After the end of the Cold War, Poland was rapidly integrated into the Western military, political, and economic fold. The idea was to exploit Poland’s desire to recreate the Commonwealth in order to build an anti-Russian vanguard on Moscow’s western flank. It began doing this by spearheading the 2009 creation of the Eastern Partnership, recently described by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as “designed to expand the West-controlled geopolitical space to the east”. Poland was chosen for this role because it was identified as being “the largest and most important NATO frontline state in terms of military, political and economic power.” These characteristics (combined with its subjective historical interpretation of always being a ‘victim of Russia’) give it the needed structural quality to form the core of the anti-Russian coalition being assembled on the country’s western borders.
Of course, Poland can never compete toe-to-toe with Russia, but it can greatly contribute to destabilizing Belarus and Ukraine. In terms of the first, it houses regime change-focused organizations such as Belarusian House, whereas for the latter, it actively trained urban insurgents prior to their revolt against the government. Now that the Color Revolution coup succeeded in Kiev, most of the country is under Western influence, which to a degree, has somewhat restored almost half of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This is due to Poland being Brussels’ (NATO and the EU’s) regional proxy, and its hegemony over Western Ukraine is its reward for being the ‘Slavic Turkey’. Thus, instead of serving as a profitable and peaceful bridge between the Customs Union and the rest of the European Union, Poland has chosen (and been guided down) the path of anti-Russian confrontation, betraying the social and economic interests of its population in order to fulfill Western geopolitical goals.
As it stands, NATO is entrenching itself ever deeper into Poland upon Warsaw’s request, as Polish decision makers use the Western-induced Ukrainian Crisis to justify a pre-planned hostile buildup near Russia’s borders. Although it’s been over 400 years since the ‘good ole’ days’ of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the country’s leadership dangerously behaves as though nothing has changed, still blindly following the West’s guidance in its zombie-like crawl to the east. Today’s political climate sees the West openly egging Poland on in its confrontation with Russia, but if history is any indication, it may just as quickly abandon it if it finds the decision to be to its larger advantage. Under such conditions (however presently unlikely), Poland would be left by itself to deal with the resultant consequences of its actions, which of course it would rather avoid. Instead of being Poland’s friend, the West is actually Poland’s enemy, never seeing its people as anything more than convenient geopolitical dolls to be used and discarded as needed. When these strategies go askew, it is Poland, not the West, that has to deal with the physical consequences. History can repeat itself in vicious cycles, as Poland knows quite well, but the future is never set in stone. Thus, if the country were serious about securing its future and breaking the curses of the past, it would retake ownership of its foreign policy away from its Atlantic overlords and begin pragmatically exploring mutually beneficial relations with Russia.
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“When Germany suddenly …turned on …Poland, Western leaders expressed disgust but did not take any concrete action to stop it. Thus, one can see a triangle of betrayals centered on Poland.”
1) The EU or NATO may be monolithic – even malevolent – but there was no monolithic ‘West’ in 1939. Does the author’s ‘West’ include Franco’s Spain? Salazar’s Portugal? De Valera’s Ireland? The famously neutral Swiss? Italy, allied to Germany? Etc.
2) The UK and France responded by declaring war on Germany: that’s about as ‘concrete’ a response as one can imagine; and it directly, rapidly led to the destruction of the British and French empires.
3) Poland fell in five weeks. Not much could be done in that time, other than sanctioning Germany, beginning to interdict German shipping, providing intelligence to the Poles, receiving Polish refugees, and so on. What further, more ‘concrete’ steps would the author have advised the UK or France to take, to aid Poland, in September and October 1939?
Perhaps the UK could have invaded the newly-occupied Poland via the Baltic Sea, in order to liberate it? Somehow, in defiance of all military reality, perhaps the UK might have sailed its Royal Navy, without adequate air cover, mere miles from Germany’s home turf. Perhaps the Germans would have felt very sporting, and refrained from destroying it in days with their superb Kreigsmarine and Luftwaffe.
In September 1939 Britain had a tiny army within its own borders. Most of the ‘British’ army was in India, and Singapore, and to ship these troops to Europe would take months. The UK has almost no landing craft in 1939, either. But never mind: perhaps the UK could have crammed a few thousand soldiers onto passenger ships, and tried to land them in Poland’s ports. Perhaps, with no tanks, vehicles, fuel or supplies, this plucky British force might have defeated the million+ men in the Wehrmacht… and their Panzers, Stukas, and so on… I’m sure it would have worked.
What of the French? The French had no viable expeditionary military capacity because they had created a defensive military lacking the tanks, trucks, logistics and weapons for attack – but perhaps they should have attached wheels to the Maginot Line, so that it could trundle into Germany, past the Seigfried Line, and defeat the Wehrmacht. Or they could pretend to be tourists cycling to Switzerland, and suddenly take a wrong turn. The Germans would never see it coming!