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Poland flexes its EU muscles

By Graham Cooke - posted Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Nowhere are events in Ukraine watched more intensely and with greater concern than in Poland. In the fashionable Warsaw cafes and restaurants, and among strollers along the banks of the great Vistula River which runs through the heart of the capital, the talk inevitably turns to what happens next over the eastern border.

Last week Prime Minister Donald Tusk took his concerns directly to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, urging a tougher stand against events that could see the Ukrainian province of Crimea annexed to Russia.

"Ukrainians have to find out today that they have real friends. Europe must send a clear signal that it will not tolerate any acts of aggression or intervention," Tusk said.


To the north Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite described Russian moves as "open and brutal aggression" which could bring on a domino effect in the region.

The great fear among Poles is that losing Crimea without a strong response from the West will so demoralise the Government in Kiev that it would collapse and the country fall prey to a complete takeover by Moscow.

An expert in international political studies, Piotr Zapalowicz was reported as saying that a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine might encourage him to use force in other areas where the old Soviet Union reigned – such as the Baltic States and Poland - if there was not a firm response from the European Union.

That, in the view of some older Poles grouped around a television set in a Warsaw bar, would be the country's worst nightmare. "My grandfather died defending Poland in 1939 and my father died under the communist regime," one said.

"I have no wish to see Russia camped on our borders again. If nothing else it will mean tens of thousands of refugees flooding into Poland. We will be overwhelmed."

Talk ranged from military intervention to support Ukraine – "let's send our tanks east before Russia's come west" - to an all-out blockade, even at the cost of damaging Europe's own economies.


Not surprisingly, talk in European diplomatic circles is less bellicose. United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, no doubt conscious of the vast amount of Russian money invested in his country, does not want any sanctions that might damage London's role as a major international financial centre, while Putin's veiled threats to cut off Europe's oil and gas supplies have sent shudders through the countries that have come to rely on these resources over the past two decades.

Merkel herself is reportedly under pressure from German business interests who fear counter sanctions would seriously damage the country's role as Russia's leading trade partner in Europe and its third largest worldwide.

However, many other commentators are saying that some short-term pain would be worthwhile if it could convince Putin that Europe will not be pushed around and that the Russian economy, not nearly as strong as some Russians would have Europeans believe, would be the first to buckle.

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About the Author

Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.

He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.

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