A PT-91 Twardy Main Battle Tank crew from the Polish Land Forces prepares for a training iteration during exercise Allied Spirit at Bucierz range, Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland, June 13, 2020. (Source: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Andres Chandler/Public Domain)

The Kremlin’s madness, for which Ukrainians are paying a bloody price today, is a historic win for us in the sweepstakes of world politics. And fortunately, the collective morality in Poland is pushing us more or less in the direction indicated by political realism

Rafał A. Ziemkiewicz

A lot of aggravation, very little thinking – in fact, this is how the “public debate” on every possible topic looks like in our country, so why should the war in Ukraine be an exception? On the one hand, we have “a procession of vague platitudes uttered with extraordinary self-confidence” (this was Dmowski’s summary of Pilsudski’s arguments during the famous conversation in Tokyo, where the future Commander of the Polish nation promised the Japanese to trigger an uprising in Poland), leaving no doubt about Poland’s moral obligation to sacrifice everything for the sake of Ukraine. On the other hand, we can see equally emotional cries about the Volyn massacre, the alleged crimes of refugees, and the “Ukrainization of Poland”, profusely drawing on the products of Putin’s propaganda centers.

The hysterical, aggressive, and usually also abusive reactions to every article, media statement or perhaps just a Twitter post casting doubt on the current government’s policy toward the war and Ukraine yields, among other negative effects, the fact that appeals to political realism have in practice begun to absolve them of the obligation to argue their theses. Meanwhile, the problem with many Western realists is that they base their reasoning on a failure to understand the basic facts of the war.

I have already written about this when criticizing Henry Kissinger’s infamous lecture in Davos, and I don’t want to repeat myself; moreover, the arguments against the “Kissingerists” are increasing. While it does not surprise me that the basic errors in his reasoning are not seen by Western politicians and columnists, I don’t understand the Polish voices that are repeating their theses.

Escape from “Russkians”

Modern Westerners, even those best introduced to the arcana of geopolitics, are far removed from the days of Woodrow Wilson, or even still Ronald Reagan, when the right of nations to self-determination was considered the basis of international order. In the following decades, however, without any rational reasons, only by the power of the “wannabes” of the left-liberal elites, was it recognized that “nations are a relic”, that thinking in terms of national interests is not only an “anachronism”, but also leads to fascism and all evil, that such interests and even nations themselves as objective entities simply do not exist. Treating this ideological assumption as an axiom has made it so that not only simple people in Western Europe or the US, but even experts there do not fully understand what is happening in modern Russia. They operate in a pattern of “supporting freedom and democracy”, while at the same time getting used to the fact that it is not an imperative at all, just a cynically treated tool of superpowers’ policy – there are many countries where the lack of democracy does not bother America, and it might as well not bother it in the matter of Ukraine.

Russia is being blown apart not by aspirations for “democratization”, but by national awakenings. The same thing is happening to it that happened a century ago to the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg monarchy. Ethnic groups that had been subjected to the empire’s domination for decades felt themselves to be nations and wanted to leave the empire. The process is faster here, slower there, but, as history shows, it is unstoppable. Its causes are a topic for a separate article; here it suffices to say that Ukrainians, en masse, have ceased to feel like “little-Russians”. Even those who were raised in Russian, and even those who to this day do not speak the Ukrainian language, have begun to learn it and feel they are different than Russians, persecuted and wronged by Russians. Both their history and the present teach them that the condition for realizing their aspirations, both individual and collective, is to escape from – let’s use this term – “hangovers”.

Russia has no way to stop this escape. These are no longer the days when it was capable of exterminating and deporting entire nations (as dwelled on by Dugin with regard to the Ukrainians). Russia is as weak as it has ever been since the days of Ivan the Terrible, and with each success of the Ukrainians, Belarusians, and other awakening nations, the “prison of nations” will fall further and further apart.

Tying the outbreak of war to the “entrapment” of Russia by NATO or the US is therefore nonsense. The West had to somehow respond to Ukrainian aspirations: either assist them or sell them off in a way that was favorable to itself. By giving Ukraine military support after 2014, it opened itself (as the art of politics dictates) to both options, but originally bet on the second. As I already explained in a text on Kissinger’s mistakes, Putin got a very tempting offer, which culminated in Joe Biden’s preliminary agreement to launch Nordstream 2, i.e., de facto ceding control of Europe to the Berlin-Moscow axis, expressed late last year. This offer, however, was not for free: Russia was about to move into the U.S. camp in its rivalry with China.

Realistically speaking, the Kremlin’s acceptance of offers of regional power status allied with the US seemed obvious. Fortunately for Ukrainians and for us, Putin has behaved irrationally. Perhaps he is an aging madman whose dreams of rebuilding the Empire and going down in history as a second Peter the Great have obscured reality. Or perhaps the decay of Russia’s power apparatus and services is already so deep that Putin was completely uninformed about his own forces and those of his opponents. I’m more inclined to bet on the latter possibility, after all, I remember Viktor Suvorov foreshadowing something like of this sort a few years ago, when it turned out that instead of a properly trained agent, Russia sent some cousin or niece of the general in charge of the operation to infiltrate the US.

A blow to China’s ally

Either way, Putin decided that he could accept the benefits offered to him from America, and then stir America and the entire “decadent West” and shoulder-to-shoulder with China to declare himself the leader of the “golden billion”1. So, since the joint declaration with Xi Jinping earlier this year, the U.S. has had to change its plans, even if Russia would not go as far as its trademark brutal aggression and crime. Russia, as China’s ally, must be weakened as much as possible – every enemy of China must therefore be supported, and every ally of China must be neutralized. I point out – this is a conditionality of US policy and not NATO. Germany has not come to terms with the facts and is still counting on the Kremlin’s return to rationality, trying not to burn the bridges linking it with the strategic partner of the “European state” under construction until then. Turkey is also playing an ambiguous game. The geopolitical earthquake is just beginning, but its effects will be the emergence of new lands, and the plunging into the depths of some of the existing ones.

As I said, the Kremlin’s madness, for which the Ukrainians are paying a bloody price today, is a historic win for us in the sweepstakes of world politics. For war is not a tango, it doesn’t take two – it is enough that one side carries out the aggression, and the other has no choice but to die or defend itself. In Russian political thought, Poland is seen as an enemy that must be neutralized, not because it does one thing or another, but simply because it exists – and as long as it exists, it provides a natural base for the independence aspirations of Ukrainians and Belarusians. Of course, a Russia incapable of taming the Ukrainians or Belarusians is even less capable of destroying Poland today, which is why it has assigned this role in its policy to Germany for the time being. Bargain prices for raw materials, which means de facto keeping Germany at the expense of the Kremlin’s subjects, is a long-term investment in a “European state” in which Poland will be deprived – as Chancellor Scholz postulated with the arrogant tone typical of Germany – of “the possibility of selfishly blocking European decisions” made by Germany’s “assuming responsibility for Europe” political and business elites.

So we are destined for war with Russia, as well as a fierce confrontation with Germany. Theorizing about whether we ought to rally our efforts at 10% or 70% is worth as much as the theory, popular in the pre-Partition Polish Republic – if we don’t have an army, no one will attack us, because we cannot possibly be considered a threat if we can’t threaten anyone ourselves. The reality of war is that no loss is so great that it is not worth sustaining if it avoids sustaining an even greater loss.

I don’t think that there are many leaders in our country who are aware of these circumstances, but fortunately, albeit paradoxically, it just so happens that for all the mistakes they make, moral aggravation pushes them more or less in the direction indicated by well-meaning political realism.

This article was published in September 2022 in “Do Rzeczy” magazine.