Honeymoon is over
It seems Poland woke up in the New Year to find that the teddy they had gone to bed with was still a grizzly. Maybe it was too much of the holiday spirit. Alleged reports that Moscow had moved short-range nuclear weapons to the Baltic region have all but shattered the rapprochement between Russia and Poland evident last month.
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The Washington Times first reported the story, quoting unnamed US intelligence officials that there had been movement detected in June, but that the movement was not reported in an internal US Defence Intelligence Agency report until December. The officials said the movement was "a sign Moscow is following through on threats to respond to NATO expansion with the forward deployment of nuclear weapons." This week Poland called for an international inspection of alleged Russian weapon stores in the Kaliningrad enclave.
A US Pentagon official confirmed the story, and said it was part of a "disturbing trend" that raised questions about Moscow's commitment to pledges it has made on arms control. "This is one of a number of issues of concern," said the Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. It seems of little comfort that the US is now saying it plans to talk to Russia about the reports.
Russia for its part dismissed the reports. Anatoly Lobsky, a spokesman for Russia's Baltic Fleet, stated, "This report can only be a political provocation." Perhaps, but provocation on whose part?
Defence Minister Bronisław Komorowski said the government was taking the issue very seriously, and its "appropriate services" were analysing the reports. "The problem is whether we can treat assurances that there are no nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad as credible," said Mr Komorowski.
Russia's Defence Ministry called reports a build-up and "absolutely untrue." Security adviser to President Aleksander Kwaœniewski, Marek Siwiec, said, "In the name of good neighbourly relations I believe we should have checks into this matter.” And government spokesman Krzysztof Luft added that international inspection would put an end to speculation. He didn't elaborate under whose auspices such an inspection could be organised, but said Poland planned to consult its partners from the NATO military alliance on the issue. "We hope Russia would give its agreement to such inspections," said Luft, adding that "Poland would like this solution."
Brussels also got into the fray saying they would like to press Russia on the issue at the next formal meeting between the two parties scheduled for 24 January. This incident certainly has implications beyond historically antagonistic Russian-Polish relations.
Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas, analyst at the Polish Academy of Science, noted, "the installation of missiles is a bad sign for the Baltic countries that want to join NATO but which Moscow wants to keep in its sphere of influence... It is a step back towards Cold War realities." He elaborated, "From the military point of view, the deployment of the tactical weapons has limited significance. But the move may persuade public opinion internationally that NATO expansion would destabilise regional security."
Rather than labelling the tactics as Cold War, it would simply seem that Russia is pursuing a fairly consistent foreign policy, harkening back to its Imperial days, of testing the international ground by pushing the envelope with little jabs. It is easier to get your way with little subtle steps than by a giant leap.
Budget full steam ahead
Despite squabbles, debates and general politicking, it seems the Sejm's work on the 2001 budget draft is progressing as planned. Deputies will reportedly meet the 15 March deadline for approving the bill. Chief of the legislature's budget committee, Mirosław Sekula, said, "The work on the budget is moving along smoothly. I do not see any threats, which could prevent us from approving the budget on time."
He said his budget committee would complete work on the draft by the end of the month and parliament's lower house would vote on the bill in early February. The Upper House will then propose its amendments to the bill within a month and the President will receive the legislation for his formal approval by mid-March. The president cannot veto the budget.
Sekula said deputies were currently re-arranging some spending levels for particular areas, but no significant changes should be expected. A failure to pass the budget on time could trigger early elections that would surely topple the government. It now seems that the Solidarity bloc has secured the necessary support from its estranged coalition partner, the Freedom Union (UW).
Unhealthy health service
Protesting nurses have broken off negotiations accusing the government of "lack of good will and concrete financial solutions." They are planning a general strike in the next few days. Nurses and other health care workers ended a 17-day-long sit-in at the Polish health ministry on 29 December but then joined in a march through Warsaw, along with several other cities and several dozen hospitals, to protest the government's planned health care reforms.
Before Christmas, the Sejm accepted a government-proposed bill that would give at least a PLZ (Polish zloty) 203 (USD 48) gross pay rise to those health care workers at the bottom rung of the earnings ladder. The National Convention (22 to 24 January) of Trade Union of Nurses will decide when the general strike will take place.
On the bandwagon
The 1800 members of the Solidarity trade union at Polish state television dispatched a letter on 3 January expressing support for their Czech colleagues protesting the appointment of a TV director they believe is politically biased. The letter said that "a political grip on public television is a remnant of the communist regime and [that] there is no room for it in a civilised world."
Joanna Rohozińska, 5 January 2001
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Today's updated headlines from Poland