The lead-up to this week’s NATO summit in Brussels and the Geneva meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, saw the first public indication of a cooling in relations between the U.S. and Poland, following the close political alignment between the governments of the two countries during the Trump Presidency. Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau warned that both Germany and the U.S. had, as he termed it, fallen into a Russian trap over the controversial Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline long opposed by Poland and Ukraine. In another development likely not unrelated to Poland’s strained relations with Russia, the Sejm held a closed door session on Wednesday to receive an update from the government on recent cyber-attacks targeting Poland, and what it fears may be in the offing. Meanwhile, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość moved to shore-up its parliamentary majority in the face of fraying relations with two smaller coalition partners by concluding a new political alliance with Kukiz’15.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Sejm holds a private session for a briefing about a ‘spate of massive cyberattacks that have targeted Poland’
• Presidents Duda and Biden meet at the NATO summit in the aftermath of sharp Polish criticism of the U.S. administration’s change of policy on Nord Stream 2 sanctions
• Prawo i Sprawiedliwość shores up the government’s parliamentary support in a deal with Kukiz’15, and
• Polish fans are gutted by their side’s opening Euro 2020 group game 2-1 defeat to Slovakia on Monday evening.
On Wednesday, the Sejm held a rare private session to enable the government to brief members on that it termed a recent ‘spate of massive cyberattacks that have targeted Poland’. A request for the session was made to the Sejm Speaker Elżbieta Witek by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Monday evening. It followed the recent hacking on Chancellery Minister Michał Dworczyk’s personal email and social media accounts.
Government spokesman Piotr Müller told a press briefing on Wednesday that ‘In the coming weeks, the whole of Poland, as a political class, regardless of political colours, we will be the subject of a disinformation attack’. He claimed that ‘We will face wide-ranging disinformation activities that mix truthful information with information that is completely untrue’. Earlier the official Crisis Management Team had met to discuss a number of recent cyber-attacks, including that on Michał Dworczyk. Following the closed Sejm session Müller said that some of the instigators of the disinformation activities have been identified, but that those details are classified.
Above: Cabinet Minister Michał Dworczyk (Photo: “Michał Dworczyk” by Kancelaria Premiera is marked with CC PDM 1.0)
U.S. President Joe Biden this week attempted to reassure allies in central and eastern Europe of his administration’s commitment to their security, holding talks with the leaders of these states in the margins of the NATO summit in Brussels. The discussions were ahead of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday. On Monday Biden held bilateral talks with President Andrzej Duda. The Polish head of state said that Biden told him that the security of central and eastern Europe is ‘very close to his heart’. Duda said that it was ‘a good move…that, before meeting with President Vladimir Putin, he met representatives of the Baltic states, he met with me, and he also met with the President of Romania’, adding that this showed that ‘cooperation with the U.S. is alive’.
Despite official denials of any diplomatic rift between the two countries, the talks came in the aftermath of unusually blunt Polish government criticism of the U.S. administration’s recent change of policy on the controversial Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline. In an interview for the Rzeczpospolita daily Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau described both Nord Stream 1 and 2 as ‘projects aimed at breaking apart the unity of the West’. He said that ‘The German government allowed itself to be caught in this Russian trap, and now the Joe Biden administration is falling into it. This will lead to an escalation of Russia’s aggressive behaviour’. In remarkably frank comments about the Biden Administration’s decision to wave sanctions against the German company and its CEO that are building the pipeline he said that he had learned of the decision from the media and that ‘Our American allies did not find the time to consult the region of the world that’s most vulnerable to the impact of this decision’.
In a move which had looked in the offing for some months following the breakdown of the alliance between the PSL and Kukiz’15, on Monday Paweł Kakiz and Jarosław Kaczyński held a joint press conference to announce a political agreement between their two parties. Kaczyński said in a Prawo i Sprawiedliwośc Twitter post that ‘We concluded a program agreement between Prawo i Sprawiedliwość and Kukiz’15, which envisages support for a number of important bills from the Kukiz’15 program, with support for the Polski Ład ’, which is the name given to the government’s recently launched economic development plan.
Under the deal Kukiz’15 will support the government’s Polski Ład policy initiatives, and in return has got agreement from Prawo i Sprawiedliwość to implement some of their proposals for judicial reform and tackling corruption. These include a ban on parliamentarians and other political representatives working for state-owned companies, as well as the exclusion of anyone convicted of corruption from working for the public sector.
Paweł Kukiz, a former rock star who started out his political involvement emphasising his outsider status, described the agreement as ‘one of the most important days in my life’. He said that the agreement was the first time his group had ‘a change to introduce key systemic changes in Poland’ and that ‘the Zjednoczona Prawica is the only option at the moment capable of introducing these key changes’. Another Kukiz’15 Sejm member, Jarosław Sachajko told RMF FM that even if the group is being ‘used’ by Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, the reform measures contained in the agreement made it worthwhile. He said he could envisage members of Kukiz’15 standing for the Sejm on the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość electoral list in the future, as he put it, ‘if our demands are met’. Kaczyński said the agreement would help to ‘broaden the political spectrum’ of the ruling bloc. He said at the press conference that with the support of Kukiz’15, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość would ‘do everything that is needed for the current political system in parliament to last’.
In the short-term the support of the four Kukiz’15 Sejm members at least on some key issues will help to shore-up the government’s sometimes fragile parliamentary majority. In the medium to longer term it may provide Prawo i Sprawiedliwość with another alliance option, especially in view of the ongoing strain in its relations with both Porozumienie and Solidarna Polska.
That disunity was in evidence over the weekend where competing candidates from the ruling block lost decisively in the race for Mayor in the south eastern city of Rzeszów. The main opposition parties supported a single candidate, Konrad Fijołek, who won on the first ballot with 56.5% of the vote. The Prawo i Sprawiedliwość candidate, Ewa Leniart, came a distant second with 23.6%, while Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchoł of Solidarna Polska won 10.7%. Konfederacja’s Grzegorz Braun won 9.2% of the vote. In an unusual tie-up between the two smaller coalition partners, usually seen as being ideologically on either side of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, Warcoł was also supported by Porozumienie.
The Polish government has announced a further relaxation of Covid-19 – related capacity restrictions, including in churches – as had been demanded in an open letter to the Prime Minister by Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the head of the Polish Episcopal Conference. Since last Sunday churches can be filled up to half capacity and capacity limits have also been raised for trade fairs, conferences, concerts and hotels. From June 26th sports facilities can open to half capacity for sports events and concerts and hotels can operate at three quarters capacity. In addition, those who have been fully vaccinated don’t count towards the capacity limits.
The death took place in Gdańsk on Saturday of the Polish sailor who between 1976 and 1978 became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly. Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, who was aged 84 at the time of her death, covered 31,166 nautical miles on board the yacht Mazurek, over 401 days at sea.
It certainly wasn’t the start to their European Championship campaign that Polish fans were hoping for. Their side went down 2-1 to lower ranked neighbours Slovakia in their opening Group E game on Monday evening. The game played at Krestovsky Stadium in St. Peterburg saw the Polish keeper concede an own goal in the 18th minute with Poland equalising shortly after the restart. However, Polish midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak was sent-off in the 69th minute, followed almost immediately by the winning Slovak goal. However, the side do have a chance to start making amends with a tough assignment in their next game again Spain on Saturday.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.