Geopolitics: Poland Again, Black Sea Energy
Yesterday we highlighted the concerns of Polish nationalists that Germany, backed by the Neocons, is angling to play a major role in a postwar Ukraine. Obviously the US will want to be the most major player, but German companies are known to be angling to get their share. For example, Rheinmetall, manufacturer of such objects as the Leopard line of main battle tanks, is known to be planning a factory in Ukraine. As we discussed yesterday, the Poles are concerned that they could be caught in a literal geographical squeeze play, between Germany and Ukraine. Poof! would go their ambition to forge some sort of alliance with Ukraine that would bring to fruition Marshall Piłsudski’s dream of a resurrected Intermarium—a Central European coalition of nations led by Poland that would stretch from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
Andrew Korybko is a Moscow based geopolitical analyst who writes in English. I’m not entirely sure where he’s coming from and so I try to be cautious in using his analysis. He does offer some interesting thoughts on the Polish situation, which is important—Poland is the geographical lynchpin linking Ukraine to the German dominated EU, and is far and away the most important country—demographically and economically—between Germany and Russia.
At the beginning of October—about two weeks before the Polish elections which ended up with a seeming return to power of a coalition led by Davos darling Donald Tusk—Korybko ran an article that highlighted the concerns of the governming Law and Justice party. The concern was that Germany had elbowed the Poles aside and did a deal with Zelensky that would marginalize any Polish role in a postwar Ukraine:
Morawiecki is the current Polish PM, and he was blunt in expressing his anger at Ukraine, even appearing to threaten Ukraine. Writing before the Polish elections, Korybko argued:
Germany is poised to replace Poland as Ukraine’s top strategic partner no matter who wins the next elections since PO’s victory will likely lead to this happening right away while PiS’ would likely just delay this seemingly inevitable outcome for a short while. The only realistic way that this scenario could be offset is if PiS wins and then promulgates a much more muscular policy towards Ukraine aimed at coercing that country into preserving Poland’s sphere of influence.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speculated during a campaign rally on Sunday that Zelensky cut a deal with Germany behind his country’s back and implied that Ukraine should give Poland a sphere of influence there out of gratitude for all that Poles have done for it since February 2022. His words represent the latest escalation in the Polish-Ukrainian dispute that exploded in mid-September and add credence to expectations that mutual distrust will continue worsening. Here’s what he said:
“I understand that it seems to [President Zelensky] now that he will have a close alliance with Germany. Let me warn you, Germany will always want to cooperate with the Russians over the heads of Central European countries.
It was Poland that welcomed a few million Ukrainians under our roofs, it was the Poles who welcomed the Ukrainians, it was we who helped the most at the time when the Germans wanted to send 5,000 helmets to besieged Kyiv. It is worthwhile for you not to forget this, President Zelensky.”
Morawiecki’s words present the Polish argument for other Central European nations to accept a leading role for Poland—ha! I neatly avoid the H word hegemony—to maintain independence from Germany and Russia. It’s a bit of a hard sell, since many countries prefer German hegemony to Polish, um, leadership. At the same time, Korybko’s own words, as I’ve noted in the past, do sound a bit like Russian talking points intended to put the Poles and Ukrainians at loggerheads. I’m skeptical of Korybko’s characterization of Poland’s current relationship with Ukraine—even in Eastern Galicia—as a Polish “sphere of influence.” Nevertheless, it’s entirely fair to say that the Poles find themselves once again in a very difficult geopolitical position.
As events turned out, of course, the Polish elections produced a complicated result. Law and Justice remains easily the largest party, but Tusk’s coalition—a somewhat ramshackle ideological affair, mostly united by dislike for Law and Justice’s leading personalities—apppears to be set to form a government. That eventuality has been postponed by a constitutional maneuver that delays it till mid December, with Law and Justice still angling to pry some members of parliament away from Tusk’s coalition.
Also in the meantime, far from relinquishing power, the Law and Justice government is playing up the German plan to extend its power eastward at Poland’s expense as a threat to Poland—which it certainly is. Perhaps reducing Poland to a vassal status, in Korybko’s words—again reflecting a Russia talking point directed at Poland. As part of this campaign to rally a parliamentary majority based on anti-German worries, Polish truckers have essentially established a blockade of the Polish - Ukrainian border. The Poles, to my knowledge, haven’t openly protested against a Neocon betrayal in favor of Germany, but it certainly looks like they can see the handwriting on the wall—a bit late. Korybko addresses this Polish trucker blockade today:
Again, much of what Korybko has to say sounds like Russian talking points directed at the Poles—which doesn’t mean those talking points aren’t realistic. At the same time, Russia must be pleased to see NATO fracturing in this way (confirming Doug Macgregor’s predictions). At the same time, by refusing to break the blockade, the Polish government is making things tough on some neighboring countries, especially the Baltic countries.
To return to Korybko’s Russian sounding talking points, Korybko paints this situation as an existential crisis for Poland—which it may end up being. For example:
From the outgoing government’s perspective, the restoration of Poland’s sphere of influence over Ukraine in the face of aggressive German attempts to replace it is required for their country to have a fighting chance at preserving its sovereignty vis-à-vis Germany during Tusk’s next premiership. …
To elaborate, the worst-case scenario for Poland is that it becomes Germany’s largest-ever vassal state and then plays second fiddle to Ukraine in Berlin’s envisaged “Mitteleuropa”, which would run the risk of Berlin rewarding Kiev for forthcoming preferential reconstruction contracts with influence over Warsaw. This could in practice take the form of forcing Poland to accept even more Ukrainian migrants than it already has, all with the intent of them then becoming citizens and forming their own voting bloc.
If these “Weapons of Mass Migration” concentrate along the border region that the briefly lived post-WWI Ukrainian state at one time claimed as its own, then these newfound demographic realities and the creation of a powerful German-backed voting bloc could one day threaten Poland’s territorial integrity.
Of course, in the end Russia will have a lot to say about all of this—a fact that Korybko leaves out, for reasons best known to himself. The idea that Russia will allow Ukraine to be integrated into a German Mitteleuropa seems far fetched to me—just as far fetched as Russia allowing Ukraine to fall under some sort of Polish “sphere of influence”. The real significance of these events is probably that they foreshadow the decisive fracturing of NATO, but also Russia’s continuing interest in reconciling Poland to the new realities.
Now, Naked Capitalism has a fascinating article today about the flow of energy across the Black Sea:
Not a trick question—it’s exactly who you’d expect: English speaking people are launching continuous sea-drone attacks on Russian navy vessels protecting the TurkStream pipeline, according to no less a source than Vladimir Putin himself.
Now the flow of natural gas to Europe from Russia via Türkiye is reaching all-time highs. TurkStream has a capacity of 31.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year, roughly half of which stays in Türkiye, and the rest continues on to the Balkans and Central Europe. Serbia and Hungary are the primary European consumers. According to S&P Global, supplies via TurkStream into Southeast Europe rose strongly in July, reaching a record monthly high.
Disrupting the flow of this Russian gas would be a pretty rough tactic but, hey, Nordstream. Still, screwing Turkey in this way would seem very risky. Rather than keeping Turkey within the NATO fold, this could just drive this geopolitically pivotal country into Russia’s arms for good. And yet, that’s exactly what prominent Neocons have suggested—give TurkStream the NordStream treatment:
Türkiye has profited handsomely by refusing to go along with the West’s self-defeating sanctions on Russia and continues to operate as a primary hub for sanctions evasion.
Neocons simply refuse to accept that people respond to both the carrot and their stick
Robin Brooks @RobinBrooksIIF
German exports of motor vehicles and parts (blue) to Kyrgyzstan are up 5500% since Russia invaded Ukraine. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that all this stuff is heading to Russia. It's not like Kyrgyzstan is suddenly in a massive boom. Germany has to stop this...
This is making Türkiye into a major regional fossil fuel hub as a crucial transfer point for energy to Europe. This arrangement allows Russia to continue (much reduced) exports to Europe and provides Türkiye with transfer fees and cheap oil and gas for domestic use. Putin and Erdogan have often discussed expanding Türkiye’s role as an energy hub, and while reports show disagreements remain, that also means Ankara and Moscow are continuing to iron out the details while working towards an agreement.
It also enrages the neocons. I think that Washington’s position can accurately be summed up by the following pieces. One is from the Atlantic Council: “Türkiye can become an energy hub—but not by going all-in on Russian gas.” The thinly-veiled threat concludes with the following:
Exploring phantom opportunities of energy cooperation with Russia at the expense of real risks of getting exposed to US and EU sanctions will not transform Türkiye into an energy hub. Quite the opposite, it would spell the end of this dream.
The other is Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute who writes that “Biden should kill TurkStream to promote transatlantic energy security.” And the transatlantic part of that energy security is of course the ultimate goal for Washington.
»Biden should give trans-Turkish energy corridors the same treatment he ultimately gave Nord Stream 2, and for the same reasons.
by Michael Rubin«
It’s worth remembering that TurkStream came about after the US and EU effectively killed the Russia-Bulgaria South Stream pipeline back in 2014. The project would have transported Russian gas under the Black Sea, making landfall in Bulgaria and then passing through Serbia and Hungary into Austria.
Instead Russia pivoted to Türkiye and opened TurkStream at the beginning of 2020 despite US sanctions on companies involved in the construction of the pipeline.
There’s lots more at the link. Some of it is rather speculative, but in a way that just goes to show the type of uncertainty we’re facing in the coming year.
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