Interview with the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (Sejm) Mr Radosław Fogiel
Q: What are the biggest priorities for Polish foreign policy in 2023?
A: In fact, it’s not surprising to anyone that Polish foreign policy after the Russian aggression against Ukraine is mainly related to what’s happening in our eastern neighbour, and its aid to Ukraine, including diplomatic efforts to build a coalition of support for Ukraine; for example, with the Leopard tanks. Just like diplomatic endeavors, for instance the Prime Minister Morawiecki’s visit to Germany right at the beginning of the war, where he convinced Chancellor Scholz that Germany should get involved. In the end, it is also actions in the international arena to establish a Special Tribunal for Crimes of Aggression against Ukraine, and all the other actions concerning the legal aspects, that are, sanctions, creating the possibility of transferring seized Russian bank accounts or other assets to the reconstruction of Ukraine that count. This in conjunction is a very substantial part of Polish foreign policy that we are conducting. The main function of foreign policy is security, and today the key to Poland’s security is a sovereign and independent Ukraine, hence these actions.
Then there is the whole area of EU policy. Of course, it remains an open question to what extent EU policy is foreign policy, but in a sense it is. All the discussions that are going on in Brussels about the future of the European Union, the abandonment of unanimity on fundamental issues, not to mention other issues that we have been talking about for a long time about the European Commission’s attempts to usurp more and more competences not provided for in the treaties, whether by the method of accomplished facts or at least through creative judiciary with the help of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Besides, Polish diplomacy is active in many traditional areas – our key transatlantic relations from the point of view of our security, but also the Baltic countries. These are the elements of recent years related to the war in Ukraine, but not only, because these good relations began to surface earlier. Today, Poland is undoubtedly a leader in the region, and we are also trying to take advantage to raise and leverage Poland’s status and position in the international arena. This is the moment when we have this opportunity.
The last thing worth mentioning is our intensified presence on the African continent. Until now, this has not been a priority area for Polish diplomacy. After President Duda’s visit to Africa last year, we opened the Polish Embassy in the Republic of Rwanda, with which we have very good and intensive relations, not only diplomatic ones, but also trade, educational exchange, even the Polish arms industry is in the field of interest of the Rwandan army, which shows that there are very great opportunities in this direction.
Q: The war in Ukraine has now lasted more than 500 days. How do you assess Polish-Ukrainian relations after such a long time? How much influence does history have on the present day?
A: Polish-Ukrainian relations are good. This statement goes beyond such a diplomatic norm. We are talking about an extraordinary situation in which Ukraine is fighting for its independence, which is also vital for our security. At the same time, we are hosting millions of Ukrainian war refugees and are involved in helping them. So when we say that there are good relations, they are good not only at the diplomatic level but much deeper. These are very good personal relations between the presidents, and even despite the turbulence, which will be discussed in a moment, both sides would like something lasting to emerge from this. Of course, not in the sense of some phenomena which only fantasists can dream of today, but as two states which work closely together and consult closely on many things. This is also in the context of Ukraine’s European future, which, as we know, Poland strongly supports.
In this context, too, the current grain crisis is a certain indicator that we will have to approach many issues very wisely and in a balanced way from both sides because we have the right to expect Ukraine to understand our internal conditions. Of course, we are helping, we are not going to stop helping. We realise how important this is, but at the same time, we cannot afford to sink our own branch of the economy, namely agriculture because we ourselves will have much more limited possibilities for this support. We are in the same boat and it would also be vital for such issues to be resolved in the privacy of the cabinet. I hope that after recent events and mutual discussions, this will happen. This also shows a certain challenge which should not be swept under the carpet, because we must be aware that the question of Ukraine’s accession, for example, will require major preparations by the Union as a whole – if only in terms of the common agricultural policy. There are, of course, two sides to this coin, as the existing partnership agreement between Ukraine and the European Union largely eliminated these duties and there was no problem with Ukrainian grain before, as most of it was exported from Black Sea ports.
Today, this problem has arisen, and the problem of the European Union itself has arisen. The five countries whose markets were threatened by Ukrainian grain have made it clear that all the countries of the European Union agreed on something else, namely the creation of transport corridors that would allow the transit of grain, and unfortunately, it was the ineffective actions of the European Commission that left these few countries with the problem. Poland will certainly assist in the transit of Ukrainian grain, but we must also look after our own farmers. Of course, after the end of the war, after Ukraine’s victory, these problems hopefully will not be so pressing, as normality will return to what it was before the war, namely, the possibility of exporting via the Black Sea. At the same time, this also shows that we will be facing challenges in many areas, and certainly in the area of the common agricultural policy, which will have to be simply resolved during the accession negotiations.
Q: What do you see as Poland’s role in rebuilding Ukraine?
A: The reconstruction of Ukraine is, on the one hand, an imminent challenge. On the other hand, preparations and activities must already be under way. This was mentioned during President Zelensky’s recent visit to Poland. Polish entrepreneurs are signing the first preliminary declarations. There are also declarations from the Ukrainian side, which I consider to be permanent, to the effect, among other things, that at a later stage of reconstruction, significant account will be taken of how a country has supported Ukraine in terms of military aid.
We, of course, have to look at the matter realistically. Poland alone does not have the resources to realise everything we would want to. We will have to be open to various types of alliances, for example our think-tanks are discussing this in a British-Polish-Ukrainian triangle. Other countries are also making such proposals. We must certainly remember that this is supposed to be a reconstruction which will allow Ukraine to get back on its feet and which will also, let us not deceive ourselves, be beneficial to the Polish economy. We can offer Ukraine our own experience too, which means that, at the meeting point of these two processes of European integration and rebuilding Ukraine, it is important for Ukrainians to avoid many of the mistakes which Central and Eastern European countries have fallen victim, such as uncontrolled privatisation, which was unnecessary in many places and certainly, not on the same terms as in many countries in our region during the transition period, which led to the liquidation of many branches of industry in favor of the foreign companies and their presence in that markets. These mistakes can later lead to social and economic problems and allow for the economic colonisation of the country, and we, as the whole Europe, are probably interested in a stable Ukraine in the future, and not a Ukraine torn apart by social problems.
There is also the question of funding. No country can do this on its own. There are ideas from various institutions, whether under the International Monetary Fund or others, to deal with financial matters. Of course, the Polish perspective is that, first and foremost, the Russian resources in the West, which are frozen today, should ultimately be confiscated, and should be allocated to the reconstruction of Ukraine. The aggressor needs to pay for its crimes.
Q: Poland is taking a central stage in EU and world politics today more than ever. Certainly, this year’s elections will also be looked at with close attention by many interested parties. How do you assess foreign policy taking a central role in the debacle between PiS and the opposition?
A: The war in Ukraine has accelerated a certain process because it cannot be said that it is only a matter of war. Poland’s role has been growing for years, and we have been getting stronger economically, which also translates into international relations. This was the philosophy of Law and Justice, that we have to break out not only economically from what Prime Minister Morawiecki described as a “middle development trap”, but also on the international arena.
Poland is finally taking its place or returning rather to its place in Europe as a sizable European state that has a lot to say. Suffice to say is that we ourselves are going from being a beneficiary of development aid to becoming a provider of development aid; our activities in Moldova being a good example. We are indeed finally pursuing the kind of policy that a country like Poland should pursue, i.e. a sovereign and subjective policy. We have put an end to clientelism in politics. Moreover, Poland’s involvement in NATO, and the fact that we are one of the countries that led the coalition to be right to warn against Russia, gives us certain standing. The fact that we have been very skilfully involved in supporting Ukraine strengthens our position, and as we say to our allies, we are ready to take more responsibility whether within NATO or other regional constellations.
Poland is ready! We are not the only ones to see it, it is slowly becoming a kind of cliché. From our point of view, it is true that the centre of gravity of Europe is shifting to the East, or East-Central Europe. This is precisely the policy that we, as Law and Justice want to pursue.
What is this dispute about? On the one hand, it has its media aspect and on the other hand, its factual aspect. We hear all the time in the media from our opponents that Poland’s position is declining, that we are allegedly being ignored and so on. This is not true in the slightest. Suffice to say that we have become the leader of the aforementioned region that includes the Balkan countries, the Three Seas Initiative, in which we play an extremely important role. The way we are treated by the NATO allies, the Bucharest Nine – by the way, it was in Warsaw representatives gathered just after the outbreak of war, when a special NATO summit was convened, and from the National Security Office, under the leadership of Andrzej Duda, they connected remotely with the rest of the heads of state. All this shows that the Polish position is growing contrary to what the opposition accuses us of.
In addition, in the EU arena, this naive image of the union as a club of polite gentlemen and a land of eternal happiness must be rejected. This is an arena of clashing interests, of conflicting interests, and simply because we have become a player there, we have also become the target of many attacks. Our disputes with some of the Member States or the European Commission do not show our diminishing position, but quite the contrary. Beyond the media sphere is the sphere of facts. The realm of facts is best exemplified by the relationship of Poland under our predecessors, who would like to regain power concerning our two biggest neighbours, Germany and Russia. We were the transmission belt of German policy towards Russia, which was that Germany wants to become a hub for distributing cheap Russian energy to Europe. And Poland’s task was not to interfere, or at most to pass on to the Baltic states, what Germany wanted. There was not an ounce of subjectivity in this policy, there was no Polish raison d’etat. It involved attacking those who warned against Russia, such as the late President Lech Kaczyński. The opponents of our predecessors were attacked as Russophobes. This, plus the symbolic invitation of Sergey Lavrov to the Council of Ambassadors by Radosław Sikorski, really shows the foreign policy of the Civic Platform. Additionally, it should be added that it was largely subordinated to the personal interests of Donald Tusk, who simply wanted to obtain an important position in the European Union, and could only do so with the support of Angela Merkel. Consequently, this subservience to Germany on several key issues, the culminating issues of which were migration, migration quotas, and relocation of illegal migrants. This is the fundamental difference between the policy of Law and Justice and the main opposition party, and I do not doubt that such a policy would return if there were a change of government. One can still add this ever-present Ukrainian aspect. I am absolutely convinced, and I am concluding what has been done so far, that Poland would not have been such a leader in aid to Ukraine if a different team had been in power. We would not have been building a coalition of Leopards in defiance of the Germans but would have been waiting for orders from Berlin, or at least for the green light from Berlin, which, as we all know, was not particularly eager to help.
Q: Disinformation is a useful tool employed by foreign actors to exert external or domestic pressure – why is that Poland, although witnessing various waves of disinformation, has well resisted these external pressures?
A: I would like to see it resisted even better. It is not, in fact, such a problem as in other European countries, it does not have such an impact on public opinion, but we do have a lot of false information in the public space. Starting with the hybrid attack on the Polish-Belarusian border, and unfortunately, part of the media is participating in this by reproducing this untrue information. We have a very large production of fake news or disinformation which tries to exploit historical events. Unfortunately, we also have politicians, or people strongly linked to politicians, who reproduce Kremlin disinformation for the purposes of internal political struggle in Poland. What Vladimir Putin said recently in a public speech accusing Poland of alleged partitioning intentions towards Ukraine was unfortunately formulated earlier in the public space by Radosław Sikorski and undoubtedly close to the Civic Platform, Roman Giertych. These are the real challenges facing Poland. Not to be purely pessimistic, I have the impression that the resistance of the population passes this test much better than at least the names I have cited.
The overwhelming majority of Poles are immune to Russian disinformation. I think this is such an immunity resulting from history. We know very well that you cannot believe anything that comes from Russia unless you are a naïve politician and it is a policy of reset. Besides, we quite naturally recognise these Russian provocations, and Russian narrative lines.
Where is this disinformation most prevalent? In the electronic media, and above all in social media, here public institutions and parts of the media play a big role. NASK – National Research Institute (NASK – Państwowy Instytut Badawczy) runs a huge project on identifying and warning against Russian disinformation. There are also various other, minor projects, this too is not insignificant. In a society that is mostly aware of who the real aggressor is, in contrast to some Western countries, where these false arguments about alleged provocations by NATO, about the need of recognising some right of Russia to decide about the region, there this disinformation falls on more fertile ground. In Poland, the situation is very clear. We know who the victim is, we know who the aggressor is. We know that supporting Ukraine is also in our best interests. This also makes the resistance to Russian disinformation grow.
Q: Poland surged to the top of NATO’s spending charts this year, with the alliance’s latest forecast showing it pouring 3.9% of gross domestic product into military goals. What can you tell us about Poland’s future plans to scale up military assets and defense procurement contracts?
A: Today, we have indeed undertaken a huge effort to expand and modernise the Polish army. This process began long before the Russian aggression; after all, some of the contracts that were signed, for example for the F-35, were signed long before the war, as was the work on the bill for the ‘Defence of our Homeland Act’. The war itself was the catalyst here, which accelerated many activities, if only in terms of post-Soviet equipment, it made it possible to give up this post-Soviet equipment much faster, also by handing it over to Ukraine and replacing it with modern, Western or Polish designs.
When it comes to defence, strengthening Polish security, there are, in my opinion, two most important aspects. Firstly, it is NATO itself. Poland has called for a drastic change in the rules of security spending by member states, and it is a big success for Poland at the Vilnius Summit, that this 2% has become a starting point, not a point of arrival. Poland will also lead by example. In the Homeland Defence Act itself, we have written in 3% of GDP as a necessary minimum, so even our internal regulations oblige us to do that, and today’s needs make us spend almost 4%, and that probably won’t change for some time, because it is an absolute necessity. We have realised for a long time that Russia is a threat to order in Europe, and the war in Ukraine has probably made that clear to everyone. Spending is one thing, but the second thing is spending on what. We today have to build some elements from scratch, such as the entire air defence, which was practically non-existent before 2015. Today we have ‘Wisła’, ‘Mała Narew’, ‘Patriots’, and we are talking to the Swedes about buying these so-called small ‘AWACS’ to secure the Polish sky. Here, there is also the issue of armoured troops, hence the contracts for “Abrams” with the United States and for the Korean ‘K2’. We produce our own cannon Howitzers – ‘Krabs’, which are performing well in Ukraine. We need to fill the warehouses quickly, and we are therefore buying fairly compatible Korean ‘K9s’. Apart from that, there is the whole domestic industry, starting from ‘Grot’ carbines, which the entire Polish Army will eventually be equipped with, through the ‘Piorun’ anti-aircraft sets, which are the most modern in the world today and are still being expanded and modernised. Tests have just been completed on the ‘Borsuk’, the successor to the infantry fighting vehicle used for decades in Poland of a still Soviet design. In addition, we are polonizing ‘Haimars’, where the missiles themselves will be American, but the chassis and trucks will be of Polish manufacture. Ultimately, we also want the ‘K2’ tanks to be polonized, and there are plans for production or co-production in Poland, so we are modernising the army, but we are also increasing the capabilities of Polish industry and we are very strongly focused on increasing the size of our army. Conscription is suspended in Poland, and no one has any intention of changing this, but at the same time we need a much more numerous army. We are doing this by establishing a separate type of armed forces, the territorial defence forces, and developing them, in addition to which we are introducing many incentives to promote the army among the public. We have also introduced voluntary compulsory military service, which is well remunerated, and will hopefully result in us having many more trained citizens, some of whom may decide to pursue a career in the military. The international situation indicates that nothing will change in the coming years. To quote the Western media, Poland will have the strongest land army in Europe in a few years, and that is our goal.
Radosław Aleksander Fogiel – polish politician and local government member, councilor of the Mazovian regional council of the 5th and 6th term, member of the Sejm of the 9th term. From 2022, Chairman of the Sejm Foreign Affairs Committee. In 2012, he became the first vice-president, and in 2017, the president of the European Young Conservatives – an organization affiliated with the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists. He held this position for a full term until 2018.
In June 2019, he was appointed deputy spokesman for Law and Justice. In the parliamentary elections of the same year, he successfully ran for a parliamentary seatIn 2021, he became vice-president of the Party of European Conservat. ives and Reformists. In June 2022, he was appointed spokesperson for Law and Justice. In the same year, he assumed the function of the chairman of the Sejm Foreign Affairs Committee, therefore he resigned from the position of the party’s spokesman.
About the interviewer:
Liliana Śmiech graduated in International Business from the Cracow University of Economics, in Energy Studies at the Warsaw School of Economics, in Energy Within Environmental Constraints at HarvardX and in Energy Economics and Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. President of the think tank Warsaw Institute. Scholarship holder of the Japanese government programme MIRAI Politics&Security. Co-author of the report “Energy Poverty – Situation of Households in 2021”.
She has gained professional experience in the European Parliament and in major multinational corporations. Her main interests are energy transition, sustainable development and geopolitics. Privately, she is a sailor, beekeeper, judge and artistic gymnastics coach.