Judy Dempsey discusses the significance of Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Poland this week:

It’s the first ever rendezvous of a Russian Patriarch with dominantly Catholic Poland. Ostensibly, he is there to meet officials from the 800,000 strong Polish Orthodox Church.

But the real significance of Kirill I’s presence in Poland goes far deeper. It is about two countries coming to terms with a tumultuous relationship wrought by war and occupation, violence and enmity. Inevitably, over the years, religion fed into these tensions.

Considering the long history of antagonism and hostility between Poland and Russia and between the two churches in this part of Europe, this visit is a remarkable gesture by all parties in favor of improved relations. Polish-Russian reconciliation represents an enormous and welcome change for the entire region, and it is something that seemed very unlikely just a decade ago. The visit is partly the product of the current Polish government’s continued interest in fostering a more constructive relationship with Russia:

Much of the credit for this visit is due to the center-right Prime Minister Donald Tusk, in power since 2005, and foreign minister Radek Sikorski.

Sikorski, once considered a neo-con for his staunch Atlanticism and anti-Russian views, has concluded that it is in Poland’s national interests to stop sparring with its unpredictable eastern neighbor. As for Russia, it concluded too that it was not in its interests to have Poland as an enemy.

In fairness to Sikorski, it seems clear that he grasped soon enough that the one-sided relationship with the U.S. that Poland had in the early 2000s didn’t serve his country’s interests and made a priority of securing those interests. If Sikorski has changed his views, it is because the U.S. abused and took advantage of Poland’s willingness to support our wars and provided Poland with nothing in exchange.

The AP reports on the patriarchal visit:

During the four-day visit, Kirill is to meet with Poland’s church leaders and lawmakers and visit sites sacred to the nation’s 600,000 Orthodox Church followers. Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the visit is a “very important step on the path to reconciliation.”

Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Poland demonstrates how far Poland and Russia have already come on that path, and how fruitless policies of needless provocation and confrontation are by comparison.