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The Sikorski Flap

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs / cc

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that an alleged Russian proposal to partition Ukraine with Poland in 2008 never happened. Now the Polish politician who made the claim, the ex-foreign minister and current speaker Radek Sikorski, is in a bit of trouble back home:

The claim of a Russian offer was explosive, and dominated Polish media for much of the day Tuesday. But after an embarrassing series of news conferences, Mr Sikorski was forced to admit it had never happened. A media-savvy former reporter who has handled the press with aplomb for years, Mr Sikorski acknowledged that “my memory failed me,” and that indeed the February 2008 meeting had involved no one-on-one meeting between Mr Tusk and Mr Putin at all. The walk-back is an enormous humiliation for Mr Sikorski, who served seven years as foreign minister and who had for a time been a serious candidate to take the job of the EU’s top diplomat. Poland’s opposition parties are demanding that he be fired from his current position as speaker of parliament. Ewa Kopacz, the new prime minister, is furious with him.

The original claim seemed laughable when I first read about it, and as it happens the proposal was never made. Given that there was actually a brief thaw in relations between Poland and Russia not long after this offer was supposed to have been made, it made even less sense to treat Sikorski’s claim seriously. That raises the obvious question: why would such a major claim be included in a story without being corroborated by others? It’s not hard to guess why Sikorski would make such an outlandish claim, but it’s just sloppy reporting to repeat something like this uncritically.

The controversy over Sikorski’s remarks comes at a time when Poland’s Civic Platform government has shifted to focusing more on domestic matters while pursuing a less activist and confrontational foreign policy towards Russia. David Klion commented on the changes earlier this month:

Kopacz herself today in her inauguration speech called for a “pragmatic approach” to Russia. Her measured phrasing presents a contrast with the bombastic Sikorski, who once compared a German-Russian pipeline deal to the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact and who was secretly recorded in June using vulgar language in reference to several key players in Europe. Kopacz’s new appointment to the Foreign Ministry, Grzegorz Schetyna, is seen as a neophyte who does not speak English and has studiously avoided commenting on the situation in Ukraine.

Because of the reshuffle, Sikorski had already become much less relevant to the making of Polish foreign policy before this latest episode happenened. That came after he was at the center of another embarrassing episode in which he was caught on tape deriding the U.S.-Polish alliance in crude terms. Now it appears that Sikorski’s domestic political ambitions have taken a serious hit as well. In light of this latest embarrassment, Poland is definitely better off being represented abroad by someone else.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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