A friend from Poland sent me a recent statement from a conservative politician in Poland named Roman Giertych. The statement alleges a conspiracy between Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and the leading conservative party in Poland, the Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, hereafter PiS). The secret agreement would have rendered the eastern portion of Ukraine to Russia. In exchange, Putin would allow Hungary and Poland to establish a controlling protectorate over the remaining portions of Ukraine. This secret pact would have allowed the two extreme authoritarian parties in Poland and Hungary to pose as saviors of the remaining portion of a dismembered Ukraine by limiting the extent of the Kremlin’s victory. The plot appears to have been foiled by the heroic resistance of the Ukrainian people, the massive sympathy for the plight of Ukrainian refugees among the populations of Hungary and Poland, and the leadership of President Biden in rallying the support of the NATO alliance and partners in the European Union.
Roman Giertych is a conservative Polish politician and lawyer whose accusations against the PiS may be political, but they are not ideological. His membership in the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin, hereafter LPR) links him to the various bigotries and hysterias of the global Catholic far right. The LPR has competed for the far right vote with the PiS. Both parties reject women’s personal autonomy. Both parties deny the fundamental humanity of homosexuals and seek to refuse them a place in civil service. Both parties oppose accepting refugees from Putin’s other wars, especially Muslims. In a parallel to the current debate in the United States over Critical Race Theory, the PiS and LPR attempt to deny teaching that indicates any Polish role in the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust. Both parties see NATO as a means to advance their national militaries but are not committed to the democratic values that underly the alliance in its ideal form. Both parties see the European Union as a centralized socialist superstate undermining the national sovereignty and integrity of the Polish nation. Despite the many similarities between the two parties, Giertych has emerged as one of the leading critics of the PiS.
His criticism comes with considerable authority. Giertych is a lawyer by training and the lead attorney in the European Council’s investigation of collaboration between Polish intelligence and the FSB, Russia’s successor to the infamous Soviet KGB. There are few people on earth more knowledgeable about Russian covert operations. Giertych and the European Council’s investigation of Russian manipulation of Polish politics increasingly targeted members of the PiS. The PiS responded by contracting with the Israeli software company Pegasus to hack Giertych’s phone. This hack of Giertych’s phone by a political party in collusion with Pegasus entailed not only a grotesque violation of his fundamental freedoms, it also compromised both the high profile legal cases he represented as well as the classified information he obtained in his investigation of Russian intelligence. The incident involving Giertych’s phone has been a major factor in the European Union investigation of the many abuses of Pegasus software.
Giertych is thus an authoritative yet potentially biased source for the story he tells. Any book he might write on the origins of the Ukraine crisis would certainly be required reading. What follows is not a strict summary of Giertych’s statement. I have woven in some inferences and interpretations that would help an American reader better place this story in the context of Central and Eastern European politics. Having said that, I will freely admit that neither my Polish language skills nor my understanding of contemporary Polish politics are particularly strong. Someone else should be telling this story in English. I have only found bits and pieces of it online thus far.
A Summary of Giertych’s Statement
In Putin’s ideal scenario for his takeover of Ukraine, Donald Trump would have won the 2020 election. This would have allowed Trump the opportunity to further erode NATO unity, and ultimately achieve a key strategic goal of Putin by having the US withdraw from NATO in a Trump second term. Giertych notes that former National Security Advisor John Bolton has repeatedly and recently claimed that Trump intended to abandon NATO in a second term. This portion of Giertych’s story is not news to any American who has not become a zombie of the Murdoch and Koch disinformation empires.
Trump’s loss in the 2020 election complicated but did not undermine Putin’s plans for Ukraine. If anything, it accelerated the Russian dictator’s timetable. Putin has spent the last five years sowing division in the US and Europe that have undermined faith in democratic institutions and the global alliances that sustain them. In his efforts to weaken and divide the representative institutions of the West, Putin has found willing collaborators in the right-wing parties of the USA and Europe.
In an event that should probably be seen as a key element in the lead up to the Russian invasion, these right wing parties held a meeting in Madrid at the end of January under the banner of “Defend Europe.” The convention itself and many of its leading figures are recipients of large donations from the Kremlin. Putin is also a major benefactor to the key parties and elected leaders involved. The two participants with the closest and most influential ties to Putin are France’s Marine Le Pen and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. At a time when Russia was amassing its forces on the border of Ukraine, these self-proclaimed defenders of Christian civilization could not muster a word in support of Zelensky. Instead, the conference’s concluding statement was the trite litany of rightwing hatred directed against feminism, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and supranational organizations.
The Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, attended this meeting as a leading representative of the PiS, which had hosted a meeting of this same group in Warsaw last December. The pro-Putin essence of the conference convinced even the Italian neo-fascists Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni to not attend. The weak statement of this conference on the matter of the imminent invasion of Ukraine is even more disturbing because Giertych alleges that Biden had shared with our NATO partners classified information detailing Putin’s intentions around the time of the neo-fascist conference in Madrid. Evidence that Morawiecki had advanced knowledge of the Russian attack was the timely divestment of all stocks in his portfolio that were vulnerable in an outbreak of war.
Giertych’s contends, moreover, that the PiS intended to establish an authoritarian dictatorship modeled on the one formed in Orbán’s Hungary. The general tactic to achieve this involved undermining independent media. Specific legislation of the PiS in the Polish Parliament targeted the network TVN, a subsidiary of the Discovery corporation based in the US. Representatives of the Biden administration in Poland convinced a leading figure in the PiS, Andrzej Duda, that such an attack on independent media would not be seen favorably in the US. Duda appears to have convinced his party that antagonizing the US in this way would not be favorable to his party’s or his nation’s interests.
Giertych’s principal contention, however, is that at the aforementioned Madrid meeting Poland, Hungary and Russia conspired to frame a post-invasion order for Ukraine. This conspiracy would have the aspiring dictators in Hungary and Poland form a bulwark of power between Putin’s Russia and the West. The two countries would benefit from a role as arbiter between a West corrupted by what they perceive as liberal internationalism and a Russia weakened by its alienation from the West. Warsaw and Budapest would thus provide a vital bridge between Moscow and the West. The most powerful figure in the PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, mediated the negotiations aiming to undermine the very existence of Ukraine and its burgeoning democracy.
The ruse would unfold as follows. Putin would complain but do nothing while Hungary and Poland protested vehemently against the Russian aggression. Surreptitiously, the two nations would resist any meaningful and permanent sanctions against Russia in response to the crushing of Ukraine. In a well-scripted negotiation, Putin would whine but ultimately concede a territorial protectorate to Poland and Hungary. This tacit partition of Ukraine would be “regretfully” accepted as the best way to bring peace to the Ukrainians. Using a compliant media, Orbán and the PiS party could sell themselves to the public as saviors in what would have otherwise been a total victory of Russia in Ukraine.
The heroism of the Ukrainians, the compassion of the Poles, and the astute diplomacy of the Biden administration have undermined these plans. As a result, Poland may emerge from this more securely democratic than before. Orbán’s political future may not survive April’s elections in Hungary. [Update: In an election of dubious integrity, Orbán prevailed.] Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła. (Poland is not yet lost!)
There are many elements in this story that deserve analysis. I had planned to append a lengthy commentary to this summary of Giertych but have decided for now to keep my commentary brief. The essential point we need to understand for the moment is that Putin’s strategy is to undermine the structures of representative government everywhere. His collaborators in this quest are the globe’s kleptocrats, especially those tied to the fossil fuel industry and the network of investment banks connected to them. These kleptocrats fund various disinformation networks and affiliated politicians around the world.
Thank God for Vladimir Zelensky. He salvaged American democracy by standing up to Republican Party’s efforts to undermine the integrity of the 2020 presidential election. Now, he has put his life on the line to preserve the vulnerable young democracy of Ukraine against the focus of evil in the modern world, Vladimir Putin. Things will never be the same after this. They will either be much better or much, much worse. Slava Ukraini!