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Poles wary of Nord Stream pact

In Poland, claims the "Molotov-Ribbentrop" natural gas pipeline is an attempt to weaken the EU and NATO, much as the Nazis and Soviets did to Poland in WWII.

Last summer, nearly two dozen former heads of states and other public figures from Central and Eastern Europe, including the former Polish president, Lech Walesa, and former Czech president, Vaclav Havel, wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama in which they criticized Russia’s “abuse of its [energy] monopoly and cartel-like power inside the EU,” and warned that “Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics.”

After invading Georgia in August 2008, the Russians did little to calm the nerves of their former satellites this September when they staged large-scale military and naval maneuvers on the borders of Poland and the Baltic states.

“This is a kind of taste of the future militarization of the Baltic, but there has been almost no reaction on the EU level,” said Zalewski.

The EU’s non-reaction is bitterly disappointing to the Poles, but it is hardly surprising. Nations pursue their own interests, and Germany is deeply interested in securing its energy supply. Germany also believes that it is in its interest to draw Russia toward Europe with as many linkages as possible — an understandable approach, but one that gives Moscow considerable leverage over Central and Eastern Europe.

“If you are sitting in Moscow, you don’t even see Poland,” said a senior Polish foreign ministry official who asked that his name not be used.

“For the Russians, we are a small irritation,” said the rueful official. “They don’t like us because we know them so well and because we speak openly about what they are doing, even though it is now clear we can’t influence EU policy toward Russia.”

What adds to the Poles’ mistrust of the Nord Stream project is the web of personal contacts that was used to get the deal done.

The former German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia, who enjoy a warm personal relationship, are seen as the prime movers behind the deal. Schroeder’s government approved the deal — and provided nearly $1.5 billion in loan guarantees to Gazprom — just weeks before he lost the 2005 election. A few weeks before the defeat, Schroeder accepted a job as chairman of Nord Stream.

Matthias Warnig, Nord Stream’s chief executive, is a former member of the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious secret police, and served as a senior officer in the foreign intelligence section during the same years that Putin was a top KGB agent in East Germany.

“As an ordinary Pole, I’m frightened,” said Monika Michaliszyn, a specialist in energy issues at Warsaw University. “We are isolated — we and the Baltic states. It’s like the Second World War. We know that when the Germans and the Russians do something together behind our back, it’s not good.”