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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

No Compromise: What's Driving Poland's New Hard Line On Russia

"We are realists, and therefore we do not believe in the possibility of a compromise between freedom and slavery..." Poland's foreign minister has outlined what the country's foreign strategy will look like in the coming years, built on support of Ukraine and steadfast resistance to the Russian aggressors.

Photo of a child in a crowd waving Ukrainian and Polish flags during a speech by Volodymyr Zelensky in Warsaw on April 6

Crowd waving Ukrainian and Polish flags during a speech by Volodymyr Zelensky in Warsaw on April 6

Yury Panchenko and Nadia Koval


WARSAW — In 2023, Poland’s six-year foreign policy strategy came to an end. Last week, Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau presented a report on the new goals and tasks for Polish foreign policy over the coming years.

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And not surprisingly, Ukraine is by far the most mentioned topic in Rau's report. It has its own section, but it also affects how Poland views the level of cooperation it should have with foreign countries.

That level depends on the position they took in the Russian-Ukrainian war, especially the non-European countries.

Remembering history

Supporting Ukraine until its victory is clearly the priority of Poland's foreign policy.

Rau has strong words on that topic: "We support Ukraine in the fight against the Russian invasion, because the principle of sovereign equality of states for us in practice means the right of the Ukrainian people to choose their own identity, political system, political affiliation and military alliances, as well as to decide how long to fight and when to start negotiations with Russia."

This is the lesson we learned from the 20th century and we will remember it.

He adds: "Historical experience shows that the loss of independence of one country in the region inevitably leads to the loss of independence of others."

So, Poland rejects compromises that favor Russia. "We are realists, and therefore we do not believe in the possibility of a compromise between freedom and slavery. This is the lesson we learned from the 20th century and we will remember it," the report says.

Renewed friendship

And of course, Warsaw promises to hasten the process of Ukraine joining the EU and NATO.

"A safe Ukraine means a safe Poland and, accordingly, a peaceful Europe. So, this is our raison d'état," Rau says.

More than just improving bilateral relations between Ukraine and Poland, Warsaw sees the war as a means to overcome historic hostilities between Poland and Ukraine.

"Russian aggression brought our nations so close together and created a huge mutual social capital of sympathy and trust, we have a unique chance to recreate Polish-Ukrainian unity, destroyed in recent centuries by German and Russian invaders, as well as Bolshevik totalitarianism," the report reads.

"We would like Ukraine to be something more for us in the future than a partner in the EU and NATO, and more than just a good neighbor with whom we have friendly relations and good economic cooperation."

Convincing Orbán

Until recently, Hungary was considered a key ally of Warsaw in the EU, and oftentimes the two countries worked together to veto European institutions they saw as bad. As a result of the war, however, Polish-Hungarian relations are going through a fundamental transformation. The report, however, does not suggest how these relations with Hungary will progress in the future.

"We regret the fact that Poland and Hungary have fundamentally different perceptions of Russian aggression against Ukraine — both its causes and the desired end scenario," says Rau.

But he adds: "We will convince our Hungarian partners to take a new look at the nature of threats from Russia in order to be able to fully use the potential of our relations and deepen them."

Photo of \u200bPolish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau speaking in Warsaw on March 31

Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau speaking in Warsaw on March 31

Aleksander Kalka/ZUMA

Eastern alliances

In Warsaw’s eyes the Eastern Partnership is a success. The alliance between Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, which, along with Sweden, Poland was responsible for initiating, was designed to bring those countries closer to the EU.

Our long-term goal is a democratic, free and independent Belarus.

"The Eastern Partnership prepared Ukraine and Moldova to receive candidate status in the EU. This move will change not only our region, but, I am also convinced, will change the whole of Europe," Rau says.

Poland welcomes and is ready to support Moldova's European ambitions: "We wish the success of the modernization of Moldova as a good and motivating example for the peoples of Eastern Europe. We need the success of Moldova as a guarantee that Russia will not be able to open a second front there in the war against Ukraine and all of Europe."

Poland also has high hopes for Belarus. "Our long-term goal is a democratic, free and independent Belarus. Poland will not be safe until its neighbors are free and sovereign!" Rau says. However, he adds that Warsaw currently "see[s] Belarus as a state completely dependent on an aggressive Russia, ruled by a regime devoid of any democratic and social legitimacy, which has turned Belarus into a large prison and gives Russia its territory to attack Ukraine."

Warsaw plans on lobbying in the EU for further sanctions against the Lukashenko regime, as well as applying "the entire range of punishments that are at our sovereign disposal" against him.

Revising relations with the Kremlin

Poland is defiant in resisting attempts to reach compromises with the Russian Federation if they come at the cost of Ukraine.

The report states: "The Polish government continues to take the position that until Russia stops its aggression in Ukraine, withdraws its troops from the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine, including the Crimean peninsula, it must remain outside the community of civilized nations, and we will fight against premature proposals to restore bridges with Russia."

At the same time, Warsaw does not subscribe to Russian "fatalism" (the idea that Russia is an inherently evil country) and is confident that the Russian Federation can become a "normal member of the international community."

"Once troops have been withdrawn from the entire territory of Ukraine, hostilities are ceased and the guilty are punished, Russia will finally have the hope of becoming a normal democratic state. We would like to cooperate with such a Russia. But such a Russia does not (currently) exist!"

However, Rau emphasizes that even in the case of a "return to normality", relations with the Russian Federation must be fundamentally revised.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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