Moscow has always been extremely sensitive to any indication that the Polish government or Polish organizations are expanding their influence in the post-Soviet space through the support of ethnic minorities in what Russian commentators invariably see as a reprise of the Promethean League program of the 1920s and 1930s. Prometheanism was a political project, initiated and supported by Poland’s inter-war leader Jozef Pilsudski, and it aimed to weaken Russia’s imperialist tendencies by bolstering and aiding the independence movements of non-Russian nationalities living inside Russia and the Soviet Union.
In the last two decades, Russian writers typically have focused on what the Poles are supposedly doing with regard to ethnic groups and regions inside the Russian Federation. Now, in a reflection of how many in the Russian capital view the autonomous Ukrainian region of Crimea, and with an eye to driving a wedge between Kyiv and Warsaw as well as to promoting anti-Polish sentiment among Russians, a Moscow analyst argues that Warsaw is pursuing Promethean League–type projects with the Crimean Tatars. The analyst further conjectures that the Poles may be using the Crimean Tatars as a test case for further work elsewhere in the post-Soviet space. These arguments go far beyond what the available evidence suggests, but they highlight Russian sensitivities and thus represent an important indication of what many in Moscow may be thinking. And just as importantly, they illustrate how Russian commentaries can exploit these fears to promote Russian interests rather than those of others.
Last year featured a series of events for Russian analysts to react to. In January 2013, Poland’s Nasz Dziennik newspaper reported that Polish activists were collecting signatures to a petition calling on the international community to press for an end to the discrimination of Crimean Tatars (naszdziennik.pl/polska-kraj/26997.html; and naszdziennik.pl/polska-kresy/21353.html). Then, in May, members of Fighting Solidarity, founded in 1982 as an underground organization to oppose Communism, picketed the Ukrainian embassy in Warsaw over the same Crimean Tatar discrimination issue. In September, Piotr Hlebowicz, a leader of Fighting Solidarity, visited Crimea and said that the European Parliament should hold hearings on this issue. And Stefan Fule, the European Union commissioner for enlargement and the EU’s neighborhood policy, suggested that the issue of the rights of Crimean Tatars in Crimea be raised in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe and the United Nations (see EDM, September 27).
This sequence of events attracted the attention of Vladislav Gulevich, a Moscow specialist on Eastern Europe. Gulevich’s response to these developments reflected both Moscow’s effort to dissuade Ukraine from pursuing closer ties with the EU as well as Moscow’s concerns about the impact of Polish activism on the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. In an article published last Friday (October 4), Gulevich wrote that Poland today, just like the inter-war Poland of Jozef Pilsudski, “uses the Tatars” for geopolitical purposes and that Warsaw’s recent attention to the peninsula is part of a broader EU project to divide and weaken Ukraine as it moves toward Europe—something he implies Ukrainians should be worried about (strategic-culture.org/news/2013/10/04/polish-human-rights-activists-they-have-plans-for-crimea.html).
According to the Russian writer, “with Kiev being under the effect of narcotic anesthesia [sic], the West has started the process of Ukraine’s territorial dismemberment. This fact is obvious for everyone. There is a reason behind it: by undermining the administrative-territorial pillars of [the] Ukrainian state the rapprochement between Russia and Ukraine could be prevented for many years. It serves […] Europe’s strategic purposes; the weakening of central power makes easier the mission of devouring Ukraine by parts. That’s [sic] the future they prepare for Crimea—a precious prize in the Black Sea area…” (strategic-culture.org/news/2013/10/04/polish-human-rights-activists-they-have-plans-for-crimea.html).
Gulevich, however, does not limit his argument to propaganda against Ukraine’s European choice. He suggests that Polish interest in the Crimean Tatars is based on the common “hostility towards Russia” of the two peoples and thus is part of “conscientious attempts to make the Tatars an element of Polish ‘eastern’ policy along Prometheist lines.” Prometheanism refers to Pilsudski’s policies of promoting nationalist movements among non-Russian peoples living at that time in the Soviet Union and now within the successor states. Indeed, Gulevich says, “today one can talk about neo-Prometheanism, because Warsaw constantly goes back to the Pilsudski heritage” and “some Tatar activists regularly publish their articles in the magazine called ‘Nowy Prometeusz’ [‘New Prometheus’] of the Center for East European Studies” in Warsaw (www.studium.uw.edu.pl/?content/110).
Were the Polish effort in the Russian understanding limited to Crimea, it is unlikely that Gulevich and other Moscow authors would be so exercised. Rather, these Russian commentators argue that one must view the Crimean effort as part of a larger strategy directed at the dismemberment of Russia. In an earlier article, Gulevich posited that “now, when [Moscow’s] defense potential is not what it was 20 years ago, the West has focused itself on calls for weakening the vertical of power in the Russian Federation and the provision of greater power to Russian regions” as the first step toward breaking that county apart (fondsk.ru/news/2011/11/07/geopoliticheskaja-hirurgija-dla-rossii-11158.html).
According to Gulevich, the Prometheans and neo-Prometheans want to break off not only Crimea from Ukraine but Karelia, Komi, the Kuban, the Don, the North Caucasus and the Middle Volga from Russia. Gulevich believes that this project, if successful, would not only drive Russia to the east but create a new ring of anti-Russian states around its diminished periphery.