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Group of Soviet Forces in Poland
Northern Group of Forces (NGF)

The geopolitical realities of postwar Europe allowed Poland little room to maneuver in foreign policy. Until the late 1980s, the ever present threat of Soviet intervention kept Poland a compliant member of the Warsaw Pact. In fact, Jaruzelski maintained that the decision to impose martial law in December 1981 was taken to preempt a Soviet invasion. Such an invasion would have been consistent with the Brezhnev Doctrine, which justified military intervention in any Warsaw Pact member where socialism was threatened. In early 1992, Jaruzelski's claim received corroboration when a high official in the former Red Army revealed the Soviet Union's plan to invade Poland at the end of 1981 under precisely that pretext.

In the late 1980s, the Brezhnev Doctrine was suspended when Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev enunciated a new world view, which he called "new thinking." For the first time in the postwar era, the Soviet Union acknowledged the right of its East European neighbors to pursue their own paths of social and economic development. Thus, Moscow reluctantly accepted Poland's 1989 Round Table Agreement, the defeat of the communists in Poland's first open parliamentary elections, and the ensuing installation of a noncommunist government as beyond its legitimate concern.

As the first postcommunist leadership of Poland, the Mazowiecki government approached its relationship with the Soviet Union with cautious resolve, reassuring Moscow that Poland would fulfill its obligations as a member of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. Nevertheless, Poland soon demonstrated its determination to transform these Soviet-dominated military and economic alliances into consultative bodies respecting the sovereignty of all member countries. Foreign Minister Skubiszewski guided foreign affairs skillfully through this delicate period, as the Warsaw Pact, Comecon, and the Soviet Union itself disintegrated.

Among the difficult issues the new government confronted in redefining its relationship with the Soviet Union were the presence of some 58,000 Soviet troops on Polish territory; the future role of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon; new terms of bilateral trade; the plight of more than 1 million ethnic Poles living on Soviet territory; clarification of the "blank spots" in the history of Soviet-Polish relations; and the Polish relationship to Soviet republics seeking independence.

Poland's pattern of military cooperation changed as drastically as its political climate in 1989. Participation in Warsaw Pact joint exercises ended in 1988, and the Polish military establishment ended its close working relationship with its Soviet counterparts. The April 1990 appointment of Solidarity intellectual Janusz Onyszkiewicz as deputy minister of national defense for foreign military relations signaled a new orientation in the defense establishment. Once the disintegration of the Soviet Union altered the geopolitics of all Eastern Europe, however, Poland sought new, equal military partnerships with Russia and other former Soviet republics. A comprehensive cooperation treaty completed in late 1991 replaced the Polish-Soviet friendship treaty of 1965, which had legitimized Soviet domination of Polish military policy. The new pact, given urgency on the Soviet side by the failed coup attempt of August 1991, rejects all interference in Polish affairs by the current Soviet state or by any state that might succeed it.

In 1990 and 1991, the Bielecki government continued Mazowiecki's policy toward Moscow. The withdrawal of Soviet forces, the interruption of oil and gas deliveries, and the collapse of the Soviet market for Polish exports dominated bilateral relations during Bielecki's tenure. Moscow's decision to shift to hard-currency trade at world prices as of January 1, 1992 had painful consequences for Poland. In response to severe disruption of its export market, fuel delivery, and domestic employment, Warsaw established ad hoc barter arrangements with the Soviet Union and individual neighboring republics.

Meanwhile, on the security front, the Soviets pressured Poland and other members of the dying Warsaw Pact to sign new bilateral treaties giving Moscow the right to veto entry into alliances inimical to Soviet interests. Among the East European nations formerly in the Soviet sphere, however, only Romania yielded to Moscow's pressure. Poland refused to surrender its sovereign right to choose allies. After a failed attempt by hardliners to take over the Soviet government in August 1991, Moscow dropped its demand, and bilateral negotiations proceeded more smoothly.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:16:15 ZULU