Poland reveals plans to make Russia pay for WWII
Poland could demand World War II reparations from Russia, as the successor state to the USSR, but only if it persuades Germany to pay a similar bill first, a senior official in Warsaw has claimed. Berlin has thus far rejected a €1.3 trillion ($1.43 trillion) claim from Poland over the Nazi occupation, arguing that the issue has long been settled.
“We treat Berlin and Moscow in a different-civilization way,” Polish Secretary of State Marcin Przydacz told the Financial Times in an article published on Tuesday. “Once there will be a success with Germany, the next step could be to launch such a discussion with the other oppressor.”
Under the leadership of the Georgian dictator Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union liberated Poland from Adolf Hitler's Nazi forces in 1945. Subsequently a communist government was installed and legitimized by a widely disputed 1947 election. The Communist party went on to hold power until 1989. The USSR itself collapsed in 1991.
Demanding reparations has become a key aspect of Polish foreign policy under the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS). Berlin has said it accepts moral responsibility for Nazi crimes and continues to make direct payments to Holocaust survivors in Poland, but argues that other financial claims were settled in the 1950s. Warsaw has insisted that it was short-changed due to the USSR’s desire to move on from the conflict.
Warsaw sent a formal note to Berlin with reparation demands last October. Polish President Andrzej Duda said at the time that he did not see any reason why his country should not do the same with Russia.
Warsaw is locked in a broader dispute with Berlin over what it perceives to be outsized German influence on EU affairs. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of PiS, claimed in 2021 that Berlin was morphing the EU into a “Fourth Reich.”
Brussels, meanwhile, has accused Poland of a slide towards authoritarianism under its current leadership, and further angered Warsaw by withholding Covid-19 recovery funds.
Jana Puglierin, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, told the FT that PiS appeared to prioritize electoral success rather than “having a constructive relationship [with Germany].”
“Overall in terms of trust I feel the German-Polish relationship is at its lowest level since 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Michal Baranowski, director of the German Marshall Fund’s office in Warsaw, said of the situation.
The FT noted that despite any political tensions, Germany has deployed long-range anti-aircraft systems in Poland amid the conflict in Ukraine. Warsaw has accused Berlin of not doing enough to support Kiev and previously criticized Germany for buying cheap Russian gas. Experts told the newspaper that economic interconnection could alleviate the political standoff between Warsaw and Berlin.