In a blistering social media post, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now a top Kremlin security adviser, lashed out at Poland for its support of Ukraine, reviving and escalating decades-long tensions between Moscow and Warsaw.
Poland’s surprisingly spirited defense of Ukraine would prove “expensive and pointless,” Medvedev predicted, ominously adding that he was confident that Warsaw would “make the right choice” and embrace Russia again.
Medvedev is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and served a four-year placeholder presidency when Putin was facing term limits. Medvedev went on to serve as Putin’s prime minister and is now deputy chairman of the Kremlin’s security council. Putin is the chairman.
In Monday’s post on the Telegram social network, Medvedev lamented that “the interests of Polish citizens have been sacrificed to Russophobia” by “talentless politicians and their puppeteers” in the United States. He branded Polish leaders — two of whom, Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Mateusz Morawiecki, traveled to besieged Kyiv last week with other Eastern European leaders to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — “political imbeciles” who were spreading “vulgar” propaganda about Russia.
Most observers see propaganda emanating primarily from Russia’s tightly controlled media outlets, which have mostly portrayed the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as a justified operation of limited scope.
Inna Sovsun, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and a leader of the liberal Holos (“Voice”) party, branded Medvedev’s musings “psychotic” on Twitter, adding that the “rhetoric is so similar to what we were hearing about” Ukraine in the months leading up to last month’s invasion, which has shattered the post-Cold War order in Eastern Europe.
“This is a direct assault on Poland,” Sovsun wrote.
Medvedev’s anger appears to stem from the Kremlin’s disappointment with Warsaw, where a socially conservative, nationalist government may have been seen as sympathetic to Putin as he launched the invasion of Ukraine. Like so much else about the war, that would appear a grave miscalculation on Moscow’s part.
Poland has taken in more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees, in a show of solidarity that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Not only that, but the country’s suddenly emboldened leaders have proposed transferring fighter jets to Ukraine — a proposal that caught U.S. diplomats and military leaders by surprise — and starting an international peacekeeping force to beat back the stalled Russian invasion. Perhaps most worrisome for Moscow, Poland has become a key hub for the transfer of military supplies to Ukraine, including powerful antitank and antiair weapons that have thus far stymied the Russian assault.
“I never thought we had this in us,” a Polish student told the New York Times of these developments. “Nobody knew we could be mobilized like this.”
Those same developments angered a Kremlin that is finding few allies in its purported effort to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, whose president is Jewish and had family perish in the Holocaust. To the contrary, nations that had rebelled from Russian influence see little reason to help an effort that could, in the future, turn against them.
After all, Putin has been clear that he feels Russia needs to reestablish itself as a regional superpower. Last year he published a 5,000-word article titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” which portrayed Ukraine as an artificial construct due to its long history with Russia. He could arguably apply the same revisionist logic to justify conquering other ex-Soviet bloc, Slavic nations — like Poland — even at the cost of triggering a broader European conflict.
Poland’s defiance has nevertheless clearly pained elites in the Kremlin. “Sooner or later they will understand that hatred of Russia does not strengthen the society, does not contribute to prosperity and peace,” Medvedev wrote in his embittered Telegram post, one of his first on a network that is widely used in Russia and Ukraine.
Much as Putin has throughout the war with Ukraine, Medvedev engaged in revisionist history that rendered Russia as both hero and victim. He noted that it was the Red Army that expelled Adolf Hitler from Poland, but he ignored the fact that Hitler and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin agreed to split Poland ahead of the Nazi invasion. In 1940, Soviet security services murdered more than 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in what came to be known as the Katyn Massacre.
Later, after World War II, Poland suffered from decades of repression under Soviet rule. As in Ukraine, the lack of geographic distance made autonomy nearly impossible to exercise, though the Solidarity movement of the 1980s proved among the most potent antiauthoritarian forces to challenge the Kremlin.
Ukraine experienced similar depredations at the hands of Russia, both before and after World War II. But in its recent attempts to reclaim influence over Eastern Europe, the Kremlin has mounted a campaign of falsehoods and grievances that recalls Soviet propaganda in its overweening inaccuracies.
“History is now being redrawn, monuments are being demolished,” Medvedev lamented on Telegram.
Poland neighbors Ukraine but — unlike Ukraine — is a member of NATO. If Putin were to attack Poland, NATO’s collective defense clause would necessitate a military response from much of Europe and the United States. Given how poorly the Ukrainian invasion has gone for Russia, such an attack doesn’t seem likely — but the Kremlin’s bluster is disconcerting all the same.