Goodbye to Poland's Hawks

What Warsaw's New Government Means For Europe

Poland's former prime minister Donald Tusk talks with former foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski at the parliament in Warsaw on August 27, 2014 Courtesy Reuters

Radoslaw Sikorski, who was replaced recently as Poland’s foreign minister, has never shied from confrontation. That was apparent in his farewell speech at Poland’s foreign ministry on September 22, in which he quoted former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: “You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

It’s not hard to guess which enemy he had in mind. In his seven years as foreign minister, Sikorski took a firm stand against Russian ambitions in eastern Europe. In 2009, he and Carl Bildt, then Sweden’s foreign minister, created the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program to promote engagement with Ukraine and five other former Soviet countries. In February, at the height of the protests on Kiev’s Independence Square, he helped broker an EU-backed deal between the opposition and then President Viktor Yanukovych. (Yanukovych fled the following day.) As hostility between Moscow and Kiev escalated into military confrontation, Sikorski confirmed his standing as one of Europe’s most prominent defenders of Ukraine’s right to build closer ties with the West. Under his leadership, Poland played an important role in organizing European sanctions against Russia. All of this raises a critical question: Does Sikorski’s departure from the foreign ministry signal that Poland is planning to abandon its distinctively hawkish voice in European foreign policy?

Sikorski’s departure is part of a government reshuffle after Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (also a strong advocate for Ukraine) was appointed president of the European Council, where he will be responsible for chairing meetings of EU heads of state. Ewa Kopacz, a long-standing Tusk ally and former minister of health, took over as prime minister in September. Sikorski became Poland’s speaker of parliament, and was replaced as foreign minister by Grzegorz Schetyna, who lacks international experience.

For European leaders who prefer a softer stance toward Russia -- and for the Kremlin itself -- these changes might seem reassuring. The new Polish government is placing a

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