In June 2014, Wprost magazine in Poland published transcripts of a secretly-taped conversation between Sikorski and the former Polish finance minister Jacek Rostowski in which Sikorski criticised British Prime Minister David Cameron and his handling of the EU to appease Eurosceptics in very derogatory terms. Sikorski did not deny the remarks attributed to him. The recordings were believed to have been made in one or more restaurants in the Polish capital, Warsaw, and recorded sometime between summer 2013 and spring 2014. In other leaked conversations Sikorski was reported to have said: "The Polish-American alliance isn’t worth anything. It is even harmful because it creates a false sense of security for Poland". He continued and said: "We will get a conflict with both Russians and Germans, and we’re going to think that everything is great, because we gave the Americans a blowjob. Suckers. Total suckers,". He also described the mentality of Poles as "thinking ‘like a negro.’"
In 2014, Sikorski labeled pro-Russian separatists as "terrorists". He also said: "Remember that on that Russian-Ukrainian border, people’s identities are not as strong as we are used to in Europe. ... They reflect Ukraine’s failure over the last 20 years and Ukraine’s stagnant standards of living. You know, when you are a Ukrainian miner or soldier, and you earn half or a third of what your colleagues just across the border in Russia earn, that questions your identity." According to Spiegel Online: "... [Sikorski] hopes that NATO and the EU will finally take off the kid gloves in their dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He wants to see the West stand up to Moscow and, if necessary, threaten the Russians militarily."
Russian President Vladimir Putin allegedly tried to tempt Poland into invading Ukraine with the goal of partitioning the country in 2013, former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski told Ben Judah in an article in Politico.
According to Sikorski, who was Poland's foreign minister from 2007 until this past September and is now a member of parliament, the Polish Foreign Ministry first became alarmed over Putin's expansionist ambitions in the summer of 2013. The Ministry discovered that Russia was thinking about which Ukrainian provinces it could conceivably grab even before protests broke out in Kiev in November of 2013.
The buildup to war actually began as early as 2008, according to Sikorski. He says Russian intentions were becoming transparent by the time of the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest. “This is where [Putin] gave his extraordinary speech saying Ukraine was an artificial country and the greater part of these lands historically belonged to Russia.” At the summit the Kremlin warned it would respond militarily to moves by Ukraine or Georgia to join the NATO alliance: months later Russian forces seized on a provocation from Tbilisi and invaded Georgia.
Ukrainian intelligence points to Russian operatives beginning to move into Crimea from 2012 and possibly even 2010. There have also been reports of Kremlin operatives openly discussing a project to annex the territory beginning in the summer of 2013. Sikorski says Russian intentions toward Crimea first began to alarm him in 2011 and 2012, when Putin began visiting the festivals of Russian nationalist biker gangs in the peninsula. However it was not until the summer of 2013 that alarm bells began to ring inside the Polish Foreign Ministry.
“We learned Russia ran calculations on what provinces would be profitable to grab,” says Sikorski, who claims that Poland became aware the Kremlin had calculated it would be profitable to annex Zaporozhye, Dnepropetrovsk and Odessa regions, while the assessing that the Donbass area currently controlled by Putin’s rebels would not, on its own, not be profitable to incorporate into Russia.
“By that time they were already doing calculations about how to seize Crimea as a way of blackmailing Viktor Yanukovych,” says Sikorski, “I know from my conversations and meeting with Yanukovych that he wanted to get the [European Union-Ukraine] Association Agreement. But in November 2013 something happened, something snapped. Based on our conversations, my sense is that it was something Putin told him in Sochi. I think that Putin had kompromat [blackmail material] on Yanukovych: we now know there was a weekly, biweekly truck taking out the cash [stolen from the Ukrainian budget] in a cash transfer. And I think he told him: ‘Don’t sign the Association Agreement; otherwise we’ll seize Crimea.’ That’s why he cracked.”
The Kremlin gambled it was playing with Poland’s own repressed imperial fantasies: Moscow is well aware that among the country’s bestselling novels is a historical fantasy of a Poland that teamed up with Nazi Germany to conquer the Soviet Union. Nor had it gone amiss in Moscow that Sikorski himself has praised the novel, on more than one occasion. This is why the Kremlin sent out feelers to Warsaw with a message from the speaker of the clownish Russian speaker of parliament, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, offering Poland five provinces of Western Ukraine. [at other times Zhirinovsky has promoted restoring the 1937 German-Polish border] The belief in Warsaw was this message was a deniable feeler from the Kremlin’s innermost circles. “We made it very, very clear to them—we wanted nothing to do with this,” says Sikorski.
Nobody knows where Putin will stop. But there is fear in Poland and the Baltic states that sooner or later he will try and conquer the rest of what he claims of what he calls “Novorossiya,” or New Russia: a huge territory stretching from Donetsk all the way to the borders of Moldova. “What I fear,” says Sikorski, “is that the Russians simply cannot accept the existence of Ukraine as a nation. They cannot admit that a separate nation exists. And if they want to go head to head against Ukrainian nationalism, well, then be my guest. Then Russia will learn that Ukraine is really a nation and face a situation of 20 years of partisan war. The Russians could grab the entire territory of Novorossiya easily, but they will have a rump Ukraine arming her, supplying her with weapons, seen by the whole world as the real Ukraine, with a sizable amount of the population supporting the real Ukraine. They could win the battle. But to hold down this enormous territory would require a force of 200,000 to 300,000 troops and a 10-year commitment. And they could never sustain it without permanent, national mobilization.”
Europe’s leaders think this is why the Kremlin will now freeze the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. But they are not certain. Many speculate Putin will try to carve out a land bridge to Crimea, others that he will cut off Ukrainian gas this winter. Whatever happens, it’s clear Europe’s foreign policy machine has been exposed as clueless. The EU and its member states have more than 57,000 diplomats around the world, but they failed to predict either the war in Ukraine or the Arab Spring. Bildt laments: “Most of the staff in the EU embassies can’t even speak the local language.”
The hawkish Bildt and Sikorski see Russia as a real threat to other European states, but most European leaders disagree. As one European foreign minister from a small eastern country explained the discord: “There are two kinds of threat assessments in the EU right now. There are those of us who see the only real threat to our statehood coming from Germany if the euro and the EU collapse, and then everything else, ISIS, Ukraine and all that, as being threats that only seem real on TV; and then there are those of us like the Poles, and the Baltic states, who really do believe that Russia imminently menaces their statehood.”
Still, Bildt and Sikorski are taken very seriously in Brussels: they have the ear of Europe’s leaders on all matters concerning Russia. Both see more Kremlin-instigated war in Europe through the decades ahead. “I have talked to NATO generals,” says Sikorski. “And they see what I see: that he is capable of pushing us to the limit. Of pushing us to the limits before we crack. I believe that Putin has us completely sussed. He thinks he’s facing a bunch of degenerate weaklings. And he thinks we wouldn’t go to war to defend the Baltics. You know, maybe he’s right.”
In the end, however, the threat from Russia could stem as much from its instability as its ambitions. Putin appears too entrenched to be toppled without bloodshed or a coup. European diplomats note soberly they believe sanctions cannot crack the regime: If they succeed, they will only make it more reticent to intervene abroad, at the cost of becoming much more repressive at home. This means the real risk is that Putin will attempt to repeat his success in Crimea every time his popularity begins to flag—and there might be an even greater risk of this now that the price of oil is falling, and with it Russia’s prosperity.
“Should it go decisively below $80 a barrel and stay there for two years he’s in trouble,” warns Sikorski. “But what’s bad for him is not necessarily good for us. He’s a gambler. And he’s got a lowered sense of danger. He’ll take these huge gambles because the real danger for Putin is his own life. He can’t let go. He can’t leave the Kremlin. Once you’ve spilt blood, once you’ve had apartment bombings, once you’ve sent death squads abroad, once you’ve had Georgia, Ukraine, all these mothers, and all the bodies of soldiers being disposed of from secret wars… You can’t just let go.”