The Intermarium is an area between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas. It is not a country in the same way that Scandinavia, North America, Europe and Iberia aren’t. It contains many peoples with common concerns by virtue of its geography. Over time those peoples formed tribes, nations, alliances, commonwealths, pacts and finally sovereign states, but you can still see the ghosts in modern borders.
It has been patronised as Eastern Europe, fit only for plumbers, but it has grown in strength and its 2020’s incarnation offers the UK unparalleled foreign policy opportunities…and dangers.
Let me explain.
The Jagiellonian Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
In 1395 Jogaila, Grand Duke of Lithuania and Jadwiga, Queen of Poland made promises to each other and a year later got married. Those promises led to the Union of Krewo in 1396, the Jagiellonian dynasty, and eventually the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569, founded in the Union of Lublin by the last male monarch of that dynasty, Sigismund II Augustus. That Commonwealth lasted over two hundred years until it fell apart in 1795. But the idea remained…
The centuries wore away. Waves passed over the Commonwealth from the West and East, tides ebbing and flowing. Various Polish ministers like Czartorsky and Pi?sudski tried to resurrect the concept but to little effect. The Intermarium slept. But one day, a Wall fell…
Schroeder’s Strategische Partnerschaft
In the late 20th Century post-War West Germany pondered. It was defended by NATO but had always felt a tug towards the East, not just via its (ahem) history but by the simple fact of its position: it was next-door to the Warsaw Pact. To resolve this it conducted diplomatic drives towards the East, including Brandt’s Ostpolitik as West Germany normalised relations with East Germany, Poland and Russia (Treaty of Moscow and Treaty of Warsaw 1970, Basic Treaty 1972) and continued throughout the Cold War.
When the USSR fell in 1991, Kohl saw the gap and struck up a friendship with Yeltsin, and a “Russia First” policy began to take hold. But it took their successors, Gerhard Schroeder and Vladimir Putin to take it to the next level. Schroeder’s Männerfreundschaft (analogous to the Australian “mateship”) with Putin led to Schroeder’s “Strategische Partnerschaft mit Russland” and all bets were off. Trade, money and rights to oil quickly followed and there were increasingly difficult relations with the sidelined Central European countries. One of them in particular had a plan…
As Germany pivoted to Russia, the inevitable reaction occurred. In 2005 Poland elected the Law and Justice party, headed by the Kaczy?ski twins, Lech and Jaros?aw. Lech was President, Jaroslaw was PM. They promptly swung hard in an anti-Germany direction and started courting the UK and US. Lech was more Presidential but Jaros?aw was harder and more focussed on domestic programs, such as homophobia. A purge of the diplomatic corps and neglect of their neighbours meant that local relations deteriorated, and when Lech died in a plane crash in 2010 Jaros?aw was left alone, brooding…
Merkel’s Chancellory wended to its weary end, never challenged but spasmodic and reflexive. In 2021 the Germans went “whatever” and voted in Olaf Scholtz, possibly just for the variety. He inoffensively drifted, but when in 2022 Russia went for round two of the Russo-Ukranian War he, after some months, was stirred to action. He announced that Germany would spend 100 billion Euros on defence, F35’s were ordered, many things were promised.
After several years of drift it was called the Zeitenwende (turning point) and the Bundestag went wild. But the promises dragged and it became apparent that an awful lot wasn’t happening. Years of bureaucracy, institutional inertia, pro-Russian stances and interests and Scholtz’s own inexperience meant that little was delivered and late.
Meanwhile, little noticed by the West, Poland started getting its act together. The election of Andrzej Duda as President of Poland in 2015 and his semi-detachment from PM Kaczynski, the grisest of all eminences, offered Poland an opportunity and they took it. Duda was the velvet glove, capable of forming alliances, and they multiplied: the Bucharest Nine, the Three Seas Initiative (the Trimarium), suddenly neighbours were bestest friends. Kaczynski, the iron fist, took a breather from oppressing gay people and started to reorganise the army, with a Strategic Defence Review in 2016.
When Russia reinvaded Ukraine in 2022, Poland was well placed to go non-linear, and they did. They plan to move defense expenditure to 5% of GDP and went on a spending spree: guns, helicopters, AFVs and tanks. Lots of tanks. All the tanks. The orders they have placed will give them more tanks than UK, France and Germany. Combined. The new alliance (the Lublin Triangle 2020) covered Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine and the formation treaty, the Treaty of Lublin, echoed the Union of Lublin that formed the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth so many centuries below. Poland was putting the band back together and things were stirring
Even if it wins Ukraine will need help: with its crops wrecked, children stolen, and its cities bombed it will not be able to cope by itself for many years. But who can help them? Germany is on the back foot, and although it will help it will be little and late. Poland is on the front foot, is motivated, able to assist, and can scale. If the UK cannot intervene directly it should at least support Poland, as Boris intuited in his proposed “European Commonwealth” and Truss’s trilateral pact.
If this works, Ukraine will be delivered safely into the arms of civilized nations, an absolute good. But the longer term will exert a price. When things settle down, Poland will be the regional superpower in Europe and will be able to dominate the local military space, far in excess of UK. I wonder how UK will cope…