Poland brings back controversial commission to probe Russian and Belarusian influence

Poland brings back controversial commission to probe Russian and Belarusian influence
The defection of judge Tomasz Szmydt, who left for Belarus, has shocked authorities. / bne IntelliNews
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw May 22, 2024

Poland has revived a special commission to probe the influence Russia and Belarus might have exerted in Poland since it joined the EU in 2004, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on May 21.

There is growing tension in Poland over the possible activity of Russian and Belarusian intelligence in the country, which  became the West’s strategic outpost almost overnight after Russia waged war on Ukraine in February 2022.

Earlier this month, the defection of a senior judge, Tomasz Szmydt, who left for Belarus, shocked authorities.

Poland has also detained nine individuals for allegedly carrying out sabotage operations directed by Russian intelligence, Tusk said on May 20.

A partial report on the commission's work will be prepared after approximately two months of its activity, after the elections to the European Parliament that are taking place on June 9 in Poland, Tusk told a press conference in Warsaw.

“The commission will act discreetly. There will be no media hearings, there will be no media during the work of this committee. However, we will systematically inform about the effects of its work,” Tusk said.

Tusk has hinted several times that the previous right-wing populist government of Law and Justice (PiS) was Russia-oriented, despite PiS reacting fast to the war in Ukraine by offering military help and diplomatic support.

“I would very much like for the work of this commission to free the atmosphere and public life in Poland from the unbearable burden of speculation, conjecture, hundreds of publications, television programmes, and dozens of books on this topic [of Russian and Belarusian influence],” Tusk also said.

“Over the years, we have had an ocean of information about the influence of Russian and Belarusian services on the actions of politicians or high-ranking officials. That is why we will be waiting for urgent and prompt results of the commission’s work,” the PM also said.

The PiS government set up the commission last year in a move, which – it was widely believed at the time – aimed at targeting Tusk before the election. The commission never began work, however.

Critics say that Tusk’s emphasising PiS’ being under Russian influence and accentuating the threat Russia and Belarus pose to Poland is dictated by the campaign ahead of the EU election only.

Tusk has recently mooted a PLN10bn (€2.4bn) plan to fortify Poland’s borders with Belarus and Russia, as well as hinted that a big fire, which destroyed a shopping centre in Warsaw earlier this month, might have been Russian sabotage.