In the analysis of the contemporary relations between Poland and Russia, the historical context has to be taken into account. This requires not only references to the 100th anniversary of the so-called Bolshevik revolution but also reflection on the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (16th-18th centuries). For no other reason than that, Putin’s Russia commemorates the event of an "expulsion of the Poles from the Kremlin" in 1612 as a national holiday, i.e. recognizes it as a a significant fragment of the history of the so-called Russian Smuta (The Time of Troubles), a period that started in the beginning of the 17th century when Polish nobility supported military False Dmitri, a claimant to the Russian tzar's throne.
At the same time it should be remembered that at that time the territories of today's Ukraine, along with Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania, have belonged for several centuries to the state called "Rzeczpospolita" which was a federation of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. However at the end of the 18th century Poland was divided between neighbouring powers (Russia, Prussia and Austria). The period 1917-1918 not only was marked with the two revolutions in Russia (1917) but also with the rebirth of Polish state, initiated by the conflict with Ukraine (1918) and the war against Soviet Russia (1919-1921).
The issue of the eastern borders of Poland was decided during the war between Poland and Soviet Russia in the 1920s.Trying to apply his federal program, the head of state Polish,Marshal Józef Piłsudski has entered into an alliance with the head of the so-called Ukrainian People's Republic, Semen Petlura. In April-May 1920 the offensive against the Soviets began, its first phase was completed with the conquest of Kiev. In the following months (July-August 1920), the Soviet offensive brought the Red Army near Warsaw, the Polish capital.The Polish-Soviet war of 1920 ended with an armistice in October of the same year, and finally with the Peace Treaty between Poland and Soviet Russia signed in Riga March 18th, 1921. Victorious Marshal Józef Piłsudski has consolidated the eastern border of Poland buthad to give up the federal program (i.e. the creation of buffer states: Belarusian and Ukrainian related to Poland and new (but never realized) the Polish-Lithuanian union.
The international system has been shaking already 30 years before the Treaty of Monaco of Bavaria (1938) and the German-Sovietalliance (1939).The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (August 23rd, 1939) was formally a simple agreement of non-aggressionbut it was accompanied with the secret protocol delineating the areas of mutual interests in case of "political-territorial changes" in Central and East Europe. Eventually it was a project of the new, fourth partition of Poland. In September 1939 a double invasion on Poland began with the Nazi Germany's attack on the September 1st, and Soviet Union's on September 17th. These events are referred to as "the fourth Polish Partition" (1939-1941) conducted by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.In the years 1939-1941 the Stalinist repressions of the security apparatus have been launched against Polish population of the eastern territories of Poland. And in this light one should perceive the mass murder in Katyń (April 1940), executed by NKVD on the tens of thousands of Polish officers, prisoners of 1939 war.
The new frontiers of Central and Eastern Europe have been outlined by leaders of the great powers of the anti-German alliance during the conferences in Tehran (1943), Yalta and Potsdam (1945). Despite the fact that Poland formally belonged to the winners of the WWII, its eastern borders were also changed in accordance with the so-called Curzon line, or along the river Bug. Polish eastern territories with the cities of Wilno (Vilnius; Lithuania) and Lwów (Lviv; Ukraine in the Soviet Union and current independent Ukraine) remained outside new borders.Due to the transformations in Central and East Europe that began in Poland in 1989, and the 1991 dissolution of the USSR, Russian Federation emerged. The Federation confines (on the north-east) with Poland: it is the so-called enclave of Kaliningrad(ex Konigsberg). In the meantime, due to large enlargement of 2004 the eastern border of Poland has become an important element of the new eastern borders of the European Union.
Since the fall of the USSR to the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century Polish-Russian relations were very harsh. From 2010 until 2013 the government of Donald Tusk attempted to adopt the policy of "thaw" in relations with Russia (being, however, strongly opposed by President Lech Kaczyński and the president's brother, the leader of then parliamentary opposition, and since 2015 the ruling party in Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczyński). It should be recalled that in the course of the Russian-Georgian war President Lech Kaczyński (tragically died in the Smolensk air disaster on Russian territory in April 2010), during a meeting in Tbilisi, delivered in 2008 a "geopolitical prophecy" regarding the aggressive policy of Putin's Russia. The President argued that Georgia was the first of the victims but later the Russian tanks could appear, in an order of succession, in Ukraine, the Baltic States and finally in Poland. The issue of Smolensk catastrophe remains one of the most important problems of Polish-Russian relations.
Regardless an aversion or willingness towards the "thaw" of the Polish political standpoints on Russia, there were, and continue to be, the objective reasons of geopolitical conflict in the Polish-Russian relations, particularly concerning the totality of the relations between Poland, Ukraine and Russia. Furthermore there is an issue of energy security, and eventually the role of Poland and its active participation in the EU and NATO policies, as well as recent Polish support towards Ukrainian cause.Main current affairs concerning Polish-Russian-Ukrainian relations are not only related to the contemporary issues but also to the past, and can be listed as following: 1) The memory of Ukrainian nationalists' crimes against Poles, and a significant importance of the historical memory of the genocide of Polish population in Wołyń (Volhynia, 1943) conducted by the Ukrainians; 2) The memory of the period of the "real socialism" and the dominance of the USSR (1945-1989/91); 3) The change of the relations between Poland, Russia and Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union (1991-2014); 4) The role of Poland and its support for Ukraine in the European integration process against Vladimir Putin's policy of reconstruction of the "Russian Empire” hence Polish stand against the annexation of the Crimea and Russia's interference in the conflict in the South-East of Ukraine (2015-2017).
One should consider an ultimate goal of Putin's policy as a radical change of the current spatial design of Central and East Europe with the intention of rebuilding Moscow's direct or indirect power over these territories. Putin seriously and repeatedly said that the dissolution of the USSR (which to him means also the rule of Russia) was the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century. Putin's wars, from Georgia to Ukraine but also military intervention in Syria (the latter differs from the former ones, and is conducted formally in the name of the "war on Islamic terrorism"), have a territorial and, above all, geopolitical character. In this context, NATO and the European Union should play a leading role, call upon development and implementation of a real Ostpolitik (in a conjunction with the new reality of a Visegrad Group). Only in this way - considering the new geopolitical balances - it is possible to preserve the stability of the international security system.