The Polish Prime minister has declared (unsurprisingly), that the greatest threat to Poland is Russia. This is a standard declaration we have come to expect from all NATO countries and their allies; according to them, no matter what the situation is, Russia is always the bad guy. Prime Minister spoke at Davos, fearing a Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to Fort Rus:
“What will happen when the Russian army moves deep into Ukrainian territory is unknown. It is better to have a second and third line of defense than to remain without these kinds of weapons,”- the Polish Prime Minister said.
You could substitute the Polish PM for any western leader at this point. It wouldn’t be surprising if a tiny micro-nation in the Pacific ocean declared their greatest threat is a Russian Invasion, followed by Russian hacking and then tropical storms.
Poland however, has a long story of conflict with the Rus’ peoples (Russians, Ukrainians, Belarussians, Carpatho-Russians). Does that mean the Polish Prime Minister was right in his assessment? Absolutely not; however this long history reveals the deep-seated roots of Russophobia in Poland.
With Fire and Sword – A Tragic History of Russo-Polish Conflict
“Hatred grew in the hearts of men and poisoned the blood of brotherly peoples.” – Henryk Sienkiewicz, ‘With Fire and Sword’
That quote from the famous Polish author perfectly describes the relationship between Russia, Poland, and Ukraine for that matter. In a better world, Russians and Poles should be friends, they are both Slavic peoples, and that cultural bond should be more powerful than politics. Sadly, the history is filled with conflict.
When these three words are used in the same sentence: Poland, Russia, Invaded – the average westerner always assumes the sentence is: Russia invaded Poland. This is both the result of the Cold War, in which Russia was always portrayed as a villain in the west, and also Polish biases.
War is inherently tragic, however, in the context of Russo-Polish Wars, Polish people inherently speak as if Poland was always sinless, and Russia invaded Poland brutally and without just cause from the very beginning of their relationship. This is untrue, Poland in fact, invaded Russia long before Russian soldiers ever set foot on Polish soil in any meaningful way. Two wrongs do not make a right, it is not my intention to portray the conflicts from a moralistic point of view, casting the blame on one party or another. It is necessary, however, to understand these events from an objective, historical perspective, and the history of Russo-Polish Wars did not begin with a Russian invasion of Poland. We always hear about Russian Aggression against Poland, but the following are some major examples of Polish Aggression against Russia, long before Russian armies ever set foot in Poland.
The Polish Intervention in the Kievan Interregnum 1018
In the year 1018, taking advantage of the interregnum in Kievan Rus’ following the death of Saint Vladimir ‘Equal-to-the-Apostles’, Baptiser of All Rus’, Poland invaded Kiev. The image of famous Polish King Boleslaw the Brave entering the Golden Gate depicts the moment, and how Poland’s coronation sword got its name.
The Polish sword Szczerbiec is sometimes called the “Jagged Sword”, because the King apparently chipped the edge on the Golden Gate.
Poland intervened in support of their favored candidate for the Kievan throne, Svatopolk the Accursed Prince, at war with his brothers, of whom he already killed a few. With a name like “The Accursed”, you have to know that’s a fine and reputable member of society right there.
What is it with Western-allied countries constantly supporting the LEAST popular person they possibly could during a military intervention! Svatopolk is known as “Accursed” in Ukrainian histography as well, not only Russian, so let no one claim Poland was supporting the “Ukrainian” candidate. At this time in history, Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarussians were completely indistinguishable. Svatopolk was married to the daughter of the Polish King, and possibly responsible for the murder of his brothers Boris and Gleb. (Other sources claim he was their uncle)
The Polish intervention would be the equivalent of Russia invading Poland in support of their own candidate for the Polish presidency, (who happens to be married into a powerful Russian family).
The Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia 1349
Galicia-Volhn was one of the divisions of Kievan Rus’, existing on what is now Western Ukraine. Its history is long and fascinating, and beyond the scope of this article.
It’s most famous capitol was Lvov, Ukraine’s most western city, considered to be very Polish. This Old Rus’ Kingdom actually extended into small parts of eastern Poland before their lands were seized and their identity was assimilated into Poland. A Heavy Polish-Catholic influence can been seen in Western Ukraine to this day – even the dialect is Polish influenced.
In 1349, despite attempts to obtain an alliance with Poland, the westernmost Kingdom of Rus’ was invaded by Poland, ending its independence. By 1362, Kiev was conquered by Lithuania, which lettered entered into a permanent union with Poland – Rzeczpospolita – The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Poland occupied Rus’ territories (including in modern Russia) for centuries, until the great reunification of Ukraine with Russia under Hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky in 1652. Some western lands were still occupied centuries after that.
But that was so long ago…
I realize there will be people who refuse to accept the fact that Russia is a continuation of Rus’, and others will say those other examples are far too early. One could argue that citing 11th-century events as examples of Polish aggression towards Russia would be like considering the Norman Invasion in 1066 as French Aggression against England.
It remains immature and naive to think events that occurred in the past have no effect on the modern world. The formation of a nation happens over the course of hundreds of ages, as a result, today’s wars could be affected by events centuries ago. Most of today’s issues in Europe are largely the result of WW1 (which lead to the second), and many consider the Sykes-Picot Agreement to be a source of the Middle East woes to this very day. This is part of the reason why progressivist historiography goes wrong. The idea of endless progress aside, Human civilization does not go endlessly forward with the past becoming irrelevant, history proves in many ways, we are still fighting over the same basic things today as we were in the medieval period.
Nevertheless, Poland continued to attack Russia in the Early Modern Period.
The Time of Troubles 1593-1618
The time of troubles was…well…one of the worst periods in Russian history. It stands together with the Mongol Invasion/Tatar Yoke, The Bolshevik Revolution, and the Neo-Liberal invasion of the 1990’s. Poland invaded Russia and went as far as the Moscow Kremlin…they occupied the Moscow Kremlin, and for around a decade, it looked like Russia was about to collapse.
There were multiple imposters claiming to be Czar (The False Dmitris), a famine which practically killed a third of the country, and roving bands of pillaging marauders everywhere…it was a very, very, very bad time.
During the Polish Occupation, they imprisoned the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Homogenous, demanding he blessed the Polish Army. When he refused, the beat and starved the elderly monk to death in a dungeon.
The Polish King Sigismund, with the help of greedy Russian Boyars who betrayed the Motherland, made a claim to the Russian Throne, seeking to incorporate all of Russia into the commonwealth. Poland already occupied the Russian city of Smolensk prior to the conflict. The Polish invasion of Russia was so brutal, peaceful monks took part in the defense of Russia.
The conflict only ended when Prince Pozharsky and Citizen Kuzma Minin helped organize an army to retake the Kremlin, and to elect a new Czar. During the election, Prince Wladyslaw of Poland was considered a candidate, and Polish influence was still strong, however, Michael Romanov was elected instead, ending the Time of Troubles. A truce was signed in 1618, but Poland still occupied Smolensk, and when Wladyslaw was later crowned, he refused to relinquish his claim to the Russian throne.
The Smolensk War 1632-1634
The Smolensk War was essentially a continuation of the previous unresolved hostilities. Russia attempted to reclaim Smolensk from Poland. The result was simply the status quo prior to the war, in Poland’s favor. The Polish King did renounce his claim to the Russian throne, however.
Russo-Polish War (The War for Ukraine) 1654-1667
The first major Russian offensive against Poland happened during the Khmelnitsky uprising, when the Cossacks asked their Russian brothers for aid. The famous Polish book “With Fire and Sword” was set during this time period. The final sentence of the book perfectly describes the Polish-Russian conflict:
Hatred Grew the Hearts of Men and poisoned the blood of brotherly peoples.
You can read the book here in PDF form, or watch the Polish-Ukrainian movie with English subtitles:
Hetman Bogdan Zinovii Khmelnitsky, a Russian-Ukrainian hero lead the Cossacks of Zaporozhia in full rebellion against Poland who had been occupying them and depriving them of their rights for centuries. Polish nobles had largely supported the Union of Brest in 1595-96, which created the Uniate (Catholic) Church in Ukraine. The “Unia” was just as dangerous to Russian Orthodox culture, as Polish armies were to Russian lands. Many Orthodox Churches were confiscated and forced to become Catholic, more by local Catholic magnates than the Commonwealth itself, known for its strong religious freedoms, though they did little to prevent the forced conversions.
This first major Russian victory against Poland marked the first time Moscow actively attacked Poland. The First Russo-Polish war ultimately resulted in Russia reclaiming ancient Russian land like Smolensk and Kiev long occupied by Poland-Lithuania. It was hardly an offensive of Russia against the Polish heartlands. Before Russian armies ever set foot in Poland, Polish armies had conquered the westernmost Rus’ principality, and later sacked Moscow, after occupying Kiev for centuries.
Russia begins to expand
Poland began its steady decline after a series of foreign invasions. The Swedes destroyed hundreds of Polish cities and churches during the Deluge, and sacked Warsaw. No one today speaks of Swedish aggression against Poland. Between 1772-1795, Poland was partitioned thrice, and the final time, she ceased to exist as a state. While Russia did take a portion of Poland, the country was equally partitioned by Prussia and Habsburg Austrian Empire. Russia had been invaded by Poland numerous times prior to these tragic partitions.
The Patriotic War of 1812 (Napoleonic Wars)
A little-known fact is that Polish troops played a major role in Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, particularly at Smolensk. The fact that Russians and Polish-Lithuanian troops have been fighting for Smolensk since the Middle Ages proves the cyclical nature of human civilization. Poles fought for Napoleon with the hopes of the resurrection of Poland. The Polish national anthem even mentions how the nation will be reformed:
March, march, Dąbrowski,
From the Italian land to Poland.
Under your command
We shall rejoin the nation.
We’ll cross the Vistula, we’ll cross the Warta,
We shall be Polish.
Bonaparte has given us the example
Of how we should prevail.
Every Russian soul can understand what it means to fight for the survival of your Motherland, especially when its fellow Slavs fighting. This is just another example of the many times Polish troops spilled Russian blood during an invasion of Russia.
In Our Time
The details of the Great Patriotic War are worthy of their own articles, as volumes could be written about them. Regardless of how the war began, their fellow Slavs in the Red Army liberated Poland from Nazi Germany. Russian and Polish soldiers died fighting side by side in WW2.
In the photo above, Russian Marshal Zhukov and Polish Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky of the CCCP greet Marshal Montgomery in Berlin, after the Soviet Union won the war in 1945. Another famous Polish-Russian was the father of the Russian space program which put the first man in space, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
If any Poles hold Soviet security services responsible for anti-polish actions, they should consider the founder of the first Soviet secret service was also Polish (Dzerzhinsky).
Despite all the conflicts, from a Russian perspective, one can consider the Polish peoples (not the governments) to be brothers.
Now, in a most cynical act, Poland has been demolishing red army memorials, an act which Russia considers highly Russophobic. Not all Poles agree with those moves, and a group of Polish activists has vowed to protect the monuments to their shared Slavic history, as RT covered in a great video.
In conclusion, history has revealed that the long history of conflict between Poland and Russia was initiated by Poland. Poland invaded Kiev in the 11th century, and occupied Ukraine until the 17th when they captured Moscow during Russia’s Time of Troubles. It was only after the 17th century did Russian soldiers ever set foot on Polish soil. Poland started historical conflicts, Russia merely reacted to them, and finally won, after taking heavy losses early on.
This is not to blame Poland, but rather to end the one-sided discussion of Russian-Polish history as if Russia is always the aggressor and Poland is an innocent victim. The time has long come to set aside the age-old conflicts.
Destroying Soviet monuments and crying about imaginary Russian aggression in the 21st century doesn’t help anyone but those who want Slavic peoples to continue fighting instead of uniting.
When the Polish Primer Minister speaks about the imaginary Russian threat to Poland, he fails to realize a greater and real threat is this endless hatred of Russia in Poland. The Russophobia is making it impossible to move on to friendly, normal relations.
The past is the past, both nations have invaded each other, and for the sake of Polish and Russian children, the hatred needs to end.
The conflict between the two Slavic peoples is best understood by the words of a famous Polish Author Henryk Sienkiewicz:
“Hatred grew in the hearts of men and poisoned the blood of brotherly peoples. ~ Nienawiść wrosła w serca i zatruła krew pobratymczą ~ Ненависть вросла в сердца и отравила кровь двух братских народов. – With Fire and Sword