It’s too early to tell whether the “Russian influence commission” will ban opposition leader Donald Tusk and his allies from politics, but it’s difficult to imagine any other practical reason why the ruling party created this unprecedentedly powerful body, let alone at this particular time in the months leading up to fall’s elections.
Polish President Andrzej Duda from the ruling “Law & Justice” (PiS) party just signed into a law a bill mandating the creation of a commission for investing alleged “Russian influence” in the country from 2007-2022 according to Reuters. Associated Press added that this newly formed body will have “powers to ban people from public positions and to reverse administrative and business decisions”, which the “Civic Platform” (PO) opposition believes will be used against them.
Former Prime Minister and European Council President Donald Tusk hopes to return to office during this fall’s elections, but he and leading figures in his erstwhile government could potentially be barred from doing so if they’re implicated in an alleged “Russian influence” plot by this commission. Considering that PiS only narrowly won re-election in summer 2020 by just around 2%, it’s possible that they might exploit this latest law to carry out a witch hunt against PO in order to ensure that they don’t lose power.
This development represents their latest pre-election spectacle after seizing a Russian Embassy-run school in Warsaw in late April in an attempt to pressure Moscow into breaking off ties first, renaming Kaliningrad in early May, then pleading for Zelensky to condemn Bandera’s genocide of Poles. Each of these moves was aimed at boosting PiS’ electoral prospects in the face of the anti-establishment Confederation party’s rising popularity since they don’t want to enter into a coalition with them.
These moves only ever had the chance of appealing to PiS’ conservative-nationalist base, however, and not PO’s liberal–globalist one. Both parties are anti-Russian, but the former is much more so when compared to the latter, whose embrace of Western socio-cultural causes like abortion and LGBT+ takes precedence over their followers’ hatred of Russia. Moreover, PO is considered to be a German proxy whose return to power could resubordinate their country to its western neighbor.
Foreign policy rarely plays a major role in American or European elections, with Poland being no exception in this regard, which is why PiS should have focused more on the home front than on the regional one. The ruling party overlooked this due to its ideologically driven obsession with restoring Poland’s long-lost commonwealth in a modern form through the merger of it and Ukraine into a de facto confederation in parallel with participating in the NATO-Russian proxy war and destabilizing Belarus.
Their pollsters presumably only just realized that these policies and their recent stunts haven’t succeeded in giving PiS a comfortable edge over PO, but there isn’t enough time left to try changing the socio-cultural views of the latter’s base, which has always been a long shot anyhow. Out of desperation to remain in power, the ruling party therefore decided to devise the pretext for possibly banning the opposition, including its leader Tusk.
The only possible way of deflecting Western criticism from this is to claim that it’s directed against Russia, but even that might not be sufficient since PO is much more popular among Poland’s partners than PiS is and their media are already skeptical of the official reason behind this move. Had the ruling party realized long ago that they might have to resort to this form of election meddling to win, then they could have cooked up a more plausible reason for investigating and possibly banning Tusk if need be.
Implying that the period of comparatively better Russian-Polish relations under his tenure was the result of a conspiratorial Kremlin influence campaign ignores the political reality of practically every EU country following Germany’s lead to improve ties with Moscow around that time. If anything, Tusk was either going along with the latest trend since he and his team calculated that it was in their country’s best interests to do so or they were operating under some degree of German influence.
Whichever of these two explanations was the case, neither of them extends any credence to PiS’ innuendo that “Russian influence” was responsible for the renaissance in bilateral relations back then. The ruling party knows that declaring an investigation into German influence would immediately prompt unprecedented condemnation from the EU’s de facto leader and likely result in it leveraging all agents of influence across the continent to do their utmost to ensure that PiS loses this fall’s elections.
Even if they win, they’d probably then be shunned by the entire bloc and possibly even sanctioned on whatever pretext Berlin concocts since it would regard PiS as an adversarial political force that threatens the EU’s unity at its most decisive moment since conception. Aware of how strategically disadvantageous it could be to directly challenge Germany for leadership of Central & Eastern European amidst their heated rivalry over this region, PiS decided to persecute PO on a ridiculous anti-Russian basis instead.
It’s too early to tell whether the “Russian influence commission” will ban Tusk and his allies from politics, but it’s difficult to imagine any other practical reason why the ruling party created this body, let alone at this particular time. At the very least, PiS’ investigation into PO appears aimed at manipulating on-the-fence voters’ perceptions of the opposition. This spectacle risks backfiring, however, if undecided voters turn against PiS to protest their tactics and/or the EU doesn’t recognize the election if Tusk is banned.