As mentioned in the introduction of this five-part reporting one of the issues that led us to expand what led and later happened in reference to the Madrid conference is that once again Vladimir Putin demanded that no former Soviet states, such as Ukraine, be added to NATO, the Western alliance that Ukraine has long expressed a desire to join, and that NATO ceases all military cooperation in Eastern Europe. Such rhetoric harks back to the Cold War when global politics revolved around an ideological struggle between a communist Eastern Bloc and a capitalist West. It also serves Russia’s ideological and political goal of asserting its position as a global power.
Whereby of course we knew that by the time of the Munich Security Conference of 2007, Putin said that ‘I am here to say what I really think about international security problems,’ he told his fellow world leaders. Just like any war, the Cold War left us with live ammunition, figuratively speaking.
The rises in Poland of former Communists, who’d renamed their party the Democratic Left Alliance (or the SLD), concerned Washington. In September 1993, the SLD won the most seats in the third parliamentary election since 1989. Although it publicly embraced the same foreign policy plank as the right-wing government, it replaced, in Washington, doubts remained.
Barely two weeks after Dokmanović was arrested, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary were formally invited to join NATO during the fifteenth summit of the treaty alliance in Madrid. American patience was running thin. It was time to clear Kukliński.
Daniel Fried and Jerzy Koźmiński worked out a deal. Following the Madrid summit, Clinton would fly to Warsaw on July 10 and meet with President Kwaśniewski. At the meeting, Clinton would thank Kwaśniewski for all the work he’d done on the Kukliński case and inform him that the United States looked forward to a “timely conclusion.” There’d be no criticism or blatant pressure. A mention would be good enough.
Clinton flew into Warsaw as scheduled. Before landing, he asked to review a special set of troops. He wanted GROM. Walking down the receiving line, the American president shook hands with the Poles. They didn’t tell Clinton that it wasn’t the unit that had apprehended Dokmanovi.
Later that day, Clinton was treated to a tumultuous welcome. With Yalta on his mind, Clinton told a cheering crowd in Warsaw’s Old Town that Poland’s acceptance by NATO was “a promise redeemed.” A banner reading THANK YOU, BILL fluttered above the crowd. Declared Clinton: “Never again will your birthright of freedom be denied.”
In September 1997, things began to shift for Kukliński. The prosecutors returned to the United States with sixteen pages of testimony for Kukliński to review and sign. They told him they’d concluded that he’d broken the law but was acting in “a state of higher necessity.” Back in Warsaw, Kwaśniewski, never one to embrace tough jobs, directed Miller to break the news to Jaruzelski. Miller recalled it as the most difficult conversation of his life. “I had stage fright; my legs went weak,” he told friends.
On September 20, Poland announced that Kukliński had been cleared of the charges against him. Thirty former generals, led by Jaruzelski, signed a letter of protest. “He was made a hero, have we been traitors?” it asked. The issue of what it meant to be a Polish patriot would remain contested ground. Even though Poland had formally been invited to join NATO, Koźmiński’s work wasn’t done. He still needed sixty-seven US senators to vote in favor of revising the treaty. Ferocious lobbying continued. In the diagram on the wall of the Polish embassy’s NATO command center, senators were shifted from the “no,” to the “maybe no,” to the “maybe yes,” to the “unenthusiastic yes,” and finally to the “definitively yes” column. On the night of April 30, 1998, by a vote of 80 to 19, the Senate approved the enlargement of NATO to include Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.
Despite friendly relations at the top, however, Helmut Kohl’s subordinates began sensing in late 1997 that their view of implementation diverged from that of their American counterparts. The Germans worried about the way that, with a kind of de facto Russian assent to enlargement in hand, Washington’s attention to Moscow had diminished. The Russians did not fail to notice this as well.
American negotiators saw Primakov’s efforts as “one last effort to limit any extension of the Alliance’s military reach eastward.” Talbott pushed back hard.. Retention of the 1990 limits was inadmissible, given that, according to the Talbott Principle, the Clinton team hoped to expand eventually to the Baltics.
The Russians were not the only ones with misgivings about the Madrid summit. A fight was brewing over the emerging US preference for the smallest possible first round. Albright and the national security advisor, Sandy Berger, agreed that the best way to accomplish US goals in Madrid was to admit only their three favorites, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, while also producing a strong open-door package.
Madeleine Albright the United States Secretary of State advised the president that they would have to “withstand grandstanding and grumbles, and insist that big-picture considerations prevail over parochialism.” She seized upon a prominent invitation to make her point publicly. Harvard University decided to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Marshall Plan, which George Marshall, then the secretary of state, had announced at the school’s graduation in 1947, by inviting Albright to speak at its commencement ceremony on June 5, 1997. She used the event to argue that the best way to “fulfill the vision Marshall proclaimed but the Cold War prevented the vision of a Europe, whole and free,” was to enlarge NATO.
Hinting at the administration’s expansive view of enlargement, she argued that it would demonstrate “from Ukraine to the United States that “the quest for European security is no longer a zero-sum game.”
The man who was now Poland’s president, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, advised Clinton that he expected military modernization in Poland alone to cost $200 million a year, and for fifteen rather than thirteen years. He also needed “credits from the United States” to cover that amount, since it was beyond Polish capabilities. Fried, attending the meeting as the soon-to-be ambassador to Poland, counseled the Polish president that it was important to avoid creating “the impression that Poland is in papable of assuming the responsibilities of NATO membership” on its own. Clinton interjected, “sure, though I think Dan could arrange for loans of a few hundred million dollars.”
Before returning to Washington, US leaders took a quick victory lap through the soon-to-be member states. Secretary Cohen went to Hungary, and Secretary Albright went to her native Prague, where she “walked along the streets, tears in my eyes, waving at little old Czech ladies with tears in their eyes, seeing in each the reflection of my mother.” Meanwhile, President Clinton went to Poland. The White House worked with the Polish government to organize, on July 10, 1997, an American-style campaign event for him. A jubilant, flag-waving crowd of approximately 30,000 people filled Castle Square to hear Clinton announce that “Poland is coming home.
On September 18, 1994, with elements of the Eighty-Second in the air and the Green Berets mobilizing for an assault, diplomacy averted a war. Former president Jimmy Carter convinced Cédras to step down and restore Aristide to office. For Gastał and the rest of GROM, that meant a change of mission. GROM pulled guard duty as part of military occupation of the island, providing security for the commander of the Tenth Mountain Division, Major General David Meade, and other dignitaries. GROM’s men were vastly overqualified for the job. Clinton’s national security adviser, Tony Lake, told stories of visiting Haiti and being surrounded by menacing Poles in black uniforms with lightning bolt patches on their shoulders.
In Poland, skeptics worried that history would repeat itself. In 1802, Polish officers, seeking an alliance with great power, in this case, Napoleonic France, dispatched more than five thousand troops to Haiti to quell a slave rebellion. Back then, the hope was that, in exchange, France might save Poland from being carved up by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Instead, in 1815, at the Congress of Vienna, Poland effectively vanished.
This time around in Haiti, Poles congratulated themselves on the deployment. Some griped about serving as bodyguards. “Never send a Ferrari to dig coal,” quipped one GROM vet. But GROM, a child of the CIA, had acquitted itself well, garnering plaudits from the Department of Defense and the rest of the US national security structure. It would be called on again.
Kukliński was on his first full day back in Poland since late 1981, when CIA officers had bundled him out of his homeland, covered in blankets and Christmas presents. Soon after the final vote was tallied at 10:41 P.M. in Washington, Koźmiński called Kukliński with the news. Dawn was breaking in the southern Polish city of Kraków. Kukliński was going to be named an honorary citizen of the city that day. Koźmiński told him the news and Kukliński broke down in tears. “It was Kukliński’s grand finale,” Koźmiński said. “A screenwriter couldn’t have done it better.”
In Russia, Polish Intelligence had focused early on an ex-KGB officer named Vladimir Putin. The Polish agency had predicted the aggressive turn in Russia’s foreign policy once Putin became Russia’s president in 2000. Polish spies and diplomats dug up some of the best intelligence on the fraught relations between Russia and the former republics of the old Soviet Union. When war erupted between Russia and Georgia in October 2008, Poland provided the United States with the clearest insights. “We knew more than the US and they were asking us for information,” wrote Radosław Sikorski, who served as minister both of defense and of foreign affairs. During the Georgian war, Polish military intelligence collected data showing substantial improvement in Russia’s armed forces. Putin had spent time and money bolstering the old Red Army and it was paying off. Poland was also a key source on developments in Ukraine, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea in February 2014. As Michael Sulick, the former director of the CIA’s clandestine services, put it, throughout the 2000s, Poland continued to “assist us in just about every major foreign policy issue that we had.”
Nonetheless, NATO was slow to appreciate Poland and its contributions to the alliance. Poland entered NATO in 1999, but it took NATO planners a whole decade to work out a contingency plan in the event of a Russian invasion of Poland.
Joe Biden overcame initial doubts to become a vocal supporter of NATO’s enlargement. As vice president under Obama, Biden was the architect of the European Reassurance Initiative. It was this initiative that resulted in the deployment of thousands of US troops on Polish soil. Biden’s approach to Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia are also far more aligned with Polish interests than Trump’s, given Trump’s quixotic bromance with Russian leader Putin.