Polish crises

   Poland was always a problem for Russia. From the 1863–1864 uprising until the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, Moscow tried in ham-handed ways to dominate its western neighbor. In 1921 the Bolsheviks took their revolution to Poland. Polish communists like Cheka leader Feliks Dzerzhinsky believed that victory in Poland was the first step to world revolution. The Red Army, however, was defeated on the banks of the Vistula, a battle that one British academic claimed prevented Russian from being the language of instruction at Harvard and Cambridge.
   Following the defeat of the Red Army, a large Polish communist movement was based on Soviet soil. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, however, saw the Poles as an enemy nation, and this attitude affected Soviet policy for decades. In the Yezhovshchina, a major target of the NKVD was the Polish Communist Party. In 1937–1938, the entire leadership of the Polish Communist Party was tried and shot. In 1939–1940, it was Stalin’s intention to ensure that an independent Poland could never exist again in the wake of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Through massive deportations, over a million Poles were exiled to Siberia by the NKVD; over one-half perished. Stalin also ordered the murder of 26,000 Polish officers, civil servants, and clergy. Mass graves were later discovered in places such as Katyn and Kuropaty. In 1944–1946, Stalin ensured the destruction of the military-political base of the Polish Home Army (AK) when he allowed the German armed forces to defeat the Warsaw uprising in the fall of 1944. When the Red Army entered Poland in 1944, Stalin ordered the NKVD and Smersh to disarm the AK, a partisan movement representing the last Polish government. AK leaders were arrested, shipped to Moscow, and tried for imaginary war crimes. Rank-and-file AK soldiers were impressed into the Moscow-oriented Polish army. Thousands of men and women who had fought the Nazis as partisans were arrested and imprisoned in Siberia or Central Asia in the gulag.
   Moscow took control of Polish politics in 1946–1956 using proxies in the Ministry of State Security to arrest and try enemies. Soviet MGB officers were inserted into the Polish security bureaucracy. Special targets of the Polish communists and their Soviet patrons were AK veterans and the Roman Catholic Church. In the late 1940s, the Polish Communist Party tried but ultimately failed to set up an alternative Polish church. In 1956 worker violence in Poznan and growing street demonstrations in other cities brought the Soviet leadership to Warsaw in October to confront their puppets. In a series of meetings, the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev’s regime agreed to reduce direct Soviet control of Poland in exchange for Poland’s continued membership in the Warsaw Pact. Soviet security and military advisors were withdrawn and sent home.
   Beginning in the late 1970s, communist power in Poland was challenged by a new political alliance of workers, clerics, and intellectuals. Solidarity, the most important of the movements, won widespread support across the country. The KGB developed sources within both Solidarity and the Polish government, and the Soviet leadership was well informed on developments inside Poland. The KGB helped the Politburo of Leonid Brezhnev to pressure the Polish government to crack down on Solidarity in December 1981. The Soviet service spread rumors that Moscow was preparing to intervene, and it convinced its agents of influence that the only way to prevent a Soviet–Polish war was for the Polish communists to break Solidarity. The KGB was unable, however, to keep Soviet plans for Poland secret; the Central Intelligence Agency had important sources within the Polish military, including Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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