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NIAS Europe Studies
Poland approves Russian Influence Law: Three Implications

  Nithyashree RB

About the Author

Ms Nityashree is a Research Intern in NIAS Europe Studies at NIAS, Bangalore. She is currently a postgraduate scholar at Stella Maris College, Chennai. Her areas of interest include Europe's climate action initiatives. 

On 26 May, the Sejm, the lower house of Poland’s parliament, approved the Russian Influence Bill formulated by the Law and Justice Party (PiS). The legislation aims to establish a commission that will work towards identifying and removing individuals who have been influenced by Russian interference. On 29 May, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda signed the bill and asserted that Russian influences need to be curbed and scrutinised. Duda said: “Those who chose to participate in public life should have the courage to stand before the commission and say what role they played in those times.” He urged the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieck to take up the issue of Russian influence in the European Council. Duda added that the Constitutional Tribunal dominated by PiS would review the law after facing criticisms of the law violating the Constitution.

On 29 May, the US Department of State’s spokesperson commented: “The US government is concerned by the Polish government’s passage of new legislation that could be misused to interfere with Poland’s free and fair elections.” On 30 May, the EU’s Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said: “This new law raises concerns that it could be used to affect the possibility of individuals to run for public office, without a fair trial.” Reynders added that the EU will take action against the law if necessary.

According to the law, a commission called “State Commission for the Study of Russian Influences on the Internal Security of the Republic of Poland in the Years 2007-2022,” will be formed. The commission will comprise nine members who the Sejm will select. The nine members of the commission cannot be held on any criminal charges. All Polish official departments such as the intelligence and police must cooperate with the commission. The commission is to ban people in public office whom they deem to be under Russian influence from 2007-2022 and its decisions are final. If the accused’s job involves the spending of public funds, they will be banned for ten years and cannot run for office, and eventually be disqualified from holding office in the future. 

One could identify the following three implications.

1. Objections from the opposition parties
The opposition parties objected to the law; they are apprehensive that the legislation would become a tool to expel opposition ahead of the elections. The opposition, Civic Platform (PO) opposed the law stating that the law solely tries to eliminate its leader, Donald Tusk who was the president of Poland from 2007-2014. Hence, the opposition has designated the law as Lex Tusk (Tusk law in Latin).

The head of an opposition Party Poland 2050 Szymon Holownia said: “President Andrzej Duda has seriously weakened our country today, internally and externally; he has decided to set off a Polish civil war.” One of the leaders of PO Borys Budka asserted: “This commission is not supposed to explain anything, decide anything, judge anything, it is only supposed to be a hammer against the opposition.”

The government substantiated the law by declaring that Poland has become dependent on Russia under Tusk. PiS declared that the deal signed between Tusk and Gazprom in 2010 is one of the primary reasons for the investigation. Nevertheless, the opposition parties denounced his anti-democratic move and called out the unconstitutional nature of the commission.

2. Rising discontent towards the government
Since 2015, there has been a growing dissent towards the government. The oppression of the opposition, the State’s control over the media, anti-LGBTQIA policies and unilaterally advantageous judicial reforms are the primary reasons. The Russian Influence Law has exacerbated the resentment towards the government.  Despite Poland offering unwavering support for Ukraine and economic growth, the Poles demand democracy. With the pro-democratic PO offering to establish the rule of law and curb authoritarianism, the year-end election will be tough for PiS.

3. Deepening antagonism between Warsaw and Moscow
The relationship between Poland and Russia started deteriorating following the conflict in Ukraine. Poland is increasing its support to Ukraine and welcoming Ukrainian migrants as a precaution against potential intrusion by Russia. In 2022, Poland took the lead in urging the EU member countries to stop importing energy supplies from Russia despite being one of the top Russian coal, gas and oil buyers. Poland was the largest importer of LPG from Russia in the first quarter of 2023. Its energy dependency on Russia was stated as one of the reasons for establishing the Russian Influence Law by Duda.

Regardless, Warsaw has indulged in activities that could provoke Moscow. The seizing of a Russian embassy-controlled school, changing the name of the Russian exclave, Kaliningrad to Krolewiec and expelling Russian diplomats have infuriated Moscow. As a response to Poland’s acts, in May 2023, the Russian parliament urged the government to ban Polish trucks from entering Russia. Duma speaker Vyasechlev Volodin commented that 20,000 truck drivers are to lose their jobs because of the Russophobic policies of Warsaw. Although Russia is yet to respond to the new law, it will further fan the antagonism between the two countries.

 

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