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Why Did The Soviet Union Not Invade Poland History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

This essay will primarily analyse the factors that prevented the Soviet Union from intervening in Poland in 1981, when faced with political opposition by the Solidarity movement. There are four main reasons as to why the USSR decided against the invasion of Poland: StanisÅ‚aw Kania’s involvement in the decision making process, the USA’s pressure on the Soviet government, domestic factors affecting the Soviet Union and Wojciech Jaruzelski’s successes in crushing the opposition. When combined, these factors worked as obstacles to the Soviet Union’s decision to invade Poland.

The Polish crisis officially burst onto the scene in August 1980. Under the leadership of Lech Walesa, some 10 million poles joined the solidarity movement which immediately set off alarm bells for the communist government in charge. Solidarity was an umbrella organisation which consisted of political and social organisations that wanted a change in the state of affairs in Poland. Solidarity aimed to hold the regime to its communistic promises of government by the people and less work for more pay. Furthermore it demanded free elections and called for a referendum on the replacement of the communist government. Solidarity was so influential that it was allowed to register as a political organisation which encroached on the monopoly of power that the communist government had normally enjoyed. The sheer numbers in Solidarity’s ranks and position of relative power it held as a political opposition group caused panic in the Moscow Kremlin. The Soviet military reserves were called up and warships were sent to ports in Poland. Furthermore a special commission was set up by the Kremlin headed by Mikhail Susolov to investigate the roots of the crisis as well as a remedy to tame the uprising. This background to the Polish crisis gives a solid foundation upon which analysis can take place as to why the invasion of Poland did not take place.

StanisÅ‚aw Kania played a crucial role in delaying the intervention till a time when the Polish government had proved itself incapable of handling the political opposition. In the early days of 1981 the Soviet Union had drawn up plans for military intervention in Poland. Soviet, East German and Czechoslovak troops would enter Poland, with 18 divisions remaining in close proximity to the city. The short but effective campaign was set to crush the solidarity movement and restore the communist government’s supremacy in Poland. This campaign would have no doubt been complete humiliation for the Polish regime and its leaders, who would be viewed by the rest of the world and, Warsaw pact member alike, as a government incapable of controlling its own people. Furthermore this intervention would have left the Polish government with few supporters and a huge loss of faith from the general population. Kania, being a member of the ruling class in Poland, was determined not to let this happen and thus played a vital role in delaying the Soviet intervention. On December the 5th during the Moscow summit Kania addressed Brezhnev and fellow Warsaw pact leaders of the critical condition of administrative affairs in his country. He acknowledged the threat that Solidarity posed to communist power in Poland however he emphasized that intervention was not the answer. He stated, “If there were to be an intervention there would no doubt be a national uprising… which would leave socialist ideas swimming in blood.” His open and truthful manner of addressing his countries problems gained the confidence of Leonid Brezhnev. At the end of the summit Brezhnev concluded that the intervention would be postponed in order to give Polish officials a chance to regain the confidence of the public and tame the political opposition. Hence Kania’s influence proved a crucial obstacle to the Soviet intervention of Poland in 1981.

The USA used its influence as the other global hegemony to great effect in deterring the Soviet Union from invading Poland. The USA’s constant threats to the Soviet Union, under the Carter administration, leading up to 1980 are often seen as rather inadequate. Upon hearing that the Soviet Union planned to intervene in Poland, Jimmy Carter put out a press release stating that non intervention of Poland would have clear benefits for the USSR and US- Soviet relations. The Carter administration also had an informant within the Polish borders, who updated them on all Soviet military advancements. When informed of the Warsaw Pact’s build up of troops around the Polish border, Carter promptly disclosed the information to the press and the Solidarity movement, thus denying the invaders the element of surprise. Although these threats and actions did have some effect on the Soviet decision making process, they were more useful as a foundation upon which the Reagan administration were able to build their own intimidating tactics. Upon its inauguration into office the Regan administration stated that Soviet intervention in Poland would have dire consequences on US- Soviet relations and strongly advised them to stay out of Polish affairs. Furthermore Reagan emphasised that if Polish forces were to intervene in Poland it would be a, “Polish matter” in which the US would stay out. Rather than just target threats at the Soviet Union, the USA also provided economic incentive to make the Polish crisis a solely Polish affair. Regan ordered the rescheduling of Poland’s enormous debt to its creditors in order to enable a relatively peaceful political solution, as opposed to a violent military one. This debt postponement meant that the Polish regime could not focus more resources towards crushing the political uprising thus giving Soviet officials a major reason to leave the Polish crisis to Polish officials. Reagan’s tactics worked in intimidating the Soviet Union; the Soviet Union would ultimately factor in US relations as a big reason to stay out of Poland.

The state of domestic affairs and the importance of public opinion are quite naturally seen as the biggest reasons for the Soviet decision to not intervene in Poland. In the 1980’s Soviet leaders had a new found sensitivity towards public opinion. In order to continue the spread of communism, especially in the third world, the Soviet Union needed to portray itself as a progressive nation with the people’s best interest at heart. The Polish crisis had cropped up at a time when the USSR was engaged in a failing war in Afghanistan, with a faltering economy based on deteriorating terms of trade and the détente having all but ended. Yuri Andropov addressed the politburo on the 10th of December stating that it was an enormous risk to go into Poland that would most likely end in catastrophe. He stated that the USSR’s priorities had changed since the 1950’s and that they no longer needed Poland to maintain their influence. In addition he addressed the economic and political sanctions that the West would surely impose upon them which would prove an even greater strain on the already waning Soviet economy. On the other hand public opinion was of great importance to both the USA and the USSR and whichever side was deemed to be winning the battle would no doubt be in a better position to influence world affairs. Andropov addressed this point as well by clearly stating, that an invasion in Poland was out of the question because, “World public opinion will condemn us [USSR].” These claims by Andropov were well found because the USSR was at a crossroads where they needed to focus on their own countries interests above all others. Ultimately the communist regime being replaced by Solidarity would have only proved a small obstacle for the USSR. The USSR’s position of power and influence would have been enough to prevent the downfall of communism in Poland to be mirrored in the rest of the empire. In bordering East Germany and Czechoslovakia the polish crisis was received with relatively neutral opinions. Their firmly rooted conservative regimes did not fear their respective populations to follow suit. This was mainly due to the fact that the populations of the two countries looked down on Poland for their massive debt and economic backwardness. If a large scale war were to have broken out between communism and capitalism, the USSR would have had no trouble in marching through Poland and reclaiming it and thus the leaders of the politburo concluded that there would be no immediate intervention in Poland. In making this decision Brezhnev remarked, “Okay we won’t go in, although if severe problems occur we would.” Hence in this way the Soviet Union proved to be more concerned with long term western pressure and world public opinion than short term loss of a Warsaw pact member.

Jaruzelski’s success in imposing martial law is, in my opinion, the most crucial reason as to why the Soviet Union did not invade Poland in 1981. In the final weeks of 1981 it seemed as though the Soviet Union’s decision not to invade Poland rested solely on the success of martial law in Poland. In the early days of December Jaruzelski held a conference directed towards Solidarity and other opposition groups where he said, “If Polish forces do not manage to break resistance by Solidarity they [the public] could expect other countries to introduce armed forces in Poland.” On December the 12th, the night prior to the proclamation of martial law, Warsaw Pact forces in neighbouring countries were put on alert in the case of a large scale public uprising that the Polish authorities would be unable to manage. The imposition of martial law on December 13th 1981 caught Solidarity and other opposition groups off guard. All political organisations, such as solidarity, were banned, a curfew was put in place and all telephone and postal mail were subject to censorship. The initial resistance to martial law proved to be weak and no match to Jaruzelski’s military patrols that roamed the streets. Over 90 people were killed in the initial uprising which showed that Jaruzelski was liable to resort to extreme brutality in order to ensure that the nation was once again firmly under the grip of the communist regime. Furthermore in order to further hamper the opposition, all known solidarity members were rounded up for interrogation and Lech Walesa, Solidarity’s leader, amongst other opposition leaders was arrested. Jaruzelski’s tactics were working in the mere weeks after martial law was imposed. Special military courts were set up which had an outstandingly high rate of conviction. Jaruzelski instilled fear within the population to the magnitude that they refused to go on strike because they were likely to lose their jobs and be detained without trial. Underground Solidarity leaders attempted to rally the population to go on strike at their places of work, in response to this water tanks and armoured cars were sent to large factories and mills to combat any opposition. An underground Solidarity leader said, “It was too much to ask of workers… without specific strategy it was unfair to ask workers to risk their jobs.” The public began to fear assembling in opposition to the government because they feared the over used police brutality and were no longer certain about receiving a free and fair trial. Lack of strong and organised opposition put Soviet intervention in Poland out of the question. Brezhnev no longer saw the need to intervene in a country where the communist regime had seemed to, at least temporarily, have the public and opposition under control. In the early 1990’s Jaruzelski gave an interview to justify his proclamation of martial law in Poland, where he stated that martial law was the “lesser evil” in the given scenario. Had he not imposed it the Warsaw pact forces would have inevitably invaded the country. Thus the success of martial law stands as the biggest reason for Soviet non-intervention of Poland in 1981.

The four main reasons that stood in the way of the Soviet Union intervening in Poland, all have their respective merits. However it is in the last two reasons, internal problems in the Soviet Union and Jaruzelski’s success in crushing the opposition, that stand out as the most crucial. Had Solidarity taken power in 1981, all obstacles preventing the USSR from invading Poland would have vanished and an army would have ultimately been sent into Poland. However in my opinion Jaruzelski’s success in imposing martial law was the only factor that gave the Soviet Union a finality about their decision to not invade Poland and must thus stand as the main point of analysis when considering the given question.


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