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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Warsaw Trip Sparks Diplomatic Spat

Poland and Russia were embroiled in a diplomatic battle Wednesday after the eleventh-hour cancellation of a visit to Warsaw by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.


Senior officials involved in the visit seemed taken by surprise Wednesday. Analysts were skeptical of the official reason for the cancellation, an incident where Russian tourists were allegedly beaten by Polish police at Warsaw train station.


A government statement said that Chernomyrdin's visit, scheduled for Thursday and Friday, had been postponed "due to the fact that the Russian side has not received an explanation from the Polish authorities about the incident involving Russian citizens at Warsaw rail station."


"A new date for the visit will be set depending on the position which the Polish government takes," the statement read.


The visit appeared to be still on as late as Tuesday afternoon. At 2 P.M. that day spokesman Grigory Karasin told a briefing that preparations for the visit were "nearing completion" and that Chernomyrdin was due to meet Polish journalists later in the day. First the meeting with journalists was canceled, then the trip itself.


Polish diplomat Tomasz Gielzecki said he had only heard of the cancellation on Tuesday's 9 P.M. television news.


Valery Polikov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Polish section, said the initiative to call off the trip had come from the prime minister's office and that he was "disappointed" that the visit was not going ahead. But he said the Foreign Ministry was "in full harmony" with the rest of the government about the seriousness of the incident in Warsaw.


"The preparation for the visit was going on, it was planned, dates were coordinated and fixed, then very unfortunately everything was spoiled by this ugly incident," said Polikov.


On Oct. 23 six Russian travelers were robbed by Russian gangsters and then were alleged to have been beaten by Polish police when they asked for help. Polish press reports have quoted the police as saying they had to use force after the Russians locked themselves in their train compartment and used emergency brakes to prevent their international train to Berlin from departing.


Poland's ambassador to Russia, Stanislaw Ciosek, expressed regret over the incident Saturday, but Russian officials dismissed his statement as insufficient.


Commentators said Wednesday that there were deeper reasons why the visit had been postponed.


Alexei Lukovenko, a specialist on Poland at the Institute of Europe, said the decision may have been taken by the president's administration as a saber-rattling gesture on behalf of Russians abroad.


The front page of the pro-Yeltsin daily Izvestia on Thursday registered its approval. "At last the Russian state has stepped in on behalf of some of its citizens. At last!" read the headline.


Polish newspapers said Moscow was firing a warning shot at Poland's desire to join NATO, something the Russians resolutely oppose.


Gazeta Wyborcza said the government in Warsaw was anticipating a "Russian counteroffensive," after receiving signals from Washington indicating a more favorable look by the United States on expanding NATO, Reuters reported.


Lukovenko said the visit would have to go ahead soon because billions of dollars of Russian gas income were dependent on it, something Chernomyrdin, with his background in the gas industry, must be fully aware of.


The two countries were due to sign an agreement on the building of a 665-kilometer pipeline, which will deliver Russian gas to the German market. The new route through Belarus and Poland would bypass Ukraine, giving Russia more choice in the routing of its gas.