Polish Ex-spy Chief Says Russia Flexes Oil Muscle
WARSAW, Poland Russia is seeking to re-establish its grip on ex-communist countries in central Europe through its near monopoly on oil and gas, a former Polish chief spy says.
Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, a senior figure in the ruling left, told a parliamentary inquiry that as part of this drive Russian oil firms were seeking control of their peers in ex-Soviet satellites, many of which are now European Union members.
"I agree that we are facing a restoration of the Russian empire through economic means and with the principle of 'Yesterday tanks, today oil'," Siemiatkowski told the inquiry on Wednesday, according to a transcript released by parliament.
The Russian embassy declined to comment on Siemiatkowski's remarks, which may hurt tense relations between the former Cold War allies. Poland's foreign ministry also declined to comment.
Polish newspapers seized on the testimony, with the top daily Gazeta Wyborcza reporting on it on the front page under the headline, "The empire strikes."
Fear of Moscow is acute across central Europe 15 years after it escaped Soviet clutches and reoriented itself toward the West, a process crowned with its E.U. entry this year.
Such fears are reinforced by signs that Russia under President Vladimir Putin may be trying to regain influence in the region it had controlled for centuries and which many Russian politicians still refer to as their "near abroad."
In Ukraine, for instance, Russia is openly siding with a pro-Kremlin candidate for president in this weekend's elections.
Russia remains the main supplier of oil and gas to central Europe, much of it delivered over Soviet-era pipelines.
The Russian energy giants that have emerged from the Soviet oil monopoly have unsuccessfully bid for a number of refineries and petrol distribution chains in the region, reflecting widespread suspicion of Russian investment.
Poland, the biggest economy among the former Soviet satellites, in 2002 blocked a bid by LUKOIL (LKOH.RTS) to buy the country's second largest refinery, Rafineria Gdanska.
In recent weeks the circumstances surrounding that episode have surfaced as part of a highly charged parliamentary inquiry probing whether the then Polish government used the secret service to exercise undue control of the fuel sector.
The most shocking revelation the inquiry has produced so far was that Poland's richest man, industrialist Jan Kulczyk, held secret talks in Vienna about the future of the Polish energy sector with a former KGB resident in Poland.
According to declassified intelligence reports, made public by a special parliamentary committee leading the inquiry, Kulczyk had offered to use his political influence to help Russian firms make another try for the Gdanska refinery.
Kulczyk, who denies the accusations, is set to testify before the committee in November.