KULTURA: Colonel, may we begin with the question on everyone's mind? Six months ago the Polish communist authorities revealed your role in the preparations for martial law (in 1981). The explosive news of last June made all the newspapers. Why is it only now that you have decided to speak?
RYSZARD JERZY KUKLIŃSKI: Jerzy Urban's revelations, followed by those of General Kiszczak were, as known, aimed against US policy. I am not a spokesman for the US government and it is not up to me to defend or endorse its decisions. That is the business of its own representatives. And this has been the main reason for my reticence until now. It is worth saying that I had no desire to serve as a sounding board whenever Urban thumped the table. I have and had no intention of entering into an academic discussion with all its falsities and ridiculous propaganda.
I have decided to speak out on the fifth anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Poland, as this is a good moment to reflect on the disruption caused by 13 December 1981 in what is, of course, an unfinished chapter in our recent history. I lay no claim of being able to uncover the whole truth about that very complex period from August 1980 through to the December of the following year. I do, however, feel duty-bound to disclose to the Polish public the events that I witnessed or participated in directly. People can draw their own conclusions.
K.: What you have just said is bound up with recent events. People would no doubt also like to know why, following your departure from Poland, you offered no warning of the imminence of martial law with its joint onslaught on Solidarity by army and civic militia, and the mass internments that ensued? You were, after all, one of the few individuals who knew ahead of time what the authorities’ operational plans would entail. According to the communist regime you reached the US on 7 or 8 November, more than a month before the crackdown. Why was no use made of your knowledge?
R.J.K.: I was not in the US on the dates you mention. The fact that I did not go to the Polish General Staff HQ on 8 November does not mean I was already in the US. But that is of little relevance anyway, as I did indeed have the possibility of forewarning the public of what was to come. I could not have done so while still in Poland, but after finding myself in the West I did have the opportunity to do so. By then I had complete freedom of movement and could choose my own course of action. I was a free man and without the slightest hindrance I could have reached for the telephone or gone personally to any media organization. Indeed, given the severity of the political situation I could have called a press conference and appealed for the kind of warning you mention to be communicated.
Had I just succumbed to emotion that is what I probably would have done. To say I was completely free of emotion would be a great oversimplification. In fact, it was the opposite. I think I was in a similar state of torment as almost everyone else was a month later when General Jaruzelski broadcast his decision to impose martial law. Fortunately, however, I was not just a hostage to emotion and retained the ability to envisage what might happen if I were to speak out once the news reached Poland. And one didn’t need exceptional powers of imagination to predict the chain of events. I had spent over a year – 380 days to be exact – often working at night, on matters relating to martial law. I had learned the planned contingencies off by heart, so by simply recalling them I knew that:
First, the decision to impose martial law in Poland, initially in early November 1981, had been taken under pressure from the Soviet Union. The decision was practically irrevocable. If at the last moment General Jaruzelski had broken down and dithered, the planned radio and television broadcast to the nation would have been made by General Eugeniusz Molczyk or by another more determined general willing to do so.
Secondly, the operational plans for martial law assumed the sole command of the Polish army and civic militia. If, however, for whatever reason these were unable to break the back of Polish society, then the Soviet, Czech and East German forces that were massed on Poland's borders were fully at the ready to intervene.
Thirdly, on 7 November 1981, the day of my final departure from the General Staff HQ, the plans for martial law were so advanced that the whole political and military apparatus could have been set off simply with the proverbial push of a button. The only issues requiring resolution were to fabricate an immediate pretext for the confrontation (one that seemed plausible to at least a section of the population) and determining the best time for doing so.
Fourthly, surprise was to be the linchpin of the overall plan. Martial law was to be introduced overnight on a Friday that was followed by a so-called free Saturday. If, however, circumstances in Poland had prevented this (in the event, for instance, of Solidarity launching pre-emptive action) martial law could still have been introduced but in less favourable operational circumstances, such as with the whole country engaged in mass workplace sit-ins.
Taking all this into account, I had no doubt at all that by revealing the plans for martial law I would do nothing to forestall or defer it. In fact this could only hasten its onset. I had to assume that if I went public and my message was not taken to be a false alarm inspired by the authorities, or some other official provocation, in short if Solidarity believed what I was saying, then a general strike would almost certainly have been called immediately, triggering organized resistance in hundreds of Polish factories and places of further education.
In the face of such developments, I knew that the army and civic militia would not limit themselves to just laying siege to strike centres, depriving them of water, food and electricity; that mass resistance would have to be broken quickly with the use of armoured troops, tanks primarily; that the probable universal resistance of the Polish population could not have been quashed by Polish forces alone; and that Soviet forces, kept in strategic reserve, would certainly have been brought into play, perhaps together with Czech and East German units.
There could be no doubt that in the event of such a scenario, all this would have ended in a terrible bloody massacre, especially for those who kept up their resistance. I believe that the fate of Solidarity activists and other members of the opposition would be very different today if that had happened. Had Soviet forces come in to play, not only would slaughter have followed, but there would certainly also have been deportations of the kind that occurred after the Hungarian Uprising was crushed.
The stakes were too high for me to give way to emotion or to make the smallest ill-considered move. I could not shoulder the responsibility for such a gamble. I will say more. Had anyone else, even the American authorities, sought to offer a warning to Poland, they could have done so only against my judgement. Happily, there was never such a scenario.
I knew that at some point in the future I could be criticized for withholding such a warning. I hear it today, here in exile, and echoes from Poland have also reached me. I accept that criticism with humility. The criticism is inevitable and represents the cost and consequence of my own decisions. But had my fears materialized, and I still harbour a strong inner belief that they would have, an awful price would have been paid by Polish society. Today, even though the death penalty hangs over me, I sleep peacefully. Not because of any special security arrangements that I may have, but because my conscience remains free of the burden of guilt for the loss of any human life.
K.: From what you say, the motives behind your decision came down to choosing the lesser of two evils. Jaruzelski cited a similar motivation when imposing martial law. Could you not see any other possible way out other than the choice between two evils, the lesser being martial law, the greater, a Soviet invasion?
R.J.K.: From the beginning of the crisis in 1980 and up to the end of October 1981, in other words up to the point when the decision to use force against Solidarity became inevitable, not only did I see such a possibility but I believe I did everything possible, on some occasions taking desperate measures, to avert both martial law and a Soviet invasion.
Cast your mind back to 1980 and 1981. Did you, or anyone else in Europe, or the world, but especially in Poland, ever hear one word from the upper echelons of the Polish communist hierarchy, one word about the danger of invasion by Poland's neighbours, even though in reality we were but a step away from such intervention from the very start of the crisis in 1980?
Did anyone hear of Stanisław Kania or General Jaruzelski finding the courage and strength to oppose Soviet blackmail, as Gomułka and Ochab did in 1956? Sadly not! In fact they both shared the Soviet view that counter-revolution was afoot in Poland, thereby sanctioning possible military action in the country by the USSR and the Warsaw Pact.
The only voices raised against a Soviet invasion and in defence of Poland's right to resolve its own problems were those that reached us from the US and Western Europe. The fact that up to the summer of 1981 the worst had been avoided and it was even possible to convene the 9th Extraordinary Congress of the Polish United Workers’ Party was by and large, if not entirely, the result of the decisive stance adopted by Western governments, public opinion and even communist parties.
It would be inappropriate for me to claim any major role in alerting the US of the unfolding events. But in any case I did attempt to do something in that respect.
I also don’t feel guilty of having neglected the chance of defending Solidarity against being attacked by its homegrown enemies. Anyone with their ears to the ground would have picked up fairly clear signs of an impending attack. The authorities were also aware that someone within their ranks was sending out warning signals. On 13 September 1981, just before the battle over Solidarity’s access to the mass media (at an extraordinary session of the National Defence Committee convened to discuss the imposition of martial law) General Kiszczak disclosed that a significant number of Solidarity activists had detailed knowledge of martial law planning, including the official codename as well as the provisions for mass internment together with a list of persons who would be detained.
At that time alerting Solidarity still made sense. But once its demise had been decreed, any forewarning could only prove counterproductive for the trade union.
K.: Until recently your name was unfamiliar outside your own circle of family and friends. Today it is widely recognized, but all too little is known about the person behind the name. Could you say something about yourself? What is your social background? What led you to become a professional soldier in the People's Army and how did you progress in your military career?
R.J.K.: I was born in Warsaw in 1930 at ulica Dzielna 6 and spent most of my life in the capital – my childhood in a house at ulica Tłomacka 13, then later at ulica Długa 32/34. I recently lived in the Old Town at ulica Rajców 11. My education began at School 22, which was initially at ulica Elektoralna 7 and subsequently relocated to ulica Miodowa. I was then moved to another school on ulica Freta run by a religious order. I come from a working-class family in which the main source of income was physical labour. In the early 1930s my father was an ordinary worker in a factory in Pruszków that manufactured iron rasps and files. The factory was later moved to Ursus. He was a member of the socialist party, the PPS. My family life was ruined early on, as it was for many of my peers, by the onset of war and the German occupation. In 1943 my father was arrested by the Gestapo and tortured in our home on ulica Tłomacka and then in the infamous Gestapo prison on Aleje Szucha. He was subsequently incarcerated in Pawiak Prison and finally at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, where he died shortly before the camp was liberated.
After the war I moved to Wrocław, where at 15 I began my first job in the town hall, while continuing my secondary education in the evenings at a school for mature students.
I joined the People's Army in 1947. In those days, in spite of everything I believed it to be a Polish army. I completed officer training in 1950. In the decade that followed, I split my time between service in units of the line and attending various advanced military courses.
In 1963 I completed my studies at the General Staff Academy and subsequently served in the Polish General Staff, where to begin with I was charged with organizing operational training and planning manoeuvres, reporting to the minister of defence or the chief of staff.
In 1976, after completing a course on operational strategy at the Military Academy of the Armed Forces of the USSR in Moscow (which I attended with the current minister of internal affairs, General Kiszczak), I was appointed chief of Department 1 for Strategic Defence Planning within the Operations Directorate of the Polish General Staff. This post has in recent years also included the responsibilities of deputy chief of the Operations Directorate of the Polish General Staff. I held the position to the very end, that is until 7 November 1981.
K.: Could you elaborate on your responsibilities as head of strategic defence planning? Was this post combined in any way with other internal duties within the Polish army that you were responsible for?
R.J.K.: My military duties had nothing to do with any internal activities within the army. On the contrary, these duties were strictly focused on preparations for the defence of Poland and its army in the event of an external attack.
The scope of these duties was so extensive that it is probably easier to summarize what was not included in my remit, but that is not your question. In general I can say I was responsible for the central complex planning of the development of the army and the defence of the country, or to put it simply, the planning of Poland's military capability.
Another important area was managing virtually everything connected with Poland's membership of the Warsaw Pact. As such – given my position – I took part in most meetings of the Military Council of the Warsaw Pact’s Unified Armed Forces.
Towards the end of my association with the Polish military I was also drawn into operational planning, in other words into devising strategy in the event of war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO.
K.: Certain sources indicate that for a certain period you were also something of a liaison officer between Jaruzelski and his general staff and Victor Kulikov, commander-in-chief of the Warsaw Pact forces, which gave you considerable insight into the Soviet and Polish plans for using force against Solidarity.
R.J.K.: No, that is a misunderstanding. Perhaps it arose because for a very short time I was indeed performing a role that could have been interpreted as liaising between the Soviet high command and the Polish army. But that was in completely different times and very different circumstances. Back in August 1968 when the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia was being planned, I was sent to Legnica to work in the Warsaw Pact high command under Marshal Ivan Yakubovsky. I was seconded to this post by the Polish General Staff to plan the Polish contribution to the invasion. At the same time I was also their liaison officer with the Polish forces drawn from the Silesian Military District under the command of General Florian Siwicki.
In later years, and that includes during the crisis of 1980–81, I never held the post of liaison officer in the sense you mention.
I gained insight into the planned anti-Solidarity actions by the Soviet and Polish military thanks to my singular position within the Polish General Staff, as during the 1980–81 crisis I became a kind of one-man working party attached to the Ministry of Defence and charged with preparing martial law.
K.: From your life story it is clear that you did well in your military career, that you got to work in the very heart of both the Polish army and Warsaw Pact command centres. From your earliest years you had been subjected to military discipline and required to follow orders unconditionally. But we’d like to know, what led you to break with that military discipline and support Solidarity? What induced you to put yourself and your family at mortal risk? Was it a specific incident or an order you were issued?
R.J.K.: First and foremost I cannot agree with your idea that I was some kind of exception. In Poland there were many people actively opposed to the prevailing system. After each political crisis their number rose almost exponentially, and to some extent they were all exposed to repressive measures. There was no shortage of such people in the Polish army either, and believe me or not, I really did not feel alone in my efforts.
You ask whether there was some incident or order … Without doubt the Polish August of 1980 was that decisive event, along with the orders I had to carry out almost from the moment the strikes started erupting along the coast, as I considered those orders to be against the best interests of the country and of the nation I served. But my final decision was most probably rooted in earlier events.
I already mentioned one such circumstance in my response to your question about my military service. It took place in August 1968, so almost exactly 12 years earlier. Through the mass media the regime was informing Polish society of imperialist scheming in Czechoslovakia and attempts to wrench that country away from the community of socialist states. There was only cursory mention of the planned Warsaw Pact military exercises that were taking place at the time. These exercises were well under way when I received an entirely innocuous order to report immediately to Marshal Ivan Yakubovsky’s headquarters in Legnica, where I was to take part in the planning of exercises by Polish units. When I reached Yakubovsky's headquarters all the Warsaw Pact representatives were present apart from the Czechs and Romanians. The atmosphere was on the whole calm. No one was using the words invasion, armed intervention or aggression. These were reserved for references to the actions of the Western imperialists. We were simply engaged in exercises. But these exercises had something very striking about them, something I had never come across before. Their codename was Danube and their next phase, which we were to plan, was to take place on Czechoslovak territory but without the Czechoslovakian armed forces. It also transpired that although our military activity would be in defence of socialist Czechoslovakia, the aggressor this time was not NATO (against which the Warsaw Pact had apparently been created) but, very oddly, the Czechoslovak People's Army itself, which was after all itself a member of the Warsaw Pact forces. And henceforth their positions were marked on the staff maps in blue, a colour used exclusively to indicate the enemy. In short, there could be no doubt what all of this meant, but we were not allowed to call a spade a spade.
When the plans for the lightning encirclement of the Czech garrisons and their neutralization by way of “persuasion” were in place, and when the invasion forces were simply awaiting the order to cross our southern neighbour’s border, I tried to glean what the outside world was thinking about these developments. I believed that the military concentration of such a large force on the Czech border could not escape the attention of the world media. It seemed to me that Soviet intentions could be gauged all the more easily given Yakubovsky's order to undertake a so-called EFIR exercise, whereby a substantial number of radio transmitters would be used simultaneously to make the Czechs aware of the scale of Warsaw Pact troop concentrations and suggest the futility of possible Czech resistance. I strongly believed that such a demonstration of power over the airwaves would not go unnoticed in the West, and began accordingly to monitor Western news broadcasts to confirm my assumption that the world was indeed aware of the forthcoming invasion, would oppose it and protest against it, and thus the worst could perhaps be avoided.
I was deeply disappointed and felt helpless. The outside world on which I had so counted was preoccupied with the Vietnam War and with the wave of anti-war demonstrations sweeping across most of Europe and also the US. There were some news items about Czechoslovakia but they were mostly anodyne. No one seemed to be protesting about the potential invasion. Silence prevailed throughout the mass media of both the East and the West.
Not wishing to take part in the attack on Czechoslovakia, I telephoned Warsaw and under some pretext engineered my departure from Legnica. I was replaced by Colonel Stanisław Radaj and returned to the capital with little hope that I might alert the world of what was coming. Regrettably, it would not have been straightforward or easy to do so, given my position at the time. About a week later, on the night of 20 August 1968, Soviet paratroopers descended on Prague airport while units of the Polish army under the command of General Florian Siwicki (who headed the Silesian Military District) crossed into Czechoslovakia together with the troops of other Warsaw Pact countries.
I was unable to avoid taking part in these events. At the start of the invasion, I was called upon to join a specially formed command centre in the General Staff in Warsaw whose task was to oversee the Polish involvement in the Czech operation. Later, I did not regret this appointment. I was in direct liaison with units in the field; I listened in on their operational communications and compiled special reports on the campaign in progress, be it for the minister of defence General Wojciech Jaruzelski or for First Secretary Władysław Gomułka. From my new vantage point I had a unique opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of this particular chapter in post-war Polish history.
After the invasion, attempts were made within the Polish army to sum up the campaign and draw lessons for the future.
On the official level, at Jaruzelski's behest and under his auspices, an internal conference on Operation Danube was organized at the General Staff office. It was a huge formal event with much of the upper echelons of the Defence Ministry in attendance, together with numerous regional commanders and other high-ranking officers, including those who took part in the invasion and, of course, its main architects, representatives of the Soviet high command. Those gathered at the conference fell over each other in their praise for the contribution made by the Polish forces. Although these had not encircled the Czech army with the speed shown by the best army in the world, the Soviet army, by way of compensation had very convincingly persuaded Czech commanders to offer their support for the new leadership of their party and their country. It was seen as a particular achievement that in spite of the Czech population’s hostility towards the invaders and in spite of the human shields formed in front of the tanks and other armoured vehicles, the country had suffered no great loss of life or substantial damage. Only one Czech child had been killed under the tracks of a Polish tank, by accident. In essence the conference delivered resounding praise for the military and political achievements of Operation Danube for the socialist community of states, an achievement to which the Polish People’s Army had made a very significant contribution.
Unofficially, in the ongoing discussions within Polish military circles, off duty, among friends and at social gatherings, evaluations of Operation Danube were less enthusiastic and the conclusions quite different. The involvement of the Polish army in the invasion of Czechoslovakia was seen as an unforgivable mistake delivered by the political and military leadership of People's Poland, for which Poles would pay a high price when it came to demanding their own inalienable right to live in dignity and to usher in the democratic and social change that the USSR was so unwilling to accept.
My own views were firmly rooted in this thinking and I believe that is how it all began.
I did not have long to wait for my next political lesson in citizenship. It came in December 1970 and brought its own tragic harvest, when the alleged counter-revolution on the Baltic coast was in its death throes and the 44 “destroyers of peace in the people's state” were being buried. Among them were 30 shipyard workers and 7 minors, technical school pupils. In all 1,164 demonstrators were admitted to hospital, a figure which again included a large proportion of minors.
The toll was and is horrifying. What disturbed me the most, however, was the ease with which the authorities of People's Poland (people's, after all) used the army to subdue its own citizens, as this went totally against what the army stood for. Someone gave the orders: “Block them!”, “Don't let them through!”, “Fire!”, and not a single person, starting from the minister of defence down to the most low-ranking NCO, said, “I cannot carry out this order”.
These thoughts have never given me peace. When after ten years, in 1980, history began to repeat itself, this time on an order from Moscow, and the army was once again set against the workers, the intelligentsia and the young, at that point I simply said “No!”. This was a classic situation in which I believed a soldier not only cannot, but simply must not, obey orders that run contrary to his conscience and beliefs. What is more, I believed that in the approaching confrontation the nation stood no chance, and therefore one had to go beyond the call of duty to counter what was happening.
K.: You mentioned that in December 1970 “there was no one, from the minister of defence downwards” willing to disobey the order to shoot workers. In the past, and even today, rumours circulate that General Jaruzelski was then under house arrest and not only had nothing to do with the Baltic coast massacre, but sought to prevent it. Could you shed some light on his role in this period?
R.J.K.: I'm sorry to say these rumours have no historical basis. Jaruzelski had no part in the operations on the Baltic coast, not because he was under house arrest, simply because he was in charge of the whole armed forces and was at his office on ulica Klonowa at the time. It is not the place of the commander-in-chief to lead regiments or even divisions in the field. That is what subordinates are for.
The Baltic coast was the scene of the most intense social protests in Poland at the time, but only a few divisions were deployed there, some 25,000 soldiers (13,000 in Gdańsk–Gdynia–Sopot and 12,000 in Szczecin). The remaining divisions were grouped near Kraków, Poznań, Wrocław and Warsaw, or in reserve on full military alert. The Polish armed forces were directly employed in over a hundred operations involving 61,000 soldiers, 1,700 tanks, 1,750 armoured personnel carriers, air force transports, a significant number of helicopters and even a few naval warships.
The logistics of all of this was General Jaruzelski’s remit. It is widely known that the decision to use force on the Baltic coast was taken by First Secretary Władysław Gomułka and his immediate collaborators. The decision was apparently taken on the morning of 15 December 1970. The Polish armed forces did not receive their orders directly from Gomułka and his circle, but from the minister of defence, General Wojciech Jaruzelski. The single limitation placed on commanders in the field by Jaruzelski was that fire power could only be used “after delivering warning shots into the air, repeated warnings followed by further warning shots into the ground, and subsequently, as a last resort, firing at the legs of the most aggressive of the demonstrators”.
The consequences of this order were terrible. Most of the victims among the marching protesters were hit by bullets ricocheting off cobblestones.
K.: Let us move on now to the main subject of this interview. The US was forewarned of Soviet preparations for the invasion of Poland in December 1980 and again in March 1981. On both occasions the American government made this known to the international community. Were you the source of this information?
R.J.K.: It is my view that an assessment of the military planning of the type required for the invasions of Poland in 1980 and in the following spring was not something that may be learned exclusively from a single source. Nevertheless, I have the feeling that some of my calls to slow down Moscow's aggressiveness did reach Washington, and were duly noted there.
K.: Before we go into detail about the preparations for the use of force against Solidarity, I would like to ask you, an officer of the of the Polish General Staff engaged in these matters, whether you think Solidarity was doomed to fail from the outset or did it have a chance to survive?
R.J.K.: If, after the departure of First Secretary Gierek, a strong political leadership had emerged in the party capable of authentic independent governance of the country, I presume – in fact I'm absolutely certain –that Solidarity would have survived.
It is common knowledge that from the beginning of the crisis, the Soviet Union had taken the position that the events in Poland constituted a counter-revolution. In the communist scheme of things you don't enter into dialogue with counter-revolution, you crush it by force.
In October 1956 Khrushchev, Molotov, Mikoyan and Marshal Konev all told the Polish first secretary Władysław Gomułka and the previous first secretary Edward Ochab that counter-revolution was rife in Poland. But the two of them found the courage and strength to tell the Soviet leadership that the events in Poland were the sole concern of the Polish communist party and that they were not prepared to talk under the threat of force. This was well understood by the Polish people, and for the first time after the Second World War they stood squarely behind the party leadership and its rather nebulous promise of a “Polish road to socialism”.
In October 1956, in the face of Soviet threats and charges against the new Polish leadership, the wave of revolution was halted and a sort of unwritten social and political compromise was achieved with the population, although Gomułka later betrayed this. But that is a different story.
History does not repeat itself, but the cogs usually work the same way.
Had the Kania–Jaruzelski leadership said a firm no to the Russians from the start, then in the face of the threats and pressure from Moscow Solidarity would have had to change tack, and re-align itself primarily for the defence of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Under these circumstances, I feel sure that the trade union would have been more inclined to compromise, and the Soviet Union would have backed down when the party and military authorities formed a common front with the people. Even Stalin refrained from armed intervention in Yugoslavia. The same happened in Albania, and most recently in Romania, when Ceaușescu renounced allegiance to Moscow and refused to subordinate his armed forces to the Russians.
Having had contact with the Russians and watched their military at close quarters, I never had any doubt that the Soviet Union was ready and able to use military force in the way it did when Czechoslovakia was invaded (where its aims were essentially achieved without human or material loss). In the context of Poland, however, I am certain that Moscow was reluctant and could ill afford a war with a country in which it might have to face an army making common cause with the population. Even if the war had been brief, its costs for the Soviet Union would have been too high.
Leaving aside the political and moral price Moscow would have had to pay in an international context, I believe it had important reasons to conclude that military intervention in Poland would not have been an altogether easy affair. To crush only the potential resistance of the Polish army it would have had to use most of its armed forces in its European sector and even deploy part of the Czech and East German armies.
The Russians knew well that the spitting on tanks they had experienced during their surprise attack on the Czechs was not in the style and character of the Poles. They recognized that the Polish population now had more experience, having seen what happened to the Czechs and also with the events of 1956 and 1970 behind them. Not only were the people not afraid of tanks, they had learned how to successfully set them alight and destroy them when the barrels were ranged against them. The Russians were aware from the start of the crisis of how the Poles reacted when even the smallest new Soviet units and military installations appeared in various parts of the country, and that this was no mere game of cat and mouse. A Soviet military assistant who was with the permanent Warsaw Pact Liaison Office, with whom I had a working relationship, lamented that the Poles were saying openly that “Russian tanks burn better than Polish ones”.
So if the Polish communist authorities, backed by the population, had openly resisted the Soviet Union, and had there been even symbolic gestures of defence (such as the deployment of troops in a defensive ring around the capital), a war of nerves would doubtless have ensued. And if Poland had stood firm, then in all probability Moscow would have had to stand down.
However, the situation became totally different as soon as the Polish party and military leadership, Kania and Jaruzelski, sided with the Soviet Union, basically agreeing with the Russians that this was a counter-revolution and promising to suppress Solidarity on their own, asking only for time.
Given the position taken by the Polish leadership, Moscow faced a defenceless population rather than the organized forces of a sovereign state.
K.: Why then was the Soviet Union, first in 1980 and then in the spring of 1981, ready and close to invading? Why the need to do so if from the beginning the Russians had received assurances and a commitment from the Polish authorities that they themselves would eliminate Solidarity through political and administrative measures?
R.J.K.: As we all remember well, the Russians wanted to send in the Red Army on two occasions as a result of the Polish authorities’ political reaction to the ongoing crisis in Poland. The party and government sought to sabotage the 1980 agreements or back out of them, which only further fuelled social unrest and led to an escalation of demands on the authorities. Willingly or not, and if only to survive, the Polish communist authorities had to give way.
The policy was suicidal because at one and the same time it antagonized both Polish society and the Soviet leadership. The latter began to believe that Kania and Jaruzelski were playing for time and pursuing some sort of double game.
K.: I suggest we now try to reconstruct the sequence of events in chronological order. What came first, the threat of invasion or the decision to impose martial law?
R.J.K.: Regrettably, the decision to introduce martial law.
K.: When did the idea first surface and who put it forward?
R.J.K.: In a written statement for the Soviet leadership, which I myself prepared in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the instructions of General Jaruzelski and according to his guidelines. The idea of martial law emerged as early as 1980, at the height of the sit-ins of August 1980, almost 16 months before it was ultimately imposed by Jaruzelski.
The plans for martial law were drawn up collectively by the so-called Party–Government Leadership Staff established on 24 August 1980, just after the conclusion of the 4th plenary session of the party’s Central Committee which, as is known, advocated negotiations with the striking workers. This body was headed by the new prime minister, Józef Pińkowski. Its other members included party secretaries Kazimierz Barcikowski and Stefan Olszowski, together with Deputy Prime Minister Mieczysław Jagielski, perhaps also Tadeusz Grabski, and of course those heading the two key ministries (Defence and Internal Affairs), namely Wojciech Jaruzelski and Mirosław Milewski.
To outmanoeuvre the rebellious population, the leadership staff tactically agreed to accept the vague demands of August 1980 and, once the blaze of strikes that had swept almost the whole country had died down, to turn the screw with repressive administrative measures, keeping the imposition of martial law as a last resort.
As the initial measures undertaken in September 1980 to outmanoeuvre society by administrative means brought the opposite effect to what had been intended, the leadership staff took the broad decision to start preparing for martial law.
In the Polish armed forces these preparations began on 22 October 1980, two days before Solidarity was officially registered at the Warsaw provincial court.
On that day – following an order from the minister of defence General Wojciech Jaruzelski – the Polish General Staff started work on the plans to implement martial law.
From beginning to end, overall responsibility for the planning fell to the chief of staff, General Florian Siwicki. During the early phase of planning only Siwicki's deputies took part, namely: – Divisional General Tadeusz Hupałowski; – Divisional General Jerzy Skalski; – Divisional General Antoni Jasiński; – Brigadier General Mieczysław Dachowski; and – me, Colonel Ryszard Kukliński. Later on we were joined by the following from the Operational Command of the Polish General Staff: – Brigadier General Wacław Szklarski; – Colonel Czesław Witt; – Colonel Franciszek Puchała; and from Directorate 10 of the Polish General Staff, – Colonel Stefan Marciniak. We were assisted by: – the Secretariat of the National Defence Committee (NDC; Polish: Komitet Obrony Kraju; KOK), which prepared all the legal documentation for martial law; – the Ministry of Internal Affairs with its known responsibilities; and – the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party (PUWP, the communist party; Polish: Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza; PZPR), working with the Main Political Directorate of the Polish army.
The initial plans (in fact, a working study), together with drafts of some of the martial law legislation, were ready by November 1980 and later that month were submitted to the NDC for assessment at a session chaired by Prime Minister Pińkowski.
The plans were presented without much detail, as the army high command had reservations about the reliability of some of the NDC members, who apparently harboured ideas about reshaping the political system in People's Poland and who were in the NDC only temporarily. In spite of this, the general assumptions and aims of the imposition of martial law as outlined by representatives of the Ministries of Defence and of Internal Affairs differed little from what was implemented in December 1981.
The Ministry of Defence recommended the suspension of citizens' rights and the introduction of extraordinary powers for the authorities, together with special decrees governing labour relations. The military also wanted to see provisions that established a comprehensive obligation to national defence, entailing: – partial mobilization of the country with the conscription of some 250,000 reservists; – changing by law the status of basic military service (i.e. regular conscripts), as well as the usual military training given to students and fresh graduates, into full military service; – widespread militarization of parts of the economy; and – the conscription of up to one million citizens into the Civil Defence Corps.
After the experiences of 1970, the Polish General Staff sought to limit the army’s role during martial law to that of intimidating the inhabitants of large metropolitan and industrial areas. Diplomatically this was referred to as “maintaining peace and order in cities and towns”. There was no plan for the army to confront striking workers directly. The Polish General Staff took the position that this should fall to the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ law enforcement forces. To lighten the latter’s load and provide relief, the army was prepared to defend and protect a number of important official installations and locations, and to hand over to the ministry heavy arms and equipment (weapons, ammunition, armoured personnel carriers, helicopters, etc.)
When speaking of his ministry’s aims, the minister of internal affairs, Mirosław Milewski, did not dally with euphemistic phrases such as “the curtailment of citizen's rights”; he stated bluntly that it was necessary to: – de-legalize Solidarity; – carry out widespread arrests and internment of opposition and Solidarity activists; – abolish unrestricted travel and introduce curfews; – suspend civil rights, such as personal inviolability, the inviolability of property, the inviolability of correspondence, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom to print and publish, freedom to hold meetings, marches, and demonstrations; and – establish special courts to try those who transgressed martial law.
Milewski wanted greater army involvement than assumed by the Polish General Staff; in particular, he wanted the army to be directly involved in any possible direct confrontations with the people.
All in all, this preliminary vision of martial law with its provisions on what had to be suspended, forbidden, decreed, militarized, delegalized, where to deploy the army and security forces and whom to protect and whom to intern, was, in fact, little removed from the final concept of martial law as imposed 13 months later.
Implementation of these initial plans for martial law proved unfeasible. As far as I know, none of the National Defence Committee members (including Mirosław Milewski) present at the November meeting thought these ideas could be applied in practice.
The committee rightly concluded that the introduction of martial law at that time could bring about the end of communist rule in Poland, and might culminate in Russian military intervention. So, the NDC merely acknowledged the ideas presented by the two ministries and instructed all concerned to continue with the planning. At the suggestion of the Ministry of Defence, the NDC agreed that preparations for martial law should also involve the so-called civilian ministries, primarily Post, Telegraph and Telecommunications; Energy; Transport; and Internal Commerce and Services. Any discussion of the November 1980 National Defence Committee meeting cannot ignore the positive role played by Stanisław Kania, the then, and for some time after, first secretary of the Polish communist party. Officially, Kania was not a member of the NDC, but I need not explain why his opinions were treated as sacrosanct, especially by the prime minister, who was the chairman of the NDC. Kania, despite having assured the Soviets that his men would use force to defend this idiosyncratic version of socialism, in practice right until the end favoured an exclusively political solution to suppressing Solidarity. There can be no doubt that Kania's stance, which was still supported at that point by Jaruzelski, dampened the appetite for the use of force and shaped the political decisions of the day.
K.: So the plans for martial law were shelved. Was it this that led to the threat of Soviet invasion at the beginning of December 1980?
R.J.K.: In short, yes. The Soviet view was that delaying martial law not only enabled the consolidation of Solidarity, which the Soviets had wanted to avoid from the very beginning, but also opened the door to the formation and development of independent social structures. As known, Judge Kościelniak refused to register the Independent Association of Students on 13 November 1980, and yet two weeks later, after the Warsaw University strike, the minister of education agreed to register it by 20 December. Soviet objections were even stronger concerning the registration of Rural Solidarity. Rural Solidarity still hadn’t been formally registered at the end of November, but as we remember, its appeal at the High Court was to be heard at the end of December.
All of this coincided with the relative weakness displayed by Pińkowski’s government in its confrontation with Solidarity over the government's application of the rule of law. The affair connected with the “Comments” published by Prosecutor General Czubiński, and the detention and subsequent release of Jan Narożniak and Piotr Sapełło, are cases in point. These events reinforced the Russians’ belief that the leadership of the Polish communist party (and especially Kania) were procrastinating, if not double-dealing. Hence in late November the Soviets began covertly assembling a new Polish leadership. In this they had the active involvement of the Soviet Embassy in Warsaw, the Warsaw Pact high command in the person of its commander-in-chief, Marshal Kulikov, and Afansij Shcheglov, the principal Warsaw Pact representative attached to the Polish armed forces.
A leadership takeover by hardliners who already then were willing and ready to suppress Solidarity was to be preceded by the deployment in Poland of a considerable Soviet force along with the forces of other Warsaw Pact countries. Talks concerning this scenario included plans on how to neutralize the Polish army – which was regarded as demoralized – and these talks were conducted with Wojciech Jaruzelski. I have no knowledge of what exactly was discussed, only he does, and he should make it public. I know only the outcome of these exchanges. After their conclusion on 1 December 1980, a thoroughly drained Jaruzelski personally ordered the first deputy to the chief of staff, Divisional General Tadeusz Hupałowski, and Colonel Franciszek Puchała, to fly to Moscow to study details of the Soviet plans for military intervention in Poland.
From the details they were given at the Soviet General Staff on the day they arrived, and from registered copies of Soviet military maps, it was clear that under the guise of the Soyuz-81 exercises three Russian armies comprising fifteen divisions were to enter Poland together with a Czech army of two divisions and an East German force made up of one division with full army command staff. In total 18 Russian, Czech and East German divisions were to take part in military operations on Polish territory. The invasion forces were to be in full readiness to cross Poland’s borders on 8 December 1980. The plans envisaged Soviet forces operating in east and central Poland, the Czechs and Germans in the west of the country. This was to be combined with a full naval blockade by the USSR’s Baltic Fleet and the East German navy. At the start of the invasion, the Polish armed forces were to remain confined to their barracks, much like the Czech army had been in 1968. After some dramatic negotiations, Jaruzelski was able to wrest some changes – the Russians agreed that some Polish army units could take part in the operation, albeit in a secondary role. Thus the Polish 5th and 11th Armoured Divisions were to be attached to the Czech army, and the 4th and 12th Mechanized Divisions to the East German force.
K.: What you are saying makes for bleak reflection, even after six years. How did members of Jaruzelski's general staff react to the Russian plans at the time?
R.J.K.: The ruthlessness and intransigence of the Russians, who in their talks with Jaruzelski refused to discuss the possibility of excluding the East German National People’s Army from the intervention force and questioned the possibility of the Polish army playing even the smallest role in the operation, left the Ministry of Defence leadership utterly powerless. Jaruzelski was in shock and locked himself in his office. He was inaccessible even to his immediate entourage. General Siwicki and General Hupałowski, who had learned of the invasion plans in Moscow, were in no better state. This paralysis lasted for the whole of 30 November and 1 December. Everyone was waiting for a miracle that never came. The invasion plans, brought to Warsaw from Moscow by General Hupałowski and Colonel Puchała, confirmed in principle everything that the Russians had outlined to General Jaruzelski. Detailed analysis of the Russian plans led the Polish General Staff to conclude that the Russians had absolutely no grasp of what was happening in Poland or of the national mood, and were considerably underestimating Solidarity’s power. The General Staff believed that instead of calming the situation, an invasion could heighten social tensions, perhaps even triggering a national uprising.
In these circumstances the chief of the Polish General Staff, General Florian Siwicki, tried again to convince Jaruzelski to resume talks with the Russians and prevent this worst-case scenario. Acting on his deputies’ suggestions, Siwicki proposed that Jaruzelski should present the Russians with other options, in particular the immediate introduction of martial law without waiting for the right moment. But General Jaruzelski was still in such a state of total apathy that he refused even to discuss the matter. Just one day later, on 12 December, a new factor entered the equation when General Eugeniusz Molczyk returned from Bucharest, where he had been attending a Warsaw Pact meeting from 1st to 3rd December. After examining the invasion plans brought from Moscow, Molczyk tried again to convince Jaruzelski to present the Russians with a clear-cut plan to suppress Solidarity without delay and using only Polish forces. In his conversation with Jaruzelski, he apparently said, “History will never forgive us if they do it on our behalf”.
To understand the full significance of these words, it should be said that Molczyk was deputy minister of defence and the ministry’s chief inspector of training. In the event of war (with the West), he was designated to command the Polish Front. He was considered the most prominent of the Polish military hardliners who worked closely with Moscow. His advice sounded disingenuous as he was effectively proposing an ill-considered start to the operations, which the Russians would almost certainly have had to finish. Nevertheless, his voice was interpreted as signalling hesitation on the part of Moscow, which gave the Poles an opportunity to renew their offer to prepare and execute their own strike against the counter-revolution in the near term.
It was probably this that swayed Jaruzelski, who finally gave his veiled assent for the immediate preparation of a new plan to secure “internal peace” using only the Polish army, to be presented to the Soviets at a Warsaw Pact summit convened in Moscow on 5 December.
From the material prepared for the Polish delegation to Moscow it was clear that while First Secretary Stanisław Kania and Prime Minister Pińkowski were still making excuses for their continued tolerance of counter-revolution, the minister of defence General Wojciech Jaruzelski could concentrate on preparing the Polish army for “the defence of socialism in Poland” and presenting the Soviets with a Polish plan for suppressing Solidarity and other opposition groupings as soon as the population started showing the first signs of weariness and exhaustion.
I should add that even though all those who knew about the Soviet invasion plans were broken and despondent, no one suggested that there should be even the slightest attempt at self-defence (as had happened in 1956), let alone any form of armed defiance against an invasion by the Warsaw Pact states. In fact, there were even voices suggesting that the very presence of such large numbers of foreign troops in Poland could calm tensions within Polish society.
K.: To your mind, what dissuaded the Russians from invasion even though their preparations were so advanced? Pressure from the West? Jaruzelski's new offer?
R.J.K.: Both. The Soviet preparations for invasion did not go unnoticed in the West, as had happened in 1968 in Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union lacked the element of surprise, always useful in such cases. Due to intervention from Western governments, and even from Third World countries, the Soviets must have become increasingly aware that an invasion of Poland would have destroyed détente, upset economic cooperation between East and West, provoked NATO budget increases, and, in all probability, prompted open military cooperation between the US and China.
Let me remind you that in those first days of December, when Poland’s highest military authorities responsible for the defence of the land had succumbed to apathy and hopelessness, an unusually strong reaction came from the US. On 3 December President Carter sent an urgent personal telegram to Brezhnev demanding that the Polish government and nation be allowed to find their own solutions to their own problems, and warning Brezhnev of the negative impact that the use of force in Poland would have. On 4 December he made a public statement to that effect.
On balance, given the unambiguous pressure and clear warnings from the West, it became obvious that military intervention in Poland could be very costly for the Soviet Union. Moscow, therefore, began to lean towards the idea that the Poles themselves should deal with the crisis, even at the price of delay.
K.: Did the threat of Soviet intervention recede immediately after the Moscow summit on 5 December 1980 or was this a gradual process? What did the Polish communist authorities do to fulfil their undertaking given to Moscow? Did you become aware of more intensive preparations for the introduction of martial law? If so, what form did these take?
R.J.K.: The Moscow summit did not remove the threat of invasion. It made the Polish leadership aware that action was inevitable. If they failed to implement their plans, the Soviets would strike with their Warsaw Pact allies. To make this entirely clear, the Russians stationed their army close to Poland's border for a further month, while looking for a new Polish leadership with more appetite for a decisive confrontation with Solidarity – a new “Targowica Confederation”.
Thus the Polish authorities were left with no choice. Around 10 December all the relevant cells engaged in organizing the crackdown were instructed to update and refine the plans in readiness for implementation in spring 1981, by which time it was expected that Polish society would have become weary of the situation and approval for Solidarity would have dropped.
Preparations in the Ministry of Internal Affairs for such a spring confrontation were led by its then director Mirosław Milewski, while the vice minister, Divisional General Bogusław Stachura, was charged with coordinating planning within the ministry. He had at his disposal a coordinating board, which was essentially Directorate 1 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs headed by Colonel Bronisław Pawlikowski and his two deputies:
– Colonel Jan Wasiluk, and
– Colonel Jan Czyżewski.
Also directly engaged in the overall planning were:
– Brigadier General Józef Beim, deputy commander of the Civic Militia (MO); – Brigadier General Jan Słowikowski, director of Department 1 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs; – Brigadier General Władysław Ciastoń, director of Department 3A in the Ministry of Internal Affairs; – Brigadier General Jerzy Ćwiek, commander of the Civic Militia (MO), Warsaw; – Brigadier General Konrad Straszewski, director of Department 4 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs; – Colonel Zdzisław Sarewicz, director of Department 2 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs; – Colonel Henryk Walczyński, director of Department 3 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs; – Colonel Ryszard Wójcicki, director of Bureau W in the Ministry of Internal Affairs;
– Colonel Benedykt Januszewski, deputy director of the Signal Directorate in the Ministry of Internal Affairs; – Colonel Tadeusz Kwiatkowski, director of the Investigative Bureau in the Ministry of Internal Affairs; – Colonel Jan Wieloch, director of the Operational Bureau of the Main HQ of the Civic Militia (KGMO); – Brigadier General Jan Górecki, director of the Government Protection Bureau; – Brigadier General Bonifacy Jedynak, director of the Personnel Department in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Between December 1980 and February 1981, the Ministry of Internal Affairs concentrated on planting agents within Solidarity and other independent associations and organizations that were springing up. It also painstakingly compiled a list of some 4,000 Solidarity and opposition activists who were considered a threat to the state and were targeted for arrest. Of these, 240 were placed under permanent surveillance to enable immediate detention.
The Ministry of Defence focused on drafting the legal (or illegal, if you prefer) framework for martial law, identifying buildings and facilities to be secured by the military, fleshing out the details for the operational deployment of military units and their coordination with the security forces, plans for mobilization and militarization, and preparing the civilian ministries for operation under martial law.
The preparation of martial law legislation at the Ministry of Defence was overseen by one of its deputy ministers, secretary of the NDC, Lieutenant General Tadeusz Tuczapski. All decrees by the Council of State, even the printed notice announcing martial law, were produced within the NDC Secretariat on ulica Krzywickiego in Warsaw under its head, the future mayor of Warsaw, Divisional General Mieczysław Dębicki. They were drafted by Colonel Tadeusz Malicki and his team of military lawyers in consultation with the relevant ministries, including (perish the thought) the Ministry of Justice.
The detailed planning for the use of the Polish armed forces during martial law were developed by Colonel (now General) Franciszek Puchała, who was the deputy to the chief of Directorate 1 of the General Staff.
Matters relating to the mobilization of conscripts and the militarization of the country were the remit of then Divisional General Antoni Jasiński, deputy to the chief of staff. Colonel Stefan Marciniak and other officers of Directorate 10 of the General Staff nominated by General Jasiński assisted him in this assignment.
Preparing the so-called civilian ministries to operate under martial law was the responsibility of the relevant ministers or their immediate deputies. A number of directors of the appropriate military departments were also involved in this task: – Brigadier General Leon Kołatkowski at the Ministry of Post, Telegraph and Telecommunications; – Colonel Piotr Panasiuk at the Ministry of Energy and Nuclear Power; – Colonel Jerzy Budrewicz at the Ministry of Transport; – Colonel Tadeusz Antoniuk at the Ministry of International Trade and Services.
Propaganda was managed by Walery Namiotkiewicz from the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers Party.
The first draft of the TV and radio proclamation of martial law, which was to have been delivered by the prime minister in the spring of 1981, was prepared by the Main Political Directorate of the Polish army, under the personal supervision of Brigadier General Tadeusz Szaciło.
To me, Colonel Ryszard Kukliński, fell the task of day-to-day coordination of all the plans being prepared for martial law, and the development of a central plan for running the country in this period.
Until the 7th plenary session of the PUWP Central Committee, at which among other matters the decision was taken to appoint a new prime minister, martial law planning was essentially conducted separately in the ministries of Internal Affairs and of Defence. Discussions between General Siwicki (chief of the Polish General Staff) and Minister Milewski (Ministry of Internal Affairs) were sporadic, and the two ministries’ officials rarely held joint working meetings. As a result, quite serious differences persisted between them as to the army’s role in a potential confrontation with the people. These differences also concerned certain legal aspects of martial law, which in turn directly impacted the timing of mass arrests.
Almost immediately after being appointed by the Polish Sejm [parliament] as the new prime minister, General Jaruzelski ordered work to begin on coordinating the decision-making process among the various planners, to iron out differences and to fully integrate the plan of action under one joint management. On 16 February 1981, while everyone in Poland was still impressed by the new prime minister and general’s famous exposé in which he presented an idealistic but positive policy statement and appealed for “three industrious months and ninety days of peace”, forty-five high-ranking officers from the Ministries of Defence and of Internal Affairs together with two functionaries from the Central Committee’s Propaganda Department met in an army building on Aleja Niepodległości to fine-tune preparations for martial law and to coordinate plans for its introduction.
This decision-making meeting was chaired jointly by Mirosław Milewski and Brigadier General Florian Siwicki.
From the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 20 officers (all of whom I have already mentioned) took part, as did: – Brigadier General Stefan Stochaj, director of Armaments; and the director responsible for Supply and Technical Services.
The Ministry of Defence sent 19 officers. They included all those I have already mentioned as having taken part in martial law preparations, as well as: – Brigadier General Marian Pasternak, head of the Signal Corps; – Colonel Henryk Święcicki, head of a General Staff directorate; – Colonel Mieczysław Kędzia, head of the Internal Military Service; – Colonel Zdzisław Malina, head of the National Defence Committee (NDC) secretariat.
The PUWP Central Committee was represented by Walerian Namiotkiewicz and Comrade Czyż.
Despite the careful selection of participants, all those present were asked to sign a special confidentiality clause. They were not allowed to set down their ideas and strategies in writing and had to present them from memory. Notes could only be taken by members of the war game secretariat – Colonel Wasiluk and Colonel Jan Czyż on behalf of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Colonel Witt and me on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.
Although in the course of the discussions all those taking part could see that the introduction of martial law in the prevailing circumstances could set off the greatest tragedy in Polish history, the final conclusions from this meeting only hastened such an outcome.
Lieutenant General Tuczapski's proposal for the government to introduce a martial law bill to the Sejm was ultimately rejected. The war gamers reached the conclusion that Solidarity, with its membership of many millions, could only be suppressed if caught by surprise. It was agreed that the best moment to strike would be on a day free from work, with schools and universities closed – preferably a Saturday night.
The so-called Operacja Wiosna (Operation Spring) was seen as the most important element of the crackdown. Its objective was to arrest and intern some 6,000 key activists from Solidarity and independent opposition organizations. It was decided that this would only be effective if carried out six to twelve hours before martial law was officially declared.
During the decision-making war game process, agreement was finally reached as to the respective roles of the army and security forces, and also their combined role in the event of a confrontation with the population.
It was agreed that the security forces alone would deal with the areas surrounding industrial zones, factories and places of higher education. The army was to operate more cautiously, and would be deployed at most as a supporting force in urban areas and to cordon off industrial areas.
This war game ended the second, “spring” phase of martial law planning. Its conclusions were presented to General Jaruzelski on 20 February 1981. The next day, on Saturday the 21st, the chief of the Polish General Staff, Brigadier General Florian Siwicki, informed me that Jaruzelski had accepted the report. The prime minister had introduced only a few minor amendments and wanted the material to be revised as information on “the current preparedness of the state for the implementation of martial law”, which he intended to take to Moscow to show the Soviet leadership during the 26th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
On 3 March the Polish Press Agency PAP noted that “General Wojciech Jaruzelski, member of the Politburo of the Polish United Workers' Party, the prime minister of the Polish People's Republic, the Polish minister of defence and member of the PUWP delegation to the 26th Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR, met with Nikolai Tikhonov, member of the Soviet Politburo and chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, in the Kremlin on the third of this month”. The population would have understood from this dispatch that the two sides had met to discuss matters of cooperation based on the principles of equality and mutual fraternal assistance.
Very few people knew that during the Kremlin meeting Jaruzelski gave not just an outline of his government's policy, but also detailed “information on the current preparedness of the state for the implementation of martial law”. He also assured the Soviets that the Polish leadership, “being aware of the presence of its ally in the background, has chosen this means of defending our country against the forces of counter-revolution”.
K.: From what you have said the Polish leadership was ready for confrontation in the spring of 1981 and the Soviet leadership was fully briefed on the matter. Why, therefore, the new threat of Soviet military confrontation in both March and April of that year? Could you outline the background to these threats and the key facts?
R.J.K.: Your point about the Polish leadership being ready for confrontation in the spring of 1981 is inaccurate. The government did have plans for martial law and the abolition of Solidarity, but believed the time was not right to implement them. Leaving aside other motives Jaruzelski might have had, from a purely pragmatic standpoint he saw no chance of introducing martial law. It is worth remembering that Jaruzelski’s objective was not just to launch the operation, but above all for it to end in victory of the “people's government”. And in the spring of 1981 this was neither realistic nor even possible. The regime had a Ministry of Internal Affairs that was at least partly in a state of flux, an unreliable army, and a handful of hardliners in a communist party that was disintegrating. Against it was ranged not just a trade union with a membership of many millions, but essentially the whole of Polish society who opposed the regime. This balance of forces meant there was no question of the crackdown being successful.
Given the circumstances Jaruzelski continued to assure Moscow – both before 3 March and later – that he was determined to implement martial law. In those endless talks with the Russians (for which I too prepared documentation under the general's guidance) he merely explained that he had to wait for the balance of forces to at least partially swing back in favour of the authorities, for Solidarity’s appeal to erode and for the authorities to regain some measure of support within the population. Referring to the known deficiencies weaknesses [weak points/ failings] within the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the communist party, he also pointed out that the Polish leadership needed time to consolidate forces it could rely on.
In these conversations, as in all contacts with Jaruzelski, the Russians heard only what they wanted to. At the beginning of 1981 all they heard was that Jaruzelski was ready to “defend socialism” by introducing martial law. The fact he had also said that he needed to wait for more favourable circumstances on the ground and in particular for an improvement in the balance of forces in Poland, did not register with them. This was irrelevant to the Russians, as they were prepared to alter that balance at any point by deploying their own divisions or even bringing in Czech and East German ones.
This was the state of play just before General Jaruzelski assumed the post of prime minister. Moscow then communicated to the Poles that starting on 16 March it would conduct an unscheduled major military exercise on Polish territory and around Poland's borders deploying 150,000 troops, including 30,000 directly on Polish soil.
The Polish General Staff was deeply apprehensive, especially as the Russians made no secret of the fact that the exercises were directly connected with the political situation in Poland, and were viewed as a form of internationalist assistance for the Polish communists. The Polish party and government, which since the beginning of the crisis had been pursuing a tactic of not annoying Moscow, accepted the offer of support. We were shortly to learn how the Russians envisaged this assistance.
Shortly before the 8th Congress of the Polish United Workers’ Party during which it was decided to replace the prime minister, a group of 18 Soviet generals from the Unified Command came to Poland (including all Marshal Kulikov’s deputies) to check the Polish army’s preparations for the Soyuz-81 exercise. With permission from the Polish Ministry of Defence they toured all the military regions and branches of service in Poland, often making contact with the Polish forces at divisional and even regimental level. But it turned out the generals were not the least bit interested in the quality of Polish military training or the battlefield capability of Polish troops. They were solely interested in the Polish commanders’ perspective on the counter-revolution. In conversations (often conducted one to one) with high-ranking Polish officers they went as far as to openly incite them to take up arms against their fellow-countrymen.
At the 1st Mechanized Regiment HQ in Wesoła near Warsaw, General Shcheglov (one of the most loathsome exponents of Russian chauvinism) demanded of the Polish commander: “What action will you take if it becomes necessary to drive striking workers out of an industrial plant?”
The nature of the Soyuz-81 exercises came into greater focus when, after 14 February, Russian reconnaissance groups began to appear in Poland. It became clear that training grounds and forests, which were usually scrutinized in such circumstances, were not on the Soviets’ list, while the following were: Warsaw International Airport; Mokotów Television and Radio Centre; Warsaw Steelworks; Żerań FSO Car Manufacturing Plant; Gdańsk Shipyard; and key industrial sites in Elbląg, Szczecin, Poznań, Wrocław, Świdnik and other locations. The Russian generals who came from deep inside the Soviet Union were also interested in forests as possible military concentration points, but not if they were far from towns and large metropolitan areas (as in routine military exercises) – just those in close proximity. For example, one of the chosen concentration points near Warsaw was the Kampinos Forest, and Pyry was another.
During the Russian reconnaissance, while being escorted out of a military facility by a Polish officer dressed in civilian clothes, a Soviet general (also in civilian clothes), shared a concern: “We can deploy troops outside industrial plants, we can blockade them, but then what? How do you force people to work?”
All of this was well known both to Brigadier General Florian Siwicki, the chief of the Polish General Staff and defence minister of the day, and to the new prime minister, Wojciech Jaruzelski. In spite of this they gave permission for the plans of various public buildings to be handed over to the Soviets – buildings earmarked to become Russian command centres in the capital and in other cities.
In recounting these facts I don’t wish for one moment to suggest that Jaruzelski, and particularly Siwicki, were keen to bring Russian reinforcements into Poland. To say so would be untrue. But I will say quite explicitly that to agree to the unscheduled Soyuz-81 exercises in the complicated Polish context of the day while turning a blind eye to the Russian script for these “exercises” was playing with fire, to put it mildly.
I think that both Jaruzelski and Siwicki felt the same, particularly after 16 March when the exercises began. Then on Thursday 19 March, on the third day of the exercises, which its planners saw as a backup for the long-awaited and promised counter-offensive by the Polish authorities, the first serious confrontation between the regime and Solidarity took place in the city of Bydgoszcz.
For the Polish authorities this “reconnaissance by fire” proved disastrous. We all remember how the whole of Poland protested after a meeting of the Voivodship National Council was disrupted and popular opposition activists Jan Rulewski, Mariusz Łabentowicz and Michał Bartoszcze were beaten up by Milewski's hit-squads. Faced with the population’s uncompromising reaction to the provocation Jaruzelski’s government began to retreat, but it was soon evident there was nowhere to go, since Marshal Kulikov with his Red Army were standing right behind them.
So when Jaruzelski’s government began seeking some sort of compromise with Solidarity, which had announced a four-hour warning strike for 27 March and a national strike starting 31 March, the head of operations in the Soviet General Staff took a special flight to [the large Soviet base in] Legnica where he conferred one to one with Marshal Kulikov for four hours. After that meeting Kulikov made it known that the Soyuz-81 military exercises, which under an agreement with the Poles were scheduled to end on 25 March, were to be prolonged indefinitely.
Warsaw Pact exercises had never been extended before. This might have gone unnoticed under more normal circumstances. However, at the end of March 1981 this was very alarming, for two reasons: – first, it gave a pretext to bring a larger number of “fraternal” armies into Poland; and – secondly (and perhaps more importantly), it implied approval for the existence of a command centre for the Polish armed forces that was independent of the Polish General Staff. In particular, it sanctioned an unusual situation for peacetime whereby Brigadier General Eugeniusz Molczyk, known for his subservience towards Moscow, was in charge of the Polish Front – in other words for most of the Polish army and air force.
It is also significant that the ongoing military exercises gave the Soviets a pretext to demand a facility at the Central Command Post for National Air Defence in Pyry (near Warsaw) for a large number of Soviet officers, which in practice enabled them to assume control of the whole of Polish airspace.
It may be the case that generals Jaruzelski and Siwicki remained calm thanks to insider information, but their subordinates were filled with the worst forebodings. I myself received at least three telephone calls at the General Staff from Białobrzegi, where the Polish Front General Staff was stationed. High-ranking officers asked me, “What are you up to in the General Staff?”, “We know why we are being kept posted here. Do those upstairs really not understand what all of this is about?”, “Can you please get this over and done with, we want to get back to work.”
But Moscow had entirely different plans. On 27 March 1981 a Soviet plane landed at the military sector of Warsaw airport. On board were 30 functionaries from the KGB, the Soviet Ministry of Defence, and Gosplan (the Soviet state planning committee). Their mission was to scrutinize the Polish plans for martial law. The military personnel were headed by Marshal Victor Kulikov, and the KGB group by Andropov's first deputy.
After examining our plans the Russians found them lacking, and put forward amendments. In their view martial law had to be introduced to uphold socialism. The Polish constitution should be suspended as soon as martial law was imposed, with all power passing to the military high command. Outside the capital, power was to lie with garrison commanders, and where there were none, authority was to pass to nominated Polish army commanders. Martial law was to be implemented by the army, the security forces and active units of the party. Both before and after the imposition of martial law a concentrated effort was to be made to expose the counter-revolution taking hold of Solidarity, identifying its leaders and any other radical elements and their current whereabouts. Hostile organizations were to be infiltrated and the location of underground radio stations and printing shops established. The Russians also instructed the Poles to intern opposition activists and to conduct summary investigations and trials 14 hours before the crackdown. They maintained that the security forces would need to be deployed alongside the army to crush the counter-revolution and break the strikes. They also stipulated that the Polish General Staff, the commands of all three Polish military districts as well as the commands of the army, navy and air force were to have Soviet advisors.
After their consultation (as they called it), the Soviet specialists in Polish martial law asked for the plans to be revised and resubmitted for review as soon as possible.
To demonstrate to the Soviets that most members of the Polish communist party were keen to seek a compromise with the Polish population, Stanisław Kania convened for Saturday 28 March 1981 the 9th Congress of the PUWP which, as is known, passed a motion expressing the will for dialogue and mutual agreement.
This gave the press served a green light to publish a government commission report on the Bydgoszcz incident, together with a Solidarity commentary. The nation breathed a sigh of relief. But the authorities didn’t, as having engineered a confrontation with the people they now had to fight their Moscow protectors for the right to continue to rule in Poland.
The Russians reacted with anger. They refused to even discuss ending the Soyuz-81 exercises. When asked tentatively why the manoeuvres were still underway their answers were not always diplomatic. For example, General Anatoly Gribkov, chief of staff of the Warsaw Pact forces, responded “The objective of the exercises has not yet been achieved”. Marshal Kulikov was more forthright: “The exercises continue because of counter-revolution in Poland”.
I don’t know what the Soviet marshals said to Stanisław Kania and Wojciech Jaruzelski, as these exchanges were conducted one to one with each of them separately.
On the evening of 3 April, under cover of darkness, a Soviet plane delivered Kania and Jaruzelski to Moscow to see Brezhnev. The conversation was short, as the same military plane took them back to Warsaw early the next morning. What was spoken of I do not know, but I could glean the atmosphere and even something of the substance of the meeting from the activity at the Polish General Staff over the next few days.
On 3 April, just as Kania and Jaruzelski were preparing for the trip, the Russians began a war of nerves with Poland. That day, without alerting the Polish aviation authorities, they flew 32 Mi-6 battle helicopters from Czechoslovakia and 10 military transport planes with unknown cargos to Brzeg in Silesia. In the following days the helicopters flew combat missions in the vicinity of the city of Toruń and in other parts of Poland. Apart from the possible terrorist implications of this activity, it created grave danger in Polish airspace, as there was no liaison at all between the Soviet pilots and Polish air traffic control.
When General Siwicki quizzed the Russians about these flights, he received a range of answers. The commander of the southern group of the Russian army informed him that these were routine air exercises. Meanwhile, General Gribkov (chief of staff of the Warsaw Pact Unified Forces), explained that it was down to the normal rotation of Soviet air force units combined with the delivery of food supplies, which they could no longer rely on obtaining from Polish sources.
On 7 April, while attending a congress of the Czechoslovak communist party, Brezhnev took the decision to end the Soyuz-81 exercises. Although these did formally stop, the military terrorization of Poland did not.
On 8 April, without alerting the Polish Ministry of Defence command or air traffic control, a further contingent of 19 Soviet Antonov-12 transport planes landed at [the Soviet air base at] Brzeg near Opole, followed the next day by a further 14 Antonov-12s and 4 Ilyushin-76s.
At the same time, Soviet assault helicopters shuttled between Legnica and Toruń, while individual military transports landed at the airbase in Mińsk Mazowiecki.
During these displays of “brotherhood in arms”, on 8 April a group of Soviet officers from the Warsaw Pact Unified Command, headed by Marshal Kulikov, arrived in Warsaw to check that the Poles had revised their martial law plans as instructed. Kulikov engaged with the party leadership and military top brass, while the rest of the group studied the detailed martial law plans at the General Staff.
While reviewing the plans, General Gribkov selected 20 principal planning documents and requested Russian translations be madeand copies handed over, which was of course duly done. On the whole the plans were accepted, even though they did not incorporate all the amendments put forward by the Soviet “consultants”. The Russians demanded, however, that all the documentation be signed by the Polish side, including the proposed decrees and resolutions prepared by the Council of State, so that the plans could be implemented at any time and at short notice.
On 8 April Kulikov and Gribkov left Poland. An unspecified group of operational officers from the Soviet General Staff stayed behind at the Russian signal unit in Rembertów near Warsaw. Meanwhile, an operations group of the Warsaw Pact Unified Armed Forces General Staff comprising 47 senior Soviet army functionaries was moved to [the Soviet base in] Legnica, together with the martial law planning documentation that had been passed to the Russians.
While working at the General Staff on martial law documents on the night of 9–10 April, I was notified just after midnight that the Russians had informed Polish air control that thirty-five Antonov-12 and twelve Ilyushin-76 transport planes would be flying into Poland from Riga, Vilnius and Lviv between 3 and 5 a.m. In addition we were told that eleven Mi-6 helicopters would be operational on the Brzeg–Toruń route. The involvement of so many heavy transport planes was tantamount to establishing three air bridges into Poland. Fortunately, on the morning of 10 April Moscow suspended the flights, though it never cancelled them altogether.
After this overture, on 10 April Kulikov and his deputy Admiral Michaylin (responsible for the allied fleets) arrived in the Świnoujście region of Poland to arrange a meeting with Jaruzelski. He was informed that the general was with Kania, and a meeting would not be possible before 13 April. Jaruzelski wished to avoid a meeting with Kulikov, as the Russian side was still pressing for a firm date for the introduction of martial law. However, the meeting was scheduled for 13 April, and while preparing for it Jaruzelski visited the Polish General Staff, where in the company of its top leadership he examined the plans that were being drawn up. After scrutinizing the main documents he became even more despondent. He said bluntly, “In the darkest recesses of my mind I cannot imagine our doing this. I would not wish to still be prime minister when these documents have to be signed off. But we’re in a position where three pummeled noses in Bydgoszcz have brought us to the edge of a precipice.”
In further fragmentary comments Jaruzelski was critical of the two Solidarity activists, Rulewski in Bydgoszcz and Bujak in Warsaw. He said their behaviour “was typical for exponents of social-fascism”. He advocated a possible halfway house between mass internment of the opposition and a policy of brief, selective detention and arrest of the most radical activists. His further reflections on this were interrupted by the evening news broadcast, which he was keen to watch. That day the commentary was relatively benevolent towards him, as both Polish and foreign commentators (only the Western ones, of course) had essentially reacted well to his speech in the Sejm the previous day. He was evidently bolstered by this and after watching the whole news programme he left the General Staff. At his meeting with Kulikov on 13 April he resolutely refused to commit to a date for implementing martial law or signing the relevant documentation.
The threat of Soviet armed intervention slowly receded in mid-April, but it probably never really ended. The extensive Soviet command structures installed in Poland for the Soyuz-81 military exercises remained in place.
After the well-known Solidarity announcements about the appearance here and there of Soviet units and equipment, a group of senior officers from the General Staff decided to make their own enquiries. Their findings were sometimes shocking and even bizarre. The commander of the Polish 3rd Mechanized Division reported a group of Russian soldiers with signals equipment in the vicinity of Radawiec airport near Lublin, whose commander had contacted the Poles asking for food. On the major’s own admission, his unit had been transferred into Poland to secure a Soviet army airdrop of unknown content expected within three days. As their provisions had run out, the major was forced to seek assistance from the Lublin garrison commander.
These discreet, unofficial Polish investigations into Soviet presence corroborated all the Solidarity reports that pinpointed where personnel and equipment had been deployed.
The head of the General Staff could not believe this was happening. He even ordered me to help Divisional General Michał Stryga, the government official charged with looking after Soviet military affairs in Poland, to prepare a television broadcast in which the general was to rebut the rumours that were circulating. Meanwhile, official field reports sent in by Polish army units were confirming the Soviet activity, so the broadcast had to be cancelled as no one wanted another embarrassment for the Polish authorities. But General Siwicki was still reluctant to accept the fact, so he turned to the chief of staff of the Northern Group of Forces of the Soviet Army for an explanation. The response came in an encrypted cable which stated that signal units had indeed been deployed in Poland during the Soyuz-81 exercises, and remained in place to train a recent intake of young Russian soldiers. Eighteen facilities were identified in the cable. Of course this was not a complete list, but the Polish side dropped the issue.
K.: It would be interesting to know your views on why, having deployed a command system and so much military manpower on Polish territory, the Soviets failed to take decisive steps in spring? But I’d like to ask you two questions beforehand. First, was the Polish army, and Jaruzelski himself in particular, personally involved in the Bydgoszcz provocation?
R.J.K.: It’s hard for me to say to what degree General Jaruzelski – as prime minister and minister of defence – was personally involved. Beyond any doubt, however, I can say that he and Chief of Staff General Siwicki were kept informed of the events unfolding at the Voivodship National Council in Bydgoszcz. I also know that on the evening of 19 March Lech Wałęsa tried to call Jaruzelski, but was told the prime minister was not in his office. This was untrue, but Jaruzelski’s aides were acting on his instructions. I also know that the Special Propaganda Section of the Main Political Directorate of the Polish army – under the personal supervision of Brigadier General Tadeusz Szaciło and of the political directorate’s head, Divisional General Józef Baryła – prepared leaflets in which Jan Rulewski’s injuries were explained as self-inflicted. On Siwicki's orders these leaflets were subsequently dropped over Bydgoszcz from a military airplane.
K.: …. and secondly, when exactly did the Russians start being involved in the planning of martial law in Poland and what was the role played by Kulikov and his general staff in Legnica?
R.J.K.: In the Ministry of Defence, planning for martial law was undertaken solely by Poles. The Russians joined the process at the end of March 1981, and then only in the capacity of supervisory “consultants”. At an executive level, their participation was limited to issuing general recommendations on 27 March 1981, and then on 8 April 1981 verifying that these had been incorporated. After 8 April, that is after examining the revisions to the plans and confirming that their principal recommendations had indeed been incorporated, they took a copy of the plans to Legnica. From that point on, their role was solely to exert pressure on Jaruzelski and Siwicki to sign off the plans, so that they could be implemented at short notice.
As far as I can judge from my professional dealings with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Russian involvement in that ministry started much sooner and their contribution to martial law planning was much more extensive. I would like to believe that the details of all of this, especially the Russian involvement in compiling the list of those to be interned, will in time see the light of day.
As to the role of Marshal Kulikov and his general staff at the base in Legnica, this was the second instance (after the Czechoslovakia crisis of 1968) when the supreme commander of the Warsaw Pact Unified Armed Forces proved a key figure in resolving the internal problems of a member country.
Almost from the beginning when strikes began on the Baltic coast in 1980, Kulikov led the preparation for military action against Poland (by the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries). In the first phase of the crisis, that is until spring 1981, he worked out of the Soviet General Staff in Moscow. From the spring of 1981 he moved his headquarters to Legnica. The core of his general staff at the Soviet base was Russian – Soviet officers charged with orchestrating the Soyuz-81 military exercises. After the end of these manoeuvres his general staff was divided into two parts, with 47 high-ranking officers retained in Legnica and the rest sent back to Moscow.
On 18 April 1981 Kulikov called a briefing in the Warsaw Pact General Staff HQ in Moscow, with 60–80 officers in attendance. He informed them that in response to a request from the Polish government they would be going to Poland to assist the Polish communists. This group of Soviet and other Warsaw Pact officers was sent to Legnica on 24 and 25 April.
From 25 April, between 107 and 130 high-ranking Soviet officers were permanently based at Kulikov’s headquarters in Legnica. This group was at least twice the size of the one deployed by Marshal Yakubovsky prior to and during the Czech invasion of 1968. Kulikov's officers were totally cut off from the outside world and had no access to the Polish media, including Polish communist party and military publications.
Kulikov's general staff was in possession of one complete set of martial law planning documentation and was engaged in drafting additional contingency plans for the use of Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces in case of need.
The Russian members of the general staff headquartered in Legnica – in cooperation with the Warsaw Pact representative attached to the Polish army (which was based in ulica Krzywickiego in Warsaw) – conducted a daily analysis of the socio-political situation in Poland and reported this to the Kremlin.
The only noticeable difference between the role of the supreme commander of the Warsaw Pact armed forces in 1968 and 1981 was that Marshal Yakubovsky had concerned himself exclusively with the military preparations for, and implementation of, the 1968 invasion. Political exchange with the Czech leadership was conducted solely by Brezhnev and his immediate circle.
During the Polish crisis of 1980–81 Marshal Kulikov, apart from being engaged in military affairs, also took charge of direct exchange with the Polish communist leadership. Brezhnev's contacts with Kania and Jaruzelski were few and far between, and Kulikov was the only person who tormented them day to day. As the crisis abated Kulikov became far more selective about who he would talk with. He boasted, for instance, that he had thrown Kania out of the palace on ulica Sulkiewicza in Warsaw where he occasionally stayed, as Kania had arrived too late and under the influence of alcohol. The intoxication may well have been a figment of the angry marshal's imagination. But it is a historical fact that Kania was asked to leave Kulikov’s residence because he kept to the Polish party line as defined by the 9th Extraordinary Congress of the Polish United Worker's Party, and because he opposed the use of force.
K.: To close our discussion of events that spring, I'd like to know what circumstances – to your mind – stopped the Soviets for a second time from military intervention in Poland? Was it again the reaction of the West based on your classified information or did other considerations come into play?
R.J.K.: I think that much the same reasons applied in spring 1981 as in December 1980. On the one hand the very strong diplomatic offensive mounted by the new American administration under Reagan and by the majority of West European countries played a part. On the other hand the Russians themselves were apprehensive about how the Polish nation, and indeed the army, would react to the use of force.
The Russians had control over the upper echelons of the Polish army but were justifiably apprehensive about the middle and lower ranks. At the time, Polish society was ill-informed about the mood in the army, but the Russians gauged it well. After the autumn 1980 conscription, almost a third of the Polish army was made up of young individuals who had either belonged to Solidarity or had participated in the various protest actions organized by the trade union. After the spring conscription the following year that proportion rose to approximately half, and that wasn't the end of Russian worries. What may have disturbed them even more was that Solidarity ideas had taken hold within a very considerable part of the Polish officer corps. Even some communist party cells within the army were supporting Solidarity, directly or otherwise. To give an example, the communist party cell in the Operations Directorate of the General Staff had condemned the “Bydgoszcz provocation”, and specifically the Main Political Directorate of the Polish army that had been directly involved. The Russians could detect dozens of similar incidences of solidarity with Solidarity more or less everywhere within the Polish armed forces.
In this context – in view of the very firm position adopted by West as well as the nationwide condemnation of the use of force following the Bydgoszcz provocation, which even a large part of the Polish People’s Army took part in – the regime’s and especially Jaruzelski's offer to introduce martial law unaided convinced the Russians that this was a better alternative to setting Poland ablaze, as that would be hard to quell and the cost could prove too high for the USSR.
K.: From what you have said so far, General Jaruzelski and Stanisław Kania promised the Russians that they would introduce martial law, but clearly they did what they could to postpone that moment or perhaps even to get out of it altogether. When do you think they crossed the point of no return and started thinking in earnest about doing what was done on 13 December 1981?
R.J.K.: There was no change in Stanisław Kania’s standpoint from the moment he was confirmed as first secretary of the communist party until his forced resignation at its 4th plenary session. Though Kania had acceded to Russian demands for the use of force, in reality he only was only prepared to fight using political means. Conceivably, if indeed the delusional Soviet view about counter-revolution in Poland were true, in the sense that someone was seeking to overthrow the government by force, Kania would have rubber-stamped even martial law. He saw no such danger, and he opposed martial law for as long as he could.
After the 9th Congress of the PUWP during which Kania was democratically elected the party’s leader, his reluctance to use force hardened into decisive opposition.
As for General Jaruzelski's position, given the immense pressure from the Soviet side in concert with its Polish home-grown allies, combined with the pressure of social tensions in Poland, he was clearly leaning towards a solution based on the use of force even before the “more favourable circumstances” he was waiting for came about. By mid-June 1981 his mind was almost set. This could best be gauged by what he said at a National Defence Committee meeting on 19 June 1981: “We must adjust the scripted schedule for the introduction of martial law. We lack the resources to execute Operation Spring at this time. It is quite probable that martial law will be introduced on the sixth or seventh day of continued or escalating disruption, strikes or social unrest. One should consider the possibility of action in discrete regions of the country, and also the selective introduction of planned measures.”
From about that time, with a brief pause before and after the 9th Extraordinary Congress of the PUWP, Jaruzelski was progressively distancing himself from Kania's political line. The critical moment came at the beginning of September. Even though the political situation had become very complex following Solidarity’s demand for access to the mass media, Kania continued to oppose the prime minister and general’s forceful demands for the imposition of martial law. I know from an impeccable source that Kania said directly to Jaruzelski, “I gave my word that we would not use force at the 6th and 9th plenary sessions of the party’s Central Committee and again at the Extraordinary Congress, and I must keep my word.”
In response to this Jaruzelski convened a National Defence Committee meeting for 13 September and invited Stanisław Kania, to pressurize him into agreeing to the long-planned assault.
Jaruzelski scripted the event meticulously. One of his preparatory moves was to call a special consultation between the leaderships of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the General Staff to formulate a common tactical approach at the NDC meeting. This was held at the Polish General Staff’s offices in the evening of 10 September with the following participants: from the Ministry of Internal Affairs – Divisional General Czesław Kiszczak and Divisional General Bogusław Stachura; from the Ministry of Defence – Chief of General Staff Brigadier General Florian Siwicki and all four of his deputies, divisional generals Tadeusz Hupałowski, Jerzy Skalski, and Antoni Jasiński, and Brigadier General Mieczysław Dachowski.
After that fruitful discussion, during the extraordinary NDC meeting on the 13th attended by Kania the army and Ministry of Internal Affairs jointly recommended the immediate introduction of martial law.
General Kiszczak offered “devastating evidence” of Solidarity’s counter-revolutionary drive to change the political order in Poland. He spoke of Solidarity allegedly having a secret plan to take over the mass media, and claimed the trade union had a mole at the very centre of martial law planning. By way of proof he pointed out that a considerable number of Solidarity activists knew the martial law plans in detail, including the plans for internment, the names of those marked down for arrest, and even the codename for the operation. In the latter part of his speech Kiszczak reported his ministry’s complete state of readiness for the introduction of martial law, and ended by requesting consent for its introduction.
General Siwicki began by saying, and I quote him word for word: “The Polish General Staff shares Comrade Divisional General Czesław Kiszczak’s assessment of our opponent’s intentions – they showed their hand during Solidarity’s first congress. We agree that the current test of strength being forced through by the radicals cannot be met solely with political means, as these alone will not stop the adverse chain of events leading towards a counter-revolutionary change of our socio-political system, and to the assumption of power by forces hostile to socialism.
From the start of the conflict we have firmly believed that the introduction of martial law should be seen as a last resort. We therefore view with increasing alarm the current confrontation – prepared on a huge scale by Solidarity extremists – over access to the mass media, and also their embrace of anarcho-syndicalist ideas for workers' self-management, which bring the implementation of this last resort dangerously near.”
Following from the above assessment – and in line with General Jaruzelski's brief – General Siwicki presented the NDC with two alternative courses of action.
The first option: “In the event of Solidarity announcing its readiness for general strike action or strike action limited to the press, radio and television, the latter probably in concert with existing forms of local or regional protest”, General Siwicki proposed that “the level of military alert should begin to be raised for the army and the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ security forces, and certain central and local administrative centres should be at the ready. Such measures will serve as a display of the official resolve to counter disruption.”
In discussing this option Siwicki added that “Determined and demonstrably open preparations to defend state security might cause the extremists to pull back, or else offer temporary respite from the pressure they are applying, thus enabling the authorities to start seeking acceptable solutions without recourse to physical confrontation.
This option offers only a limited chance of overcoming the impasse without the use of force. Its greatest weakness lies in abandoning the element of surprise.”
The Polish army chief of staff went on to say: “From the point of view of the effectiveness of the organs of state and security forces responsible for executing the provisions of martial law, and especially for carrying out important special operations, prior disclosure of preparations is inadvisable. That is why the second option, which the General Staff and the Ministry of Internal Affairs regard as fundamental, assumes: – first, that preparations are carried out in total secrecy; and – secondly, that we can choose such timing for the imposition of martial law as will achieve maximum surprise, which is essential not only for the success of operations, but also to throw the population into a state of shock.”
In the ensuing discussion about the second option, General Siwicki also informed the NDC that “analysis of the martial law planning and operational documentation, which is constantly being updated, allows me to report that from an organizational point of view we now need very little time to introduce this particular measure for the defence of the state.”
Concluding, General Siwicki said: “Martial law is an unusually difficult and complex operation. The very fact that the authorities are reaching for this means of defence may give rise to many as yet unforeseeable reactions within society. As always in such exceptional circumstances, the use of arms is an issue. But we have reason to believe that those who might engage in active opposition to the authorities are the extremist minority, while the majority of the population, who are enduring the serious hardships that have now become our day-to-day reality, will show restraint and ultimately support the government. Moreover, we must bear in mind that we are not alone. Should events take a turn for the worse, we can always count on support from our steadfast friends. This makes for the need to strengthen our alliances with the USSR and the other Warsaw Pact countries. However, the view within the General Staff is that we have a strong chance of resolving our problems ourselves. To achieve this it is necessary to undertake decisive and well synchronized action using all available forces.”
Lieutenant General Tadeusz Tuczapski, the deputy defence minister and secretary of the NDC, presented the legal provisions of martial law (99% identical to those announced to the nation on 13 December 1981) to the committee for review.
Essentially, all the members of the NDC spoke for the introduction of martial law.
Stanisław Kania was taken aback by the course the meeting took. Without questioning the inevitability of martial law, he nevertheless stated: “Confrontation with the class enemy is inescapable. This requires combat by political means, with recourse to repression only when and if those fail.”
From 13 September 1981, only Kania stood in the way of the final political decision on the implementation of martial law. Removal of this obstacle did not prove difficult. Hounded by Moscow, which since the conclusion of the party’s 9th Extraordinary Congress completely ignored him, he was forced to make way for the one person who in the eyes of Moscow represented a last hope. As is known, Kania's formal resignation from the post of party first secretary occurred on 18 October 1981 at the 4th plenary session of the PUWP Central Committee. In practice, however, he lost power on 13 September 1981 when he opposed the use of force against Solidarity.
Although no final decision had been taken at the NDC meeting that Kania attended on 13 September, on the 14th Jaruzelski ordered the General Staff, in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to begin the detailed planning for three additional martial law contingencies: – first, countermeasures in the event of the threat of sit-ins; – secondly, countermeasures in the event of prolonged sit-ins; and – thirdly, the introduction of martial law in stages (“creeping martial law”).
At the same time the Ministry of Defence was restructured on a war footing. Within the new structure, the Operational Command of the General Staff was to be the principal centre running the country for the duration of martial law. The command was reinforced with officers from other departments of the Ministry of Defence and key functionaries from the “civilian ministries”, and two groups were formed, with responsibility for: – planning, to be headed by me (Ryszard Kukliński); and – command, under the leadership of Colonel Franciszek Puchała.
From the end of September new facilities were being prepared and fitted with special communications equipment for directing operations during martial law.
The modest offices of the group I was heading became crowded, the atmosphere nervous. The operational group which had been on duty since the strikes broke out on the Baltic coast in 1980 was supplemented by additional officers from the Ministry of Defence and functionaries from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The door to my own office, where all the various planning streams converged, was rarely shut. Throughout nearly a year of martial law planning I had got used to putting ideas on paper, but in September those same ideas, when applied to actual units of personnel, assumed a human dimension. I felt unease when listening to the representative from the party’s Central Committee Propaganda Department outlining his vision of the country stripped of certain newspapers and magazines, publications I read and even valued. Or when he began to mention by name commentators and journalists I liked to listen to and read, who were soon to be silenced. Apprehension deepened when I heard the names of the opportunistic mediocrities who were to be substituted for my favourite journalistic voices. I felt no better, indeed worse, in my working contacts with representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and in particular with one of its directors, Colonel Bronisław Pawlikowski, who dreamed of a “night of long knives”, a bloody showdown with a number of Solidarity activists. Although I knew that his arm was too short to reach all the people he hated so much, I was still uneasy and concerned that the internment process was to be the sole remit of Pawlikowski’s ministry.
In spite of Kania's opposition, preparations for what would happen on 13 December were already under full steam from mid-September. In October and November the centre of gravity moved across to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and to the PUWP’s Central Committee Propaganda Department, which were to prepare justification for the use of force that was robust enough to convince the general public. Jaruzelski was well aware that in Poland – for historical reasons – anyone using force against society would always be condemned, so at that point it would have been crucial for him to create some sort of an alibi for himself.
Because it was proving impossible to fabricate evidence about a counter-revolution supposedly steered by the West, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Central Committee propaganda machine mobilized their energies to portray Solidarity as a movement being pushed into confrontation by its leadership and even as a corrosive social force, whereas the authorities were the protectors of the state and of its citizens.
At the end of October Poland experienced a surge of strikes. One in particular, a warning hour-long general strike on 28 October, was to have a decisive effect on the further course of events. On that day I was in Budapest attending the Military Council of the United Forces of the Warsaw Pact, and could witness how at least half the council members present, including all the Russians and Poles, were following the strike and its outcome. That very evening we received official news that the strike had failed. According to an assessment made by the Polish General Staff and initial calculations, the strike enjoyed only 40% support from Solidarity members; over half of the workers up and down Poland believed the strike was unjustified and did not participate. This was the best news that Kulikov had received for several months.
When on 31 October our delegation (headed by General Molczyk) landed at the military airport in Warsaw’s Okęcie I heard one of the highest-ranking members of Poland's military who was greeting us say the words I had feared since 13 September: “The decision has been made. The ‘top man’ (i.e. Jaruzelski) is at this moment agreeing with our allies the precise timing and details of the operation.”
On 2 November, at around 2.00 pm, I was called to present myself at the office of Divisional General Jerzy Skalski, deputy chief of the Polish General Staff, who supervised martial law planning through the General Staff Operational Command.
With me were the chief of the General Staff Operational Command, General Wacław Szklarski, and his two deputies, Colonel Czesław Witt and Colonel Franciszek Puchała. In the gravest of tones General Skalski informed all those present that there had been two extremely important developments that would have a decisive influence on our planning.
The first was that Jaruzelski had received a formal ultimatum from a group of prominent PUWP secretaries from Warsaw and the regions, who threatened to take matters into their own hands if there was further delay in launching the operation. The second was information from a reliable source that the Americans were in possession of our most recent martial law plans including the legal provisions for its implementation. The ultimatum made little impression, as Moscow had been making use of its “Targowica”-style Polish collaborators since December 1980, and, anyway, this would hardly affect the decisions already undertaken. None of us even asked for the names of its signatories, as we could all guess that they included Stefan Olszowski, Stanisław Kociołek (co-architect of the December 1970 Baltic coast massacre), the hardliner Tadeusz Grabski, and from the army Brigadier General Eugeniusz Molczyk, Brigadier General Włodzimierz Sawczuk, Divisional General Tadeusz Krepski and a few others.
However, the news that our secrets had leaked to the West and that Solidarity could be forewarned at any time paralyzed all those present. A dramatic exchange ensued. All of us spoke in turn – General Szklarski, Colonel Puchała, Colonel Witt all emphatically stated that they had nothing to do with it and were willing to place themselves at the disposal of the security services. The last to speak, Colonel Witt, reiterated his long-held view that all Solidarity’s actions to date indicate that it has a clandestine ally at the very centre of power.
By the time all the heads in the room turned towards me to hear what I had to say, I had managed to compose myself and decided to support Witt's argument, to confirm that I was of similar mind to the others, and to present my standpoint. So I began by saying that I fully endorsed what my predecessor had just said, that I was at the disposal of the authorities and willing to subject myself to any investigation ... As I gathered my thoughts before continuing, General Skalski interrupted, saying that he was not leading an investigation, for that was the business of the security services, and that the list of possible suspects was not confined to the four of us. He then suggested that we should instead consider how best to organize the work at hand, given the challenges before us. Opening the matter for discussion, he presented the conclusions General Jaruzelski and General Siwicki had drawn from current developments.
Their first conclusion: given the ultimatum there was now no turning back from martial law, which had to be introduced before Moscow's men had a chance to step in and take over.
Conclusion number two: given that our plans were now known in the West, we should be prepared for things to become far more difficult. We could be sure that if Solidarity was forewarned it would adopt defensive measures – a general strike combined with a call to its membership to barricade themselves in their factories and plants. If we allowed this to happen our forces might not be sufficient to deal with the situation, and others would have to come to our assistance. To avoid this we had to be ready to pre-empt any move by Solidarity.
Between 2 and 7 November developments in the Polish General Staff proceeded along the lines of the Ministry of Defence briefing given us by General Skalski. With all this going on, the day on which the Polish People’s Army celebrated the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution turned out to be my last day of service in its ranks.
K.: It is understandable that with your life in serious danger and the possibility of repressive measures against your closest family, you decided to leave Poland. Could you explain how this happened?
R.J.K.: The danger I was in did not come about suddenly or unexpectedly in early November. Still, I had never seriously thought of leaving my country. Even after 13 September, when the security services began their energetic search in my milieu for the source of the leaks to Solidarity, I remained in place. Because the leaked internment operation codename Wiosna narrowed the list of suspects, I knew I could be arrested at any time. But I simply limited my reaction to writing a form of political testament. At that point I felt I was still needed. Between 2 and 7 November I increasingly lost that conviction.
On the morning of 7 November I took part in a routine briefing at the General Staff. General Siwicki had nothing new to say, which only reinforced my view that martial law could no longer be prevented.
I left the small conference room about midday and began to organize my thoughts. What now? The driver sped my Volga down ulica Rakowiecka, taking the usual route along Puławska, Aleja 1 Armii Wojska Polskiego, Trasa Łazienkowska and the Wisłostrada to our apartment in the New Town. “No need to hurry today”, I said to him, asking him to drive slowly. For the first time in over a year I began to take in the people walking in the streets, the architecture, even the trees of my city.
As we drove past the Royal Castle I remembered a minor incident when I had unwittingly irritated General Jaruzelski. It was in 1979, during preparations for a meeting we were hosting of the defence ministers of the Warsaw Pact countries. The general asked me what attractions the East Germans had shown members of the [Defence Ministers’] committee when last in Berlin, and what I thought we could show them in Warsaw. I replied that the Germans had taken us to see their glass Palace of Culture and Recreation [Palace of the Republic], as they still felt uncomfortable with Bismarck’s legacy. But I said I believed we really had something worth showing, something very appropriate given what was to be discussed at the Warsaw Pact gathering. Visibly intrigued, he asked what I was referring to. The Royal Castle, I replied. At that point the general's face changed instantly, as if I had committed a serious faux pas. He stiffened and walked away without a word. I followed him, saying I knew the castle hadn't been fully rebuilt, but that it was nevertheless very impressive even in its unfinished state, and I knew that because I walked past it regularly … Right now this excellent illustration of our history … I was unable to finish the sentence, as the general would have none of it. In his view, showing the Royal Castle to the Russians at a time when they were demanding that Poland and the other Warsaw Pact countries surrender the last vestiges of control over their armed forces would be seen as a provocation. Just as today Solidarity represented a provocation to the USSR and therefore had to be destroyed.
When we drove off the Wisostrada into ulica Sanguszki my congenial soldier–chauffeur, whom I treasured as I would my own son, asked when he should next pick me up to take me to work. “Tomorrow go straight to the General Staff car park, the car may be needed by other officers in our unit”, I replied. “The same on Monday ... I'll ring you if I need you”, I added. As we passed ulica Przyrynek, I noticed, not for the first time, two young men who turned away as we passed. Similarly at the end of ulica Rajców next to the presbytery of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, some 50 metres from my home. They had been there day and night for almost a week. I knew full well that they were not Solidarity extremists, who – according to the official warnings of my superiors – intended to kidnap the families of important army people in order to blackmail the authorities into a milder form of martial law, or even to block it altogether. I also knew perfectly well that the men in question were not there to offer my family protection against such an eventuality, as that task had been given to the army, while these men were in civilian clothes. I could assume that I had been staked out.
I didn't believe that I would be arrested immediately, or even over the next few days. The secret police would first have to gain key evidence for an investigation: my presumed conspiratorial contacts, my connections within the Polish, Soviet and other Warsaw Pact armed forces, and my possible links in the communist party, the opposition, Solidarity, and so on. In spite of this, the situation was serious and my calculations could be mistaken. So I began by tidying up in the house, where apart from a sizeable library that included underground publications I also had a considerable collection of highly classified material connected with the unequal relationship between the Polish and Soviet armies within the Warsaw Pact, and all the documentation connected to martial law planning. Clearly all of this could qualify as espionage material.
At this point I should make one thing clear. I never questioned the purpose of Poland being a member of the Warsaw Pact as an equal partner. I did, however, disagree with everything that transformed the organization into an instrument of Soviet expansionism, that denied member states sovereign control over their own armed forces and their own defence, and that ultimately supplied the basis for Soviet interference in Poland's internal affairs. Given that my opinions met with negative reactions among my superiors, from a certain point I began to collect copies of the minutes of almost all Warsaw Pact meetings, along with resolutions and records of the organization’s decisions from the time it was formed up to the autumn of 1981. My collection also included documents expressing the position of the People's Republic of Poland on all Warsaw Pact matters.
In November 1980 I began collecting all documentation and material relating to martial law. I also had a valuable collection of material concerning Poland's participation in the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the role of the Polish army in the tragic December events of 1970 on the Baltic coast, the repression of religious practice in the armed forces, and personal notes taken at secret talks and negotiations between the Polish Ministry of Defence and the Russians.
I treated all this material as a sort of extension of the diary that I had I kept, with only a few days missed, from August 1968. My notes were written at night, in the hope that a time would come for them to see the light of day. I spent 4, 5, and 6 November selectively burning my personal papers – photographs, letters, telephone numbers and addresses, anything that might implicate innocent people even in the slightest way. On 7 November, just after I returned home, I began to burn my valuable archive. My apartment was full of smoke, the chimney flue was choking. To avoid suffocation I had occasionally to open the windows, but the escaping smoke drew the attention of the surveillance people circulating around the house. They could force entry at any time.
Increasingly I began to realize that I was destroying copies of historically crucial documents whose originals would probably never be made known. If I were arrested nothing could either harm or help me, so I decided to take the rest of the documents that were still intact and leave the country. I think it is too early for me to say how this happened. But I believe that even this story will be told one day.
K.: You mentioned your disapproval of everything that turned the Warsaw Pact into an instrument of Soviet domination over Poland. Could you comment on the nature of Polish subordination to the Soviet military leadership? Was this a relationship based on following orders, or was Jaruzelski in a position to counter Warsaw Pact decisions, or at least initiate discussion over policy.
R.J.K.: Well, first and foremost, I'd like to dispel the common myth both in the East and the West that membership of the Warsaw Pact automatically removes the sovereign right of a member state to decide its fate, including the right to determine national defence policy. This is quite simply a misunderstanding, as neither the 1955 founding charter of the Warsaw Pact (whose provisions are in the public realm) nor its secret clauses negate these rights. For instance, the Romanian People's Republic not only pursues policies independent of the Soviet Union, but also retains complete autonomy in terms of its defence policy. Romania does not advance two separate truths, one for its army and its population, the other for the socialist community of nations under the leadership of the Soviet Union, as happens in the People's Republic of Poland.
The Romanian constitution states – without the slightest ambiguity or understatement – that in times of both peace and war, the responsibility for the defence of the country lies with its own military authorities. And the Romanian leadership has never departed from the principle. Despite considerable pressure applied to the country by the Warsaw Pact, Romania has never signed a bilateral or multilateral agreement that might undermine its constitutional guarantees. As a result, though a member of the Warsaw Pact with the same geo-strategic determinants as Poland, Romania has remained master of its armed forces and defence potential.
The position of the Polish People’s Republic, whose leadership from the late 1960s began to progressively limit the country's sovereign right to control its own armed forces and defence policy, is highly complex, although not necessarily hopeless under all circumstances and in all instances.
The situation does, however, become hopeless with the threat of war or during a war, because – in line with the “Statute of the Combined Armed Forces and Command Structures in Time of War” that Poland signed up to at the turn of 1979/1980 – under such circumstances the defence of Poland and its armed forces becomes the responsibility of a “Single Supreme High Command”. The Polish People's Republic voluntarily agreed to that role being passed, unconditionally, to the high command of the Soviet armed forces, with the Soviet General Staff as its sole operational executive. The Polish side even agreed that there would be no Polish representation within these structures, not even liaison staff.
In the event of war the Soviet military leadership was to command the Polish army through its own subordinate military structures, as follows:
– the Polish Front, in other words Poland's entire land forces and air force, were to be directly subordinated to the Soviet high command in the Western theatre of wartime operations;
– the whole of the Polish navy including its land-based command facilities were to come under the direction of the commander of the USSR’s Baltic Fleet, who during a military threat or war assumes command, and whose staff become the staff of the so-called United Baltic Fleet of the Warsaw Pact countries.
Even Polish air defence, regarded from the moment it was created as the key instrument in the defence of Polish territory, would be commanded not by the national military leadership but by the Soviets. A curious detail of these arrangements was establishing the right of the Soviets to use Polish air defence units outside the territory of Poland.
All in all, in the event of a military threat and war, up to 90% of the Polish armed forces would be placed directly under Russian military command. Basically, all that would be left under Polish national political and military leadership would be a few logistical units, several companies of engineers to facilitate the passage of Soviet forces across Polish territory and military facilities where reserves would be trained to replace combat losses. All Soviet orders and directives were to be issued directly to the Polish army units, bypassing Polish command structures. In practice this would give the USSR unlimited freedom to use the Polish armed forces with no reference to or previous consultation with the Polish authorities. Polish soldiers under Russian command were not guaranteed national legal jurisdiction, i.e. Polish courts martial. Even party matters were to be coordinated not by the PUWP Central Committee, but by the political department of the Soviet high command in the Western theatre of wartime operations.
The role of the Polish military leadership would have been reduced to the organization of comprehensive supplies for Polish forces fighting under Russian command, the training of reservists, and the provision of replacements for losses in combat.
All these provisions, given their very sensitive nature, were top secret. No one in the Polish army other than the highest-ranking Defence Ministry officials has the faintest idea of them. Even the army, navy and air force commanders, and the regional commanders are only selectively in the know, and then only in matters directly concerning them.
In peacetime, Soviet command over the national Warsaw Pact armies was hidden under the umbrella name of the Unified Command of the United Armed Forces. This command is organized in such a way that all command positions are filled by Russian officers: from the commander-in-chief, the chief of the General Staff, deputies to the commander-in-chief for air defence, the air forces, the fleet, technical units, reserves, down through the ranks all the way to a department chief at the General Staff and at the United Armed Forces technical committee. Officers of the other Warsaw Pact armies, irrespective of their nominal posts, are engaged solely in communication and liaison with their national armies.
In peacetime, the Unified Command of the United Armed Forces of the Warsaw Pact, being in fact a subsidiary branch of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces, has – officially, at least – much less authority than at a time of military threat or war.
With certain quite important exceptions concerning national air defence and the procedures for moving the Polish armed forces on to a war footing, the Unified Command has no formal right to lead or command the Polish army above the heads of the Polish minister of defence or the chief of staff. All Unified Command directives, orders or recommendations may be sent only to the Polish minister of defence or to the chief of staff, and only after being suitably revised by the Polish Ministry of Defence can they make their way down the military hierarchy as orders from that ministry. As a rule, before being signed off by the commander-in-chief, draft directives or orders submitted to the Polish army are agreed with the Polish minister of defence – who may accept them, suggest changes, or even reject them. In significant matters, the Polish minister of defence may defer the decision to the prime minister and the first secretary of the Central Committee of the PUWP. But from the moment that General Jaruzelski assumed the post of minister of defence, the Russians never had any political or military problems with Poland. In the years 1968–81 they received everything they wanted, without having to go over the heads of the Polish military establishment. In the early 1980s they essentially controlled everything to do with Polish defence and the functioning of the country’s armed forces.
Moscow specifies, in multi-year cycles, the manpower strength of the Polish army, its organizational structures, its weaponry and equipment, its battle readiness and mobilization capability, the direction of its military training, its objectives and functions in wartime, etc., etc.
Commitments made in this respect by Poland’s Ministry of Defence are reviewed by the Soviet military leadership twice a year. A double system of control is in place. One report is prepared for Moscow by the Polish Ministry of Defence, and another, with identical structure and content, but based on data compiled in Russia, is prepared by the Russian representative of the Warsaw Pact Unified Command attached to the Polish armed forces. These two documents are then analyzed and compared in Moscow, and any divergences from Polish undertakings, failure to meet accepted targets, and even errors of detail (in the Polish version) require comprehensive explanations from the Polish side.
The situation is not without paradox – the manpower strength of the Polish armed forces reported by Poland (of course falsely) during the 1980 US–USSR summit in Vienna had been determined by the Soviet General Staff in Moscow. The fictitious data complicated the Vienna negotiations, and the Polish General Staff wanted to present more realistic statistics. I happened to be with General Siwicki in Moscow when he was seeking to achieve this, and I personally witnessed a Soviet two-star general from the Soviet General Staff say “nielzya” – “no, not allowed” to the Polish chief of staff and then hand him a piece of paper with pre-prepared data for use in negotiations with the West.
Based on commitments made by the Polish People's Republic, the Polish General Staff has, among other matters, to seek agreement from the Russian military leadership for the movement and deployment of Polish military units in peacetime.
The Russians have the guaranteed right to carry out inspections of Polish military units. However, the lack of any precise definition as to what they may and may not review leads to situations such as that in early February 1981, when under the pretext of assessing Polish military readiness for the Soyuz-81 exercises, Russian generals from the Warsaw Pact Unified Command were effectively gauging the readiness of various command structures and military units for a confrontation with Solidarity.
You have asked me whether it was possible for General Jaruzelski to go against decisions of the Warsaw Pact leadership, or to enter into any discussions over Soviet decisions? I presume you have in mind opposing, say, a planned invasion of Poland, or any other form of intervention by Warsaw Pact countries in Poland's internal affairs. Well, if you had asked the same question without mentioning a name, for instance by simply referring to the leader of an unspecified Warsaw Pact country, my answer would have been easy. Without hesitation I would have said yes, as nowhere in the provisions of the Warsaw Pact is it stipulated that a member state, or a group of member states, has or have the formal right to intervene in the internal affairs of another member state, let alone engage in military intervention. Whoever upholds this principle may defend it. I know of several occasions where in matters of paramount interest to the USSR the Romanian People's Republic said “No!”, and came to no harm as a result. One such instance occurred in Moscow on 23 November 1978 during a session of the Political Consultative Committee. At that gathering the Romanians would not agree to a resolution which included the recognition of the supreme command of the Soviet armed forces as the single command centre of Warsaw Pact forces in time of war. When the USSR’s faithful allies began to berate Romania, President Ceaușescu rose from the conference table and left Moscow with his delegation. Soviet pressure on Romania continued for the whole of 1979 but in the end Moscow had to let go. Ceaușescu wishes to be a loyal ally of the Soviet Union, but not its slave. Romania did not take part in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, nor, as I have already mentioned, sign up to anything that might call into question the sovereignty of the Romanian People's Republic.
General Jaruzelski is in a totally different position. Having actively supported the Soviet Union in its invasion of Czechoslovakia he in effect endorsed the Warsaw Pact’s right to intervene in the internal affairs of member states and made Poland's defence hugely dependent on the Soviet Union. It is, therefore, difficult to imagine a situation in which General Jaruzelski –
even if he had really wanted to – could have given the Russians an unambiguous no for an answer.
K.: There are those in Poland and abroad, who view General Jaruzelski as a sort of Konrad Wallenrod figure, a leader who for patriotic reasons saved the country from catastrophe. What is your view on this?
R.J.K.: I could see then, and still see now, that there was a realistic chance of avoiding both martial law and Soviet military intervention in Poland. At the beginning of the crisis political power was not solely concentrated in General Jaruzelski's hands. Nevertheless, from August 1980 his voice came to matter most. If he and Stanisław Kania had found within themselves the dignity and the strength to avoid such subservience towards Moscow, if both of them had stood up honestly for the social accords the authorities had agreed to, Poland would probably look quite different today.
Kategoria artykułu: Tematy
© by STOWARZYSZENIE INSTYTUT LITERACKI, PARYŻ