WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's last government was a strong voice internationally on Ukraine, supporting Kiev's pro-Western reforms and calling for sanctions on Russia to punish it for its aggression there.
But with a new government sworn in Monday, the two leading figures of Polish foreign policy — Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski — are gone and their replacements lack the same stature and experience.
And with only one year in office before the next election, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz and Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna will have little time to build the strong profiles of their predecessors.
Poland's weakened foreign policy leadership comes at a critical time, with conflict in neighboring Ukraine rattling many in a region that only threw off Moscow's control starting in 1989. Under Sikorski and Tusk, Warsaw lobbied for sanctions on Russia and also for NATO to do more to protect Poland and the Baltic states, the countries that feel most vulnerable to Russia's new expansionism.
"(Diplomats) are all afraid that under Schetyna, Poland's voice will be weaker," said Wojciech Szacki, an analyst with Polityka Insight, a Warsaw-based center for policy analysis. "It is unavoidable because Sikorski was the foreign minister for seven years. He knew everyone in Europe and had contacts around the world. Schetyna doesn't know anyone and only has a year to learn."
Kopacz also didn't win much confidence with one of her first foreign policy comments. Asked Friday if she would send arms to Ukraine, she replied that Poland should act like a "reasonable Polish woman" and focus on protecting home and hearth — a comment met with widespread ridicule.
"You know, I am a woman," she said. "I imagine what I would do if a man suddenly showed up on the street brandishing a sharp tool or a gun. My first thought: behind me is my home and my children. So I would rush into the house and close the doors and take care of my children."
Critics say the response shows weakness and the lack of a clear policy on the Russia-Ukraine issue.
"It's hard to figure out the meaning of this gibberish on the most strategically important issue for Poland," wrote commentator Lukasz Warzecha.
Marcin Zaborowski, director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said Kopacz's comments don't necessarily indicate weakness toward Russia and must be understood in the context of recent concessions Ukraine made to Moscow.
Ukraine last week granted temporary self-rule to pro-Russian regions in the east and postponed the full implementation of its association agreement with the European Union.
"This is not the end of Poland's engagement on the issue," Zaborowski said. "That is not possible because of where we are. Poland has always been engaged on Ukraine."
Questions also surround Schetyna, who has little foreign policy experience except for his recent stint as head of the parliamentary commission on foreign affairs. Even his mother was quoted by the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper as saying her son feels Sikorski was the better person for the job.
"(This will be a) great challenge, especially with the difficult international situation on our eastern border," Schetyna said Monday as he entered the foreign ministry to take up his new job.
Some continuity on the topic of Ukraine is provided by Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak, who was also named deputy prime minister. In contrast to Kopacz's comments, he said Monday that Poland is willing to sell weapons to Ukraine and that Ukrainians are now learning what Polish arms dealers can offer them.
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