WARSAW, Poland – Poland is risking further strains in relations with Russia by throwing open Cold War-era archives that include a 1979 Soviet retaliation plan that envisaged nuclear strikes on western European cities in the event of a war with NATO.
The map foresaw the nuclear annihilation of Poland and was dotted with red mushroom clouds over the German cities of Munich, Cologne, Stuttgart and the site of NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
It was revealed Friday by Polish Defense Minister Radek Sikorski, a staunch anti-communist who went into exile in Britain in the 1980s to oppose Poland’s Moscow-backed communist rulers.
By declassifying some 1,700 volumes of a Soviet-led military bloc’s files, Sikorski and Poland’s other new conservative leaders risk antagonizing Russian leaders, who rue the loss of their superpower status with the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
“This could worsen Russian-Polish relations,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs. “At this point, there is no more destructive topic for Russian-Polish relations than the historic one.”
Historians have known about Moscow’s communist-era willingness to make Poland a nuclear battlefield in the event of war with the West, but the plan’s disclosure brings the vivid facts to the wider public.
The entire trove of information in the archives, which also includes documents on the Warsaw Pact’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush a democracy movement, is expected to be made public in January, meaning other surprises could surface.
Led by the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact was formed in the Polish capital in 1955 as the communist bloc’s counterbalance to NATO. It was dissolved in 1991 after the fall of communism.
Leon Kieres, head of Poland’s National Remembrance Institute, which will take over the archives from the Defense Ministry, said he had not yet seen all the documents and it wasn’t immediately clear what they hold.
By releasing them, Poland is making the point that Moscow no longer pulls the strings here.
Much of the governing Law and Justice Party, which won parliamentary and presidential elections this fall, is rooted in the anti-communist Solidarity movement. The party has accused the last government — run by reformed communists — of being overly conciliatory to Moscow.
The new government wants “to establish relations with Russia on the basis of two sovereign and independent states,” said Piotr Kaczynski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based think tank Public Affairs Institute.
The opening of the archives comes after a year of worsening relations with Moscow.
Russia resented Poland’s intervention in last November’s presidential election in the former Soviet state of Ukraine, which was won by pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.
Over the summer, ties soured further following street violence in Warsaw inflicted on the children of Russian diplomats and in Moscow against Polish diplomats and a journalist.
Russia angered the Poles by reaching an agreement with Germany to build a natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, bypassing current routes through Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. Polish President-elect Lech Kaczynski has vowed to fight that project.
Moscow also banned imports of Polish meat and plant products, saying they were substandard.
Despite those problems, Kieres insists the decision to open the archives is “about Polish history” and not politics.
“In no case do we want these documents to serve as a basis to accuse Russia,” Kieres told The Associated Press. “That would be absurd.”