It was in the aftermath of World War II, when anti-Bolsheviks in the Black Sea region had united around the ‘Prométhée’. This project, whose name comes from the journal which developed its fundamental ideas, consisted of an alliance of representatives from Black Sea states whose aim had been to fight against the regional hegemony of the Soviet Union. Examples of Prometheans range from anti-Soviet Poles, Ukrainians, including leaders from the Crimea, leaders from Azerbaijan and Georgia, but also Volga Tatars.
The main figure of the Prometheans has been the Polish military leader Jozef Pilsudski, whereas the central concept of the project has been the so-called ‘Intermarium’, a sort of confederation of independent states located in between the Baltic and the Black Sea. The purpose of such entity would have been to act as a bidirectional defensive alliance both against Russia in the east, and Germany in the west. Mostly originating from a Polish desire to secure its own borders, Intermarium can partly be seen as an interwar attempt to rebuild what used to be the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Whether or not, nowadays, we perceive such a project as a historic form of Polish imperialism, the idea might have been controversial in the interwar period as well, with both those for and against it. A good example of an Intermarium supporter would be interwar Romania. Despite the conflictual history in relation to the earlier Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the authorities in Bucharest had been eager to participate in alliances with interwar Poland. Other countries did not. For instance, Romanian leader Take Ionescu had unsuccessfully attempted to establish a regional alliance by including Poland and Greece in what had already been the Little Entente (1921): a defensive alliance among Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania. The failure is to be pinpointed in the disputes between Poland and Czechoslovakia regarding the Teschen region, and between Greece and Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, Take Ionescu did manage to engage Poland in a bilateral, mutual, and defensive alliance that would become effective in case of a Soviet aggression.
To the detriment of the Prométhée, Poland had been once more divided as of 1939 among the great powers of the time, and its neighours, who were supposed to come to its defence, had also been either chopped or fully annexed by the Soviets or the Germans and their allies. As to the reasons for such a failure, one can speculate and point among other things to the young character of the states involved, as most of them had been constructed under their borders at the end of the First World War, but also to their actual position of power in relation to Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Empire. After all, France itself had been occupied, event that demoralized its traditional Central and Eastern European allies.
Today, the concept of Intermarium is increasingly being discussed as a strategic path towards the deterrence of what is being described as a resurgent and aggressive Russia. As of 2015, Polish President Duda’s foreign policy direction has been interpreted as reminiscent of Intermarium. By proposing strong ties with Sweden, the Baltic States, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, Duda is attempting to recreate the Polish long-life plan of building a natural defensive alliance among like-minded neighbours in the face of the Russian threat, and with NATO military support. The Polish President is renowned for insisting on a stronger NATO military presence on the territory of his country.
The revival of such a project is obviously dependent on the commitment of the actors involved. Critics point to countries such as Ukraine and Hungary as being weak links in this chain of defence. Regarding Ukraine, analysts point to its need of help, rather than its ability to contribute to any defensive mechanism. As for Hungary, Orban is perceived as enjoying ‘warm ties’ with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Moreover, the Czechs and the Slovaks are seen as conflict-avoidant with regard to Russia. As such, Poland’s only reliable partners remain Sweden, the Baltic States, and Romania.
Finally, what one could also keep in mind is the Euroscepticism of the current Polish leadership. Such an approach to European affairs could negatively trickle down into to the development of a strong military relationship within NATO. Countries like Romania are indisputably pursuing a Euro-Atlantic strategy, in which the EU is a central pillar. A telling example of this is the support the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is offering to the Republic of Moldova in the latter’s EU accession goals. Being associated with a loud anti-EU voice is a risky decision for any Romanian leader, even as Russia is increasingly critical at Bucharest’s decision to host elements of NATO’s Missile Defence System. Moreover, the US is also a crucial supporter of a unified and strong Europe. Therefore, its propensity to contribute to a military build-up in Poland under NATO could be linked to Warsaw’s position towards the EU.
In conclusion, a new and effective Intermarium would have to operate within the already established political and security configuration put forward by the European Union and NATO. Otherwise, the risk of an emerging autonomous Central-Eastern European power block on the continent cannot but cut-short by itself the development of any such project.