Poland PM aims to reopen investigation into Russian influence amid espionage concerns

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Poland’s prime minister wants to revive a Polish commission investigating Russian influence, he said on Wednesday, amid heightened fears about espionage after a Polish judge who had access to military secrets asked for asylum in Belarus.

While Poland has long said that its position as a key distribution hub for supplies to Ukraine makes it a major target for Russian spies, judge Tomasz Szmydt’s asylum request put the country on heightened alert.

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The judge was slated to rule on cases concerning issuing security clearances to information on NATO and European Union secrets next month. Prosecutors are investigating if he was a spy.

Szmydt has said that he faced political persecution in Poland and that he resigned as a Polish judge in protest at policies he said were drawing the country into conflict with Belarus and Russia.

Reviving the commission would mark a turnaround for a body that was formed last year by Poland’s previous nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government and condemned at the time by current Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition (KO) grouping as being a vehicle for a witchhunt against him as it could ban politicians from office.

“The issue of resuming work or building an appropriate body that will more effectively investigate Russian influence on Polish politics is on the agenda,” Tusk told reporters after a security meeting to discuss the spy threat from Russia and Belarus.

“We have a commission (on Russian influence), but there are constitutional reservations as to its operation,” he added.

The commission had seen opposition from the European Union last year and has been dormant.

Tusk said he had asked the cabinet member responsible for coordinating Poland’s special services, Tomasz Siemoniak, to prepare recommendations on how to reactivate it.

“We have no doubt ... that Mr Szmydt is serving a foreign state, foreign services,” Siemoniak told private broadcaster TVN24, highlighting the fact that the judge has appeared on Belarusian and Russian television attacking the Polish government.

“You can see from the sequence of events, how quickly he ended up on Russian state television ... that this is a planned operation which today above all has taken on a propaganda dimension,” he said.

The Belarusian foreign ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment sent outside normal office hours.

Former PiS prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki questioned why the Russian influence commission had been shelved in the first place.

“As for the issue of investigating Russian influence, such actions were taken by the Law and Justice government, which created a special commission,” he said in comments sent to Reuters by email. “The opposition boycotted it, fearing the discovery of facts inconvenient to them.”

Elsewhere, Polish border officials said on Wednesday they had detained a defector from the Russian army on the frontier with Belarus.

Deputy Interior Minister Czeslaw Mroczek told state news agency PAP that Poland was trying to establish whether the man was indeed a deserter fleeing the war or whether he was supposed to carry out some mission for Russian services.

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