The documents that were handed over to the CIA by Col. Ryszard Kukliński were of great value and were one of the most valuable sources of information for the USA. “The events of 1981 showed that he was a hero and a patriot, and General Jaruzelski was a traitor who was loyal primarily to the USSR,” Prof. Mark Kramer, historian at Harvard University.
Professor Kramer recalled the uproar that the introduction of martial law on December 13, 1981 caused in the United States at that time the expressions of support from the Americans.
“Well, Solidarity enjoyed great sympathy in America, both in society and, for example, in trade union circles, and the events of August 1980 gave hope for the creation of an alternative centre against communist rule. Martial law shattered these hopes. But it must be emphasised that in official circles, behind closed doors, its introduction was accepted in Washington with some relief, as a better option than the Soviet invasion. They also feared that there would be more bloodshed,” he said.
“Of course, when it comes to the public response, there has been a lot of outrage, there have been many gestures of solidarity, aid action and the feeling that the US authorities have to do something. Although they could not really do much, at least in the short term,” he added.
The historian also emphasised Mr Kukliński’s role in the martial law crisis. “It was invaluable and there is no doubt about it. He was surely one of the three most valuable sources American intelligence ever had during the Cold War. He provided the United States with a wealth of documents and detailed information on the Warsaw Pact and Soviet military plans. Unfortunately, still many of these documents have not been released, but it is known that thanks to him the US had a very detailed view of the situation on the other side of the Iron Curtain,” he explained.
“As for the "Polish crisis" of 1980-81, his information was invaluable. The problem, however, was that he had to be evacuated as early as November 7, 1981. So while the US already had plans to introduce martial law, it did not know exactly when it would be. Although the date had already been set in October, there were many uncertainties, Jaruzelski hesitated almost to the end, and the Soviets were worried that he would delay the process,” he elaborated.
He recalled that Kukliński had no control over how the information was used. “Given this information, after Kukliński was safe, the US authorities could publicly say that they had plans to introduce martial law, if only to thwart Jaruzelski to warn Solidarity, but this was not done. It probably wouldn't change the decision on repression itself, but it could be helpful,” he said. Another thing is that Kukliński did not control whoever the information was communicated to.
Mr Kramer reminded that the CIA made some of them available to the Vatican and someone in the Holy See handed the information over to the KGB, which soon revealed that the CIA had a source of information from the Polish General Staff - which forced the CIA to infiltrate Kukliński. “I have tried to find out who was the source of the leak, but I have never been able to do so. Some information also leaked to Solidarity activists - not only general information about martial law, but also code names and slogans. This, too, drew a shadow of suspicion on him,” Mr Kramer said.
The Polish Press Agency also asked Mr Kramer how many historians in Poland are convinced that the threat of the Soviet invasion of Poland was not a real threat, which the documents that Kuklinski handed over to the Americans seem to contradict this thesis. Mr Kramer responded that this could not be ruled out.
“We know that as early as August 1980, General Gribkow, the chief of the general staff, presented Jaruzelski with intervention plans, assuming, inter alia, mobilisation of 100,000 reservists and an invasion with the use of armoured forces. Of course, the Soviets preferred to get rid of the Solidarity problem with the hands of the regime in Warsaw, so after they received assurances that this would happen, such a threat decreased. But if the plans to introduce martial law went wrong, the situation got out of hand, I think the Soviets would eventually intervene because they were not ready to let Poland go,” Professor Kramer acknowledged.
Professor Kramer also discussed notes of General Anoszkin, according to which the USSR did not intend to intervene.
“This is the document that I first discovered and published in English, soon after that, a Polish translation appeared. Anoszkin was a very important figure, because he was an adjutant of General Kulikow, the commander-in-chief of the Warsaw Pact troops, and he kept notes on his conversations. They show, among other things, that in the last few days, Jaruzelski was nervous and at the end, he almost begged the Soviets to intervene to help him impose martial law - which was the original plan. He received a negative answer and ultimately, the troops of the Polish People's Republic did it themselves, but this does not mean that there was no real threat of an invasion at all,” he said.
Mr Kramer recalled meeting Ryszard Kukliński “I met Kukliński in 1998, and I remember it well. I was only surprised by how low he was and that his English was not so bad, although we spoke Polish. As for his role, there is no doubt for me that he was a true patriot who wanted a truly independent Poland, making difficult choices but contributing to revealing what was happening under Soviet domination. And he did so at great risk to his own life,” he said.