The last word: Poland’s critical security role

Poland is not just a security consumer but a provider. Its actions strengthen not only its security but that of Europe as a whole. 

[Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya] “said that Poland attacked Russia during World War I. What is he talking about?” Poland’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski told a UN Security Council meeting on February 23.  

“It’s the Soviet Union that attacked Poland,” the foreign minister continued “correcting the record” in his powerful four-minute speech. “Together with Nazi Germany on September 17, 1939. They even held a joint victory parade on September 22. He says that Russia has always only beaten back aggression. What were Russian troops doing at the gates of Warsaw in August 1920? They were on a topographical excursion? No, the truth is that for every time that Russia has been invaded, she has invaded ten times.” 

Ambassador Nebenzya was not saying anything new. He simply repeated a lot of the mendacities that Vladimir Putin had expressed during his infamous interview with Tucker Carlson a couple of weeks earlier.  

“In 1939, after Poland cooperated with Hitler—it did collaborate with Hitler, you know—Hitler offered Poland peace and a treaty of friendship and alliance,” Putin said, before blaming Poland for the outbreak of World War II.  

But it is not the alternative events that matter here. It is Putin’s and Russia’s recent focus on Poland that is key. In the interview with Carlson, Putin mention Poland as many as 36 times. 

Warnings ignored 

In a recent editorial in Der Spiegel, Matthäus Wehowski highlighted that when Russia was launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, there were plenty of such warming signals: historical lies in press articles and Putin’s speeches. Now it is Poland that is being targeted increasingly more often by Kremlin rhetoric.  

But Poles have been observing its large neighbour for decades. They were alarmed by the deepening ties between Berlin and Moscow and were quite vocal about the threat of Germany’s role in Russia’s Nord Stream II gas pipeline. They saw this strategic energy infrastructure project as a modern-day successor to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which sparked the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Germany chose to ignore these warnings until the eve of Russia’s February 2022 attack. 

“We should have listened to those who know Putin,” Ursula von der Leyen said at the European Commission president’s State of the Union speech in September 2022.  

Poland’s geographical position makes it a frontline state in the face of potential threats from the east. Sharing a border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave and Belarus, Poland is at the crossroads between Western Europe and the East. This means that any conflict involving Eastern European countries would potentially affect Poland directly, making its role in regional security crucial. 

Poland’s governments understand that. The defence budget includes almost 120 billion Polish złoty (or some 28 billion euros) to be spent on defence. That translates into 3.1 per cent of expected gross domestic product (GDP), which is more than the two per cent commitment that all NATO members agreed on a decade ago. If the Armed Forces Support Fund is included, defence expenditure may reach the equivalent of 4.2 per cent of the GDP. 

A common front 

As such, Poland is not just a security consumer but a provider. Its actions strengthen not only its security but also that of Europe as a whole. As threats evolve, Poland’s continued commitment to regional stability will be crucial in maintaining a secure Europe. 

In the weeks after Russia’s full-scale invasion, Poland immediately opened its borders and became the primary recipient of Ukrainian refugees. Within the first three months, 3.5 million Ukrainians, more than half of all those who left the country, had crossed the border into Poland. 

On the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion, Poland’s then Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki paid a visit to Kyiv and brought with him the first delivery of Leopard tanks, a solidarity gesture worthy of a good neighbour. But then, the run-up to the Polish election saw a deepening rift between Poland and Ukraine, despite unprecedented military cooperation between the two countries. The Law and Justice (PiS) populist government repeatedly fell for traps straight out of the Kremlin playbook. 

Relations started deteriorating when a stray Ukrainian missile fell on a town in eastern Poland and killed two civilians with Ukraine’s president insisting that the missile was Russian. A dispute over the import of Ukrainian grain—leading to a ban by Poland and some other Central European countries—followed.  

Now that the war has entered a third year, relations have not improved. Polish farmers say the market has been flooded with cheap agricultural products from Ukraine. They are currently blocking Ukraine’s border with Ukraine. 

“I am also ready to come to the border alongside our government,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on his social media channels. “I would also like to address the European Commission now. We must preserve Europe’s unity. This is fundamentally in the interests of the European Union.” 

And Europe as a whole.  

In fact, that political and diplomatic liaison and alignment, and a common front, as demonstrated by Foreign Minister Sikorski at the UN and later on Bloomberg reminding the US of its role in light of a common threat, is a sign of leadership. Poland and Ukraine understand that—whatever their temporary, minor differences, mutual support is assured. Others need to follow their lead.

Photo: Radosław Sikorski at the UN. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

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