Poland might become NATO’s spearhead should Russia take its aggression in the war in Ukraine to the next level, military analyst Hans Petter Midttun said in a new op-ed.
Midttun wrote in the Kyiv Post on Wednesday that NATO discord, an increase in Polish weapons stockpiles, and a keen understanding of Eastern Europe makes Poland a key ally as Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine hits 13 months.
“The bottom line is that Poland is thinking, planning and acting according to NATO’s late strategic concept,” Midttun wrote. “It is building military power to do—if needed—what the U.S. and NATO will not: I.e., fight alongside the Armed Forces of Ukraine to stop a war that threatens European security and stability.”
Poland has stepped up in terms of protecting its own borders as well as recently providing the Ukrainian Armed Forces with weapons and aircraft. Last week, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said his nation would place U.S. HIMARS rocket artillery systems near its border with Russia’s Kaliningrad region for the rest of the 2023 calendar year.
The move could be a deterrent to Russia’s militarily targeting Poland as a result of its military assistance to Ukraine. Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said last week that his country charged six “foreigners from across the eastern border” over an alleged plot on Russia’s behalf to disrupt military and aid supplies to Ukraine.
In the war’s infancy an alleged Russia spy was arrested in Poland and charged with gathering information on NATO troops on behalf of the Kremlin.
Also last week, Polish President Andrzej Duda announced that four Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets would be sent to Ukraine “literally within the next few days.” Poland and Slovakia, which is sending 13 of the same aircraft, are granting requests by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for more air-related assistance.
That’s a line that the United States has been reluctant to cross. President Joe Biden has not fulfilled such requests, with the U.S. instead choosing to provide an abundance of weapons, ammunition and artillery and defense systems.
Jan Emeryk Rościszewski, Poland’s ambassador to France, told French TV channel LCI on Sunday that “it is not NATO, Poland or Slovakia that are mounting ever more pressure, but Russia.”
He reportedly mentioning Russia’s seizing of territory, killing Ukrainians and abducting Ukrainian children—the latter of which led the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Therefore, either Ukraine will defend its independence today, or we will have to enter this conflict,” Rościszewski said. “Because our main values, which were the basis of our civilization and our culture, will be threatened.”
His words were claimed by the Polish embassy in France to be misconstrued. It tweeted that “there was no announcement of Poland’s direct involvement in the conflict, only a warning of the consequences that a Ukrainian defeat could have.”
Midttun praised his remarks, however, for the “level of clarity” and how a Russian victory over Ukraine would equate to a Russian victory over NATO.
“Eastern European countries do not support the Ukrainian fight for its right to exist—its sovereignty and independence—out of kindness alone, but primarily as a defense of their own country,” Midttun wrote. “They are doing their uttermost to avoid the dramatic consequences of a potential Ukrainian defeat.”
He said that while the U.S. and Biden are avoiding “boots on the ground” and the sending of aircraft to Ukraine, Poland is doing the opposite.
“When Eastern Europe asked NATO to do more [according to its strategic concept], NATO decided to do less,” he said. “And when the EU [European Union] highlights that its member states—most of which are also NATO members—are exposed to a Russian hybrid war, NATO limits itself to admitting that the Euro-Atlantic area is not at peace.”
Mick Ryan, a retired major general in the Australian army, told the Kyiv Post this week that Ukraine’s army is now the best in the world partly because of weapons provided by NATO countries and the experience it has gained the past 13 months.
Poland’s increased security and defense is a big reason why, Middtun added, citing its announcement to increase defense spending from 2.4 percent to 4 percent of GDP. The country also aspires to build “the largest land army in Europe.”
Mikhail Troitskiy, professor of practice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Newsweek that Poland “does feel seriously threatened” by Russia’s potential victory in Ukraine, compounded by Russian ground forces moving closer to Polish territory.
“That said, I have not seen Poland advocating a forward-leaning or risk-taking offensive posture vis-à-vis Russia or Russian forces operating in Ukraine,” Troitskiy said.
He referenced a November incident in which a missile landed in Polish territory and was initially thought to have been launched by Russian forces. It later was said to have been a malfunctioned Ukrainian missile that accidentally landed in Poland, killing two.
“Escalation in the form of at least a formal discussion within NATO could have put Russia under pressure without significant risks for Poland or NATO,” Troitskiy said. “Given such an approach to escalation, it is unlikely that Polish forces alone would openly enter Ukraine and engage their Russian adversaries, even if Ukrainian defenses crumble.
“What can happen in such a case could be a collective NATO decision to increase the alliance’s role and send stern messages of warning to Russia.”
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