The decision to send tanks to Ukraine by both Germany and the United States made headlines recently. Poland, however, deserves more credit for being the unsung hero behind this historic decision. Polish officials played a crucial role in convincing Berlin, in particular, of the importance of supplying Ukraine with modern tanks. This was just the most recent instance of Poland taking the lead as Europe faced its largest military conflict since WWII.
Poland has extensive experience with Russian imperialism under both the Czarist and Soviet forms, and this may explain why it has taken the lead in Europe’s response to Putin’s invasion. Warsaw’s politicians have been warning their European counterparts about the dangers of a revived and revisionist Russia ever since Poland joined the European Union in 2004.
Poland is very concerned about signs of tightening ties between Berlin and Moscow and has been an outspoken critic of Germany’s involvement in Russia’s Nord Stream II gas pipeline. Politicians in Poland saw the construction of this strategic energy infrastructure as a modern-day continuation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, which led to the invasion of Poland by the Nazi and Soviet regimes and the start of World War II. They said that by building the pipeline, Putin would be able to avoid Ukraine’s gas transit system, leaving the country vulnerable to a full-scale invasion, and making all of Europe susceptible to Russian energy blackmail. Germany disregarded these threats until the eve of Russia’s attack in February 2022.
Poles have always played a significant role in European security policy, so their current prominence is not unexpected. Due in large part to Poland’s membership in NATO since 1999, the alliance’s eastern flank has become much more secure. Poland’s strategic location and impressive economic growth have made this possible by providing the resources necessary to rapidly modernise and expand the country’s armed forces. At the moment, Poland has the twentieth-strongest military in the world.
Poland’s humane response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine has served as an example for the rest of Europe. Poland has taken in more Ukrainian refugees than any other European country since the invasion began, and has offered them access to healthcare, education, and job opportunities. More than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees have been registered by Polish authorities in the past year.
Polish military aid to Ukraine is substantial. Poland has provided more military aid to Ukraine per person than any other country except the Baltic states. Hundreds of tanks and other important weapons are among the aid provided. In order for a global coalition of countries to supply the Ukrainian army with the weapons, equipment, and ammunition it requires, Poland plays a crucial role in the logistical efforts to deliver international military aid to Ukraine.
In diplomatic circles, Poland has been a leader in demanding stricter sanctions against Russia. Recently, Polish leaders have been lobbying Berlin to ship German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow others to do so. Poland threatened to export dozens of Leopard tanks made in Germany despite German re-export restrictions when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dithered. Poles “will not just watch Ukraine bleed,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said. “Germany must now decide whether it wants to join the mission and stop Russian barbarism, or whether it wants to remain silent and forever be remembered as being on the wrong side of history.”
Germany caved in the end, but the incident and the ongoing saga of Nord Stream 2 have damaged Berlin’s reputation. Poland has taken the moral high ground on European security issues in light of Germany’s apparent ambivalence toward a predatory Russia and Berlin’s ties to the Kremlin. In this regard, Austria and Hungary have been called out for what some see as appeasement of Putin. Regarding the issue of sanctions, Poland has also criticised Germany. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Germany was “standing in the way” of tougher sanctions against Russia in April 2022. The biggest obstacle to stronger sanctions, he told reporters in Warsaw, comes from Germany.
The Polish government is helping to fill a power void left by the decline of Europe’s once dominant foreign policy forces. The 2016 Brexit vote significantly diminished the United Kingdom’s influence over Europe’s response to the Russian threat. Over the course of his presidency, Putin has used trade deals, pipelines, and other incentives to win over French and German politicians and businesspeople. In 2014, the Russian dictator personally invited Germany and France to the Normandy Format talks to end the war that Russia had sparked in eastern Ukraine. This method led to the Minsk Agreements’ collapse and paved the way for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Polish officials are now sounding the alarm about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This isn’t a local dispute,” they said. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has the potential to ignite a global war. “This war will affect our countries as well as you,” Polish President Andrzej Duda told the United Nations General Assembly in September 2022.
Poland’s role as Europe’s de facto leader in the fight against Putin’s invasion has created unheard-of ties of solidarity between the Polish and Ukrainian people. Fights and historical disagreements between these two countries are nothing new. However, they now find themselves united by the existential threat coming from today’s Russia. According to consistent polling data, Poland is widely considered to be Ukraine’s closest partner.
While the Kremlin cynically cloaks its genocidal invasion of Ukraine in the language of Slavic brotherhood, it is Ukraine’s fellow Slavic neighbours in Poland who have demonstrated truly brotherly support. This will have far-reaching consequences for the region’s future geopolitical structure. Upon Russia’s eventual defeat, Ukraine and Poland will likely strengthen their alliance to form a formidable bloc within European politics. Because of their combined strength, the two countries will be heard loud and clear by the rest of the democratic world. Poland is at the forefront of this eastward shift in Europe’s political and economic centre.