By Robbin Laird
The opportunity to attend the Defence 24 conference on Polish defense provided a significant opportunity to learn about Polish assessments of the current strategic situation and ways Poland should shape a way ahead.
In addition to attending the conference, I had a chance to talk to Polish defense analysts as well, including Igor Szczęsnowicz a prominent Polish journalist and editor of Gazeta Polska Codziennie and Gazeta Polska.
Certainly, Poland is in a unique situation in today’s Europe, which faces significant challenges of post-pandemic recovery, and dealing with the dynamics of change within the European Union itself.
And it faces a very active Putin-led Russia, which is engaged in ways to expand its power, its territory, and its ability to coerce Europe to get what it wants.
In Szczęsnowicz’s view, Poland plays a key role in shaping a way ahead for Europe in dealing with all of these challenges.
He underscored in our conversation that Poland is a very patriotic nation, and one which is still working through its post-Communist approaches to change. He believes that the Brussels led supra-state efforts undercut Poland’s legitimate right to work through how to shape its post-Communist future.
He noted often in the conversation that the rules generated from Brussels often are targeting Poland rather than reworking how Europe as a community of nations can work more effectively together to shape a resilient and viable future.
Notably, much of Europe is simply ignoring how direct the Russian engagement in Europe is, and the willingness of Putin’s Russia to use coercion to get what they want.
The land grab in Georgia in 2008 has never been reversed. Certainly, the same is true of Crimea. And now the Russians are working to use Belarus as a battering ram opening up more seams within Europe and doing so in ways that directly threaten the Baltic states and Poland.
In a recent piece which Szczęsnowicz wrote, he highlighted how the Russian seam warfare approach can work, and how their approach really gets around the Article V agreement within the NATO treaty. In a piece which he wrote on September 7, 2021, he posed some interesting questions about how the Russians might approach the Zapad exercise.
“Anticipating a bit of future events, I am very curious to see how NATO will react to possible military provocations of Belarusian-Russian troops during the Zapad 2021 strategic maneuvers starting on Friday (10-16 September). only 3 km from the Polish border and there is a high probability that such provocations will take place.
“It may turn out, for example, that a unit of Russian soldiers “gets lost” and unexpectedly appeared on the Polish or Lithuanian side. Then what?
“Theoretically, an incursion of a branch of a NATO enemy state on the territory of a member state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization triggers certain procedures of cooperation. And we are very curious together with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin whether in this case all these procedures will work properly. “
Well this did not happen, but what his question poses is at the heart of the real dilemma facing Polish defense along with her allies: if the Russians are not focusing on a classic land-air invasion of Poland or the Baltic states or of Ukraine, this does not mean that they cannot get results from salami tactics and seam warfare.
This then means in turn, that Poland needs to be prepared for frontal attacks in terms of a situation of war, but also, dealing with Russian seam and hybrid warfare, which is designed to further fragment the cohesion of the European alliances and put Putin in a pole position to get what he wants.
And the Polish government and nation have no wish to be those allowing Putin to get into such a “pole position.”
Szczęsnowicz underscored his concern about time.
Putin has momentum. How do we stop that momentum and avoid a major conflict?
He clearly is concerned that within Europe there is a complacency about Russia and Putin’s strategy which is simply not justified.
Defense is not a line item in a European budget; it needs to a core social commitment to ensure the future for a Europe free and whole, to quote a late U.S. President.
In his view, this is the case in Poland which makes it somewhat the odd man out.
But the Russian realities simply are too troubling to ignore.
Note: The quotations above from Szczęsnowicz are translations which we have made, and we have provided the link to the original piece for greater clarity.