Ukraine Crisis 2022: A Polish Perspective


By Robert Czulda

Despite numerous alarmist tones, average Ukrainians do not panic – shops are open and people gather at restaurants and pubs.

Ukrainian security expert Yevgeniya Gaber, whom I interviewed recently for the Polish media, said that there are no signs of any chaos and the Ukrainian intelligence community did not consider an invasion as an imminent threat.

While American, British and Canadian diplomats were ordered to leave Ukraine, Polish embassy and consulates work as usual – there is no evacuation at all. Poland, who is among few countries supplying the Ukrainian Armed Forces with defensive arms, firmly stands by Ukraine’s side.

Is an invasion imminent?

First of all, it must be underscored, that Russia has already invaded a sovereign territory of Ukraine – parts of this country have been under Moscow’s occupation since 2014. An open invasion is not Putin’s ultimate goal – army is a tool of foreign policy and thus by gathering tens of thousands of soldiers at the borders of Ukraine, the Kremlin primarily wants to achieve political goals.

There are many indications to argue that that some of them will be achieved without firing a single bullet. An often erroneous explanation is that the current crisis is Moscow’s attempt to undermine Ukrainian bid for NATO and the European Union, but no one can seriously conclude that Kiev was on any path to a full membership in these organizations.

Putin’s primary and personal goal is to stay in power, and a “sieged fortress syndrome” is a simple yet effective way to unite poor and frustrated citizens around their leader.

The Kremlin was unable to build a thriving economy in the country, but was very successful in creating an image of NATO as a hostile, aggressive organization preparing to attack Russia, which is, of course, an absurd narrative. Moscow has been pursuing an anti-Western narrative for years.

Ultimately it has borne fruits. According to Moscow-based Levada Center, 82% of Russian citizens believe that Russia has enemies. For 70% it is the United States, while in 2011 only 33% shared such opinion.

In a geostrategic dimension, Moscow’s goal is to ultimately destroy international rules, which were created after the Cold War.

After the aggression on Ukraine in 2014 Russian commentator Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine and Chairman of the Presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, explained a Russian approach: “after the end of the Cold War, we got tangled up in some misunderstandings. Supposedly everyone knew who won, what is the new world order, but no one defined it formally. New rules were not written in any international documents, acts or agreements. Now Russia tried to set new rules, because those that have been in force until now have not been beneficial to Russia”.

Now many experts and some officials – French President Emmanuel Macros has been among them for the last couple of years – claim that Russia must be included in a new European security system.

However, it is impossible to reach a solid agreement with Putin’s Russia without significant concessions. Moscow’s demands are as long as absurd – the Kremlin expects the West to fully abandon Ukraine (all foreign advisors and arms delivered to Kiev are to be withdrawn, NATO has to stop any military exercises with Ukraine, which would be forced to become a neutral country).

Moreover, Russia expects NATO to halt its enlargement. In return, Russia offers nothing. Moscow has been playing on dividing the West and weakening Central and Eastern Europe, which it still considered by the Kremlin as a Russian sphere of influence. Russia does not want to conquer this part of Europe militarily, but is ready to use non-military yet still hostile instruments to achieve subordination, which would be ultimately recognized by the West.

An open war or even a limited armed conflict would be a massive disaster, but that does not mean that we should yield to the thug.

If the West – both NATO and the United States – want to preserve its position – it must draw a red line. Of course, Ukraine is not in NATO and it will not be defended by NATO troops, but the Ukrainians know that. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – the most vulnerable NATO member states – are a different story. Their security is also a security of the whole transatlantic security system. The failure of their defense would mean the end of NATO as a security provider and the United States as a superpower and protector.

Russia has already achieved an important goal.

What many Western analysts fail to notice is the fact that during the current crisis, Russia has completely absorbed Belarus, which no longer exists as a separate state. Security apparatus and armed forces have been closely integrated and Belarus has lost its defense and political independence.

Polish security expert Andrzej Wilk put it bluntly: “Belarusian military and its defense industry are parts of Russian system.”

Now, the whole was accomplished – Russia deployed its troops in Belarus, which will remain there after the current crisis is over. Moreover, Russia moved a potential frontline with NATO several hundred kilometers to the West. A length of NATO’s border with the Russian Federation was expanded too.

Secondly, when the current crisis is over, Moscow will finally open the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will increase European dependence on Russian natural gas. As soon as the NS2 is operational, Ukraine will lose its transit role and Russia might invade it without any fear that a secure flow of its gas to Western Europe is threatened.

Do not be fooled – Nord Stream 2 will be opened sooner or later and definitely will not be cancelled – the pipeline has already been built and both Moscow and Berlin are waiting for the best moment to make it running. Russian aggressive behavior will be ultimately rewarded.

Featured photo: Robert Czulda moderating a panel on air power modernization at the Defence 24 Conference on September 27, 2021. Image Credit: J.Sabak

Also, see the following:

Seam Warfare and Polish Defense

Looking Back and Looking Forward: The Case of Ukraine

Looking Back and Looking Forward: The Case of Ukraine

Shaping a Way Ahead for Polish Defense: The Perspective of Robert Czulda