Amid Ukraine war, Poland becomes critical U.S. ally 
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Amid Ukraine war, Poland becomes critical U.S. ally 

Thrust to the frontlines of Cold War II by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Poland is taking its place as an essential cog in the NATO alliance, a major contributor to the common defense and a key U.S. ally.

Warnings from Warsaw

To their credit, Poles weren’t surprised by Putin’s war of aggression. In fact, Polish leaders warned for many years that Putin was planning to reconstitute the Russian Empire.

“Today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, the day after tomorrow the Baltic States and later, perhaps, time will come for my country,” Lech Kaczyński, then-president of Poland, said in August 2008, as Russia invaded Georgia.

After Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine – the 2014 attack that ended with Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea – then-President Bronislaw Komorowski warned that Putin was trying to “rebuild the empire” and urged the rest of NATO not to repeat “the appeasement policy of yielding to Hitler.”

Instead of heeding Warsaw’s warnings, however, the rest of NATO downgraded defense spending and shelved deterrent assets. NATO “hugged the bear,” in the words of former NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove, and deemphasized its military mission. NATO didn’t even begin drawing up contingency plans for defending Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (which joined the alliance in 2004) until after Russia’s 2008 assault on Georgia. The U.S. Navy’s North Atlantic-focused 2nd Fleet was deactivated in 2011. The Army’s Germany-based V Corps was deactivated in 2012. Washington withdrew every U.S. tank from Europe in 2013. That same year, Britain began shutting down its garrison in Germany. By 2014, Germany fielded just 300 tanks, down from 2,125 in the 1980s.

Putin saw this not as a signal that NATO wanted to work with Russia to build a Euro-Atlantic community committed to peace and shared prosperity, but as a widow of opportunity – just as the Poles had warned. Indeed, Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine serves as the coda to more than a decade of aggression against NATO’s democracies and the orphan democracies clambering to join NATO.

Prior to February 2022, Putin attacked and occupied swaths of Georgia and Ukraine, threatened nuclear strikes against Norway, conducted cyberattacks against America’s energy infrastructure and food-supply infrastructure, waged cyberwar against Estonia, shut off natural-gas flows to Ukraine, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey, attempted a violent coup aimed at preventing Montenegro from joining NATO, and trained his sights on Poland.

Poland will “know what it means to be in the crosshairs,” Putin growled after his seizure of Crimea. Russian forces have practiced amphibious invasions of Poland, complete with mock nuclear strikes. Putin has based hypersonic missiles and sea-skimming antiship missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave bordering Poland. He recently announced plans to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. Indeed, for more than decade, Putin and his puppet state in Belarus have launched “snap” military exercises along and near Poland’s borders. These are highly threatening and destabilizing. Recall that a Russian exercise in Belarus in early February 2022 served as springboard to the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Russia will "push back the borders that threaten our country as far as possible, even if these are the borders of Poland," warns Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council and former president of Russia.


Warsaw recognizes that an essential element of deterring Putin’s Russia is close partnership with the United States.

Ever since joining NATO, Poland has been eager to secure a permanent U.S. military presence on Polish territory. The motivation is simple and sound. Poland understands that the basing of U.S. troops on Polish soil sends an unmistakable message to Moscow: Crossing this line means you are going to war against the United States – no ambiguity, no question marks, no doubts about the consequences. From West Berlin to the 38th Parallel, this has been the cornerstone of deterring great-power war and protecting the free world for 70 years. The goal of such deployments is to prevent what Churchill called “temptations to a trial of strength.”

Washington finally agreed to a permanent deployment of U.S. forces in 2020. Warsaw’s hopes became reality this year, as Polish and U.S. personnel stood up U.S. Army Garrison Poland in March.

“The word ‘permanent’ is truly very important, and today that has become a fact,” Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said during the garrison’s dedication ceremonies. Home to the U.S. Army’s V Corps Forward Command Headquarters, the garrison is appropriately located at Camp Kosciuszko. As Stars and Stripes points out, Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko is “a national hero in Poland known for leading troops in battle against the Russians and also for coming to the aid of the United States in 1776 during the Revolutionary War.”

In addition to the Army garrison, U.S. assets in Poland include an Armored Brigade Combat Team, a Combat Aviation Brigade, a Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, a hub for U.S. Air Force drone operations and a soon-to-be-completed Aegis Ashore missile-defense base. All told, some 10,000 U.S. troops are based in Poland.

A helping hand

Even as Poland welcomes America’s tangible support, Poland is shouldering its share of the NATO security burden. Indeed, Poland has been a net contributor to U.S.-led operations in Europe and beyond:

· As part of its commitment to NATO’s common defense, Poland has sent troops to Latvia and Romania to spearhead NATO’s deterrent battlegroups.

· Polish troops deployed to Kosovo and Bosnia as part of NATO’s stability operations.

· Some 33,000 Polish troops deployed to Afghanistan, standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States and other NATO allies until the brutal and bitter end at Kabul Airport.

· Poland was one of just four nations to deploy troops for the initial invasion of Iraq. With commando units, marines, bio-chem warfare units and mechanized infantry deployed in Iraq, Poland led the multination division in south-central Iraq. Poland also participated in NATO’s postwar training mission in Iraq. Sixty-three Polish troops died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

· Polish F-16s have carried out airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the Polish military contributes to what the Pentagon calls the CENTCOM Coalition in the Middle East.

Poland is third-highest contributing nation to Ukraine behind only the United States and Britain. Poland has delivered more than 230 Soviet/Russian-built tanks, hundreds of armored fighting vehicles, 100 missile systems, and dozens of artillery pieces and rocket-launch systems. Plus, Polish factories are repairing Ukrainian artillery and armor for reuse on the front lines. Related, Warsaw recently unveiled a proposal for Poland to become the maintenance hub for Abrams tanks deployed in Europe.

In addition to delivering hardware to Ukraine, Poland is receiving a far more precious resource from Ukraine: people. At one point last year, 3.5 million war refugees had fled to Poland from Ukraine. Poland is still home to more than 1.3 million Ukrainian refugees.

Early in the war, Poland served as a temporary headquarters for coordinating military aid flowing into Ukraine. That operation has been shifted to Germany, though Poland remains the key node for moving military hardware into Ukraine.

Modernizing and preparing 

Warsaw is understandably devoting most of its energies to preventing – and if necessary, withstanding – yet another Russian assault on the free world.

Toward that end, Poland is increasing its defense budget to 4% of GDP this year. That’s double what NATO asks of its members to invest in defense. Poland has ordered 1,000 tanks from South Korea, 250 M1A2 Abrams tanks from the United States, 600 howitzers from South Korea, 18 HIMARS rocket artillery systems from the United States, and 288 multiple-rocket missile systems from South Korea. In addition, Seoul has agreed to allow Polish industry to coproduce hundreds of tanks at factories inside Poland. Poland has purchased 32 F-35 stealth fighter-bombers and is in the process of acquiring Reaper ground-attack drones, along with hundreds of tank-killing Hellfire missiles.

Poland is in the process of more than doubling its land forces to 300,000 personnel. Plus, the Polish Defense Ministry has launched Train with the Army, a nationwide effort to equip and prepare the civilian population for territorial defense in the event that Putin attempts in Poland what he’s done in Ukraine and Georgia.

“We are perceived as those who guarantee security on NATO’s eastern flank,” said Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. “Our efforts to strengthen the army through arms purchases go hand-in-hand with strengthening NATO’s presence on the eastern flank.”

Poland recognizes that preparing for the worst enfolds more than military training, military deployments and military equipment. Thus, Warsaw has transitioned away from Russian energy supplies. Poland increased its imports of U.S. liquified natural gas (LNG) by more than 1,000% between 2018 and 2019, enabling Poland to cut itself free from dependence on Russian energy. The United States is now Poland’s main source of LNG, and Washington and Warsaw are working with U.S. industry to build modern nuclear power plants in Poland.


Add it all up, and Poland is deadly serious about preserving its sovereignty, defending its territory and helping its NATO allies see Putin’s Russia for what it is.

“It is very sad that the war (in Ukraine) and Russian aggression was necessary for Europe and the world to admit that Poland was right,” sighs Paweł Szrot, chief of President Andrzej Duda’s cabinet.