Russian aggression against Ukraine caused the post-Cold War order to crumble like a house of cards. The era of geopolitical naivety has given way to an era of geopolitical realism.
.Poland has been warning against Russia’s neo-imperial ambitions for years. With the attack on Georgia and the seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea, the signals were clear but ignored by many. Several Western countries tried to tame Russia through gas contracts. As long as Russian companies fulfilled them, a blind eye was turned to the apparent evidence that Russian imperialism was re-emerging. But the Wandel durch Handel politics has failed in two ways. Firstly, it has made the European economy heavily dependent on Russian raw materials. Europe’s development has become a hostage to Russia’s whims. Secondly, it has compromised Europe morally. Today we know that Russian gas and oil prices come at the cost of Ukrainian blood.
In 2008, Polish President Lech Kaczynski rightly warned: “Today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, and the next day the Baltic States. Then, perhaps, the time will come for my country, Poland.” These words still ring true today. The Baltic states, Finland, Poland and maybe even Eastern Europe will be next if we don’t protect Ukraine. That’s why, after a year of war, the commitment to support Ukraine must not weaken but grow stronger.
The Rebirth of Russian Imperialism
.This year has exposed Russia as a power that is strong only on paper. The heroic defenders of Ukraine have proved that Putin’s army can be defeated. The corrupt system of post-Soviet Russia is an inefficient clay-feet giant with no means of challenging the united West. And yet, for all its weakness, Russia has inspired fear for years.
It is not to say that Russia is on the verge of collapse. It is still one of the world’s largest states, and it has immense resources. And while there is no longer any strategic or economic case for Russia to wage war, Vladimir Putin will not give it up easily. We might find the logic of imperialism incomprehensible, but it is the fuelling force behind the Moscow regime. Hence the West must be prepared for a long battle. More than anything else, victory requires patience.
Vladimir Putin and his entourage are trying to force upon the world a design that was successfully rejected more than 30 years ago and should have been buried forever. Today’s Russia does not represent any tradition, nor is it a symbol of a lost order. Today’s Russia is a zombie feeding on obsolete ideology. An attempt to revive imperialism will, out of principle, have monstrous effects. Millions of Ukrainians live the barbarity that young people in the West only read about in history books. Russian army doesn’t wage war. It is carrying out an act of destruction – murdering innocent people, killing women and children, and burning down schools and hospitals. This is why we must not distance ourselves from this conflict. It is a choice between good and evil. Supporting Ukraine is as much a political decision as it is a moral one.
Poland Was the First to Help Ukraine
.My government’s long-standing warnings about Russia were sadly correct. We’d rather be proved wrong, but politics leaves no room for illusions. Poland was the first country to help Ukraine. We regained our independence in 1989. Generations of Poles shed their blood to break free from Moscow’s yoke. Russia had been a curse to Poland for centuries, and this time we were not going to wait idly for its tanks to appear at the gates of Warsaw. We knew that the battle for Kyiv was a battle for freedom for Poland and the whole of Europe.
In a moment of historical trial, Poland proved its worth. First, within weeks after the war outbreak, the Poles took in millions of war refugees. Women and children running from Putin’s barbaric army found shelter in Polish homes. We are now hosting up to 2 million refugees.
Second, we immediately began supplying arms to Ukraine. We handed over the most advanced equipment produced by the Polish defence industry, including Krab gun howitzers, Grot riffles, Piorun man-portable air defence missiles, and Osa and Newa self-propelled rocket launchers. The Polish government has also supplied over three hundred T-72 and PT-91 tanks, which Ukrainian soldiers know how to operate and can immediately use in combat. Recently, the Polish Leopards have been sent to Ukraine as well.
Third, on 15 March, less than a month after the conflict broke out, the Polish government initiated the first official visit to besieged Kyiv. In my direct support of President Zelensky, I was joined by the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Petr Fiala, the then Prime Minister of Slovenia Janez Jansa and the leader of the Polish ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczynski. It was an act of courage that will be forever etched in the hearts of the Ukrainian people.
Fourth, and most importantly, Poland has been a leader in building a broad coalition of support for Ukraine. It was Poland that pushed for tougher sanctions against Russia. It was Poland that had earlier advised against the NS2 gas pipeline. It was Poland that motivated its partners to hand over Leopards to Ukraine. It was Poland that fought for NATO enlargement and its unity in the Ukrainian cause. And now, it is Poland that is working to build a coalition to send MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine.
Poland – USA – NATO
.This year marks exactly twenty-four years since Poland joined NATO. Twenty-four years ago, we dreamt of breaking free from the Warsaw Pact once and for all. Twenty-four years ago, we needed strong allies to guarantee our safety. Today, Poland plays a very different role. We lead NATO’s eastern flank. As the largest state in the region, we are a key element in the new security architecture. Poland needs a strong NATO as much as ever, but NATO needs a strong Poland more than ever. Therefore, Polish defence spending will reach 4% of the GDP. Rather than passively waiting for events to unfold, we are actively working for security in the region and inspiring other Allies to do the same.
The war started by Russia could have been the beginning of the end of the West. Thanks to the stand taken by Poland, the US, and NATO as a whole, the opposite has happened. The West has come out of its post-Cold War slumber. The Polish-American alliance has blossomed anew and is stronger than ever. The Western world has been reminded that our civilisation is built on freedom. In standing up for Ukraine’s independence, we are not just defending our security – we are defending our identity. On 24 February, Russian bombs fell on Kyiv, spreading fear. A year into the war, the fear remains, but it is increasingly diminished by the hope of defeating the evil empire and establishing a new, peaceful order.