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Poland’s decision to stop sending weapons to Ukraine is being driven by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party's short-term electoral calculus. Yet the long-term effects on the world stage could deeply undermine the united NATO front against Russia, and the entire Western coalition.
WARSAW — Poland has now moved from being the country that was most loudly demanding that arms be sent to Ukraine, to a country that has suddenly announced it was withholding military aid. Even if Poland's actions won't match Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s words, the government has damaged the standing of our country in the region, and in NATO.
“We are no longer providing arms to Ukraine, because we are now arming Poland,” the prime minister declared on Polsat news on Wednesday evening. He didn’t specify which type of arms he was referring to, but his statement was quickly spread on social media by leading figures of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
When news that Poland would be withholding arms to Ukraine made their way to the headlines of the most important international media outlets, no politician from PiS stepped in to refute the prime minister’s statement. Which means that Morawiecki said exactly what he meant to say.
The era of tight Polish-Ukrainian collaboration, militarily and politically, has thus come to an end.
Votes at all costs
This isn’t shocking news. For a long time now, we have been observing a number of increasingly harsh statements by PiS politicians regarding Ukraine. Recently, Warsaw threatened Kyiv with a trade war, as well as with blocking its potential accession to the European Union. In a recent statement in New York, President Andrzej Duda described Ukraine as "a drowning man grasping at everything."
The fallout was disastrous, and his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was duly canceled. The Ukrainian ambassador was also summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ruling party is now fighting for survival
In its electoral campaign, PiS politicians are still facing an uphill battle, and have been reaching out to a xenophobic, anti-Ukrainian electorate. This means that the party is abandoning the longstanding strongly pro-Ukrainian policy and squandering what Poland managed to achieve in the international arena in 2022.
PiS foreign policy has always been subordinated to domestic policy, and the ruling party is now fighting for survival. Every vote counts. With the racist, far-right Konfederacja in third place, the party is doing what it can to secure a greater number of fringe voters.
The pretext to the cooling of relations between the two countries is the ongoing dispute over Ukrainian grain, which was supposed to transit through Polish ports to reach countries in the Middle East and Africa — but disappeared in Poland along the way.
PiS could have solved the matter last year, when farmers began to sound the alarm that the market was being flooded with thousands of tons of cheap Ukrainian grain. The government then accused critics of repeating so-called “Russian propaganda”, and at the same time made secret the list of companies that made money on trade in Ukrainian grain.
This raised suspicions that these profiteers were in fact people associated with the PiS government, which in turn prompted the party to play politics with the grain issue, and impose an embargo on Ukrainian raw materials. At the same time, Romania, which is also a large grain producer, was able to reach an agreement with Ukraine on this topic.
Inspecting ships carrying grain from Ukraine
A blow to Poland’s credibility on the world stage
The announcement of the suspension of arms deliveries only escalates the current dispute. But while the grain issue is an economic problem, the supply of weapons and ammunition is a matter of life and death. The Ukrainian counteroffensive in Zaporizhia and in the Donbas region has turned into a war of attrition.
The murderous shelling of Russian positions requires a huge consumption of ammunition and military equipment: including self-propelled artillery, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, helicopters and planes. In such a situation, a neighboring country, which is the fifth-largest European Union country, declaring the possibility of suspending arms deliveries will be perceived by Ukrainians as a stab in the back. Prime Minister Morawiecki must have been aware of this when he made this statement.
His words will also resonate loudly in the NATO sphere. It took a lot of effort to convince the Alliance countries to open their weapons and ammunition warehouses to Ukraine. Discussions on the delivery of howitzer artillery weapons lasted weeks, the transfer of modern tanks or cruise missiles to Ukraine was discussed for months, and the topic of modern fighter aircraft has been talked about in NATO for a year and a half — without any clear breakthrough so far.
Poland's credibility within NATO is disappearing before our eyes.
Until now, Poland has stood fully on the Ukrainian side in these talks, criticizing the Germans and French for their delay in transferring weapons. Now — when Berlin and Paris do not need to be convinced of anything — Warsaw is the one talking about suspending deliveries.
Although the government spokesman is trying to calm the situation, and says that Poland is still implementing the previously agreed deliveries, this change affects the cohesion of the Alliance. Poland's credibility within NATO, which had solidified after the Russian invasion, is disappearing before our eyes.
Support for Ukraine is not just about sending weapons. This is diplomatic support, economic aid, and support for the reconstruction of the country. Morawiecki has just excluded Poland from discussions on these matters. The reconstruction of Ukraine, which will be co-financed by the West, will involve trillion-dollar contracts. Considering the echoes of recent statements by PiS politicians, Polish companies will probably be less than happy with his remarks.
Applause from the Kremlin
After Russia launched its war on Ukraine, Poland quickly grew closer with the U.S. President Joe Biden turned a blind eye to the authoritarian tendencies of the PiS government and waved away Duda's pro-Trump sympathies. Thanks to this new decision, the rapprochement with Washington will end, and we will return to the icy Polish-American atmosphere from the first half of 2021, when Duda had to chase after Biden in the corridor at the NATO headquarters in order to meet him.
The Baltic and Scandinavian countries and our neighbors will draw appropriate conclusions from this.
PiS's volte-face will have similar effects in relations with countries in our region. We have heard many times from Law and Justice politicians that Ukrainians are fighting for Europe. If Poland now threatens to limit support for Ukraine, it is harming the European community at large. The Baltic and Scandinavian countries and our neighbors will draw appropriate conclusions from this.
“Germany is still trying to conclude a peace that is unfavorable for Ukraine and that will not stop Russia. My late Brother Lech Kaczyński was right, Poland will be next. That is why Ukraine must win...” It was exactly one year ago that longtime PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński pronounced these words at a rally in Oleśnica.
Today, Ukraine is focusing on Berlin — diabolized by PiS — instead of Warsaw. Poland, meanwhile, wins applause in Moscow: “I have never agreed with Andrzej Duda so much,” reacted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, after the Polish president described Ukraine as a "drowning man."
No doubt the news about Warsaw suspending arms supplies to Ukraine will make Poland even more new friends inside the Kremlin.
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