Why Poland Matters: Eastern European Point of View

Historical awareness:

“Poland is a country with a very turbulent history”. This statement can be universally used as a premise for every story that describes a bloody and dangerous path of Poland from 1795 to 1989. 

1795 is a date when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – formally, the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – was collapsed due to the series of invasions and partitions of Polish territory carried out by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy. 

This dolorous act of history resulted in the loss of independence of Poland for the next 123 years. Not only the independence was under attack, but almost every aspect of Polish national identity: language, literature, culture, and religion. During the 123 years occupation, the Russian Empire brutally suppressed 2 military revolts of Poles in 1830-1831 (“November Uprising”) and in 1863-1864 (“January Uprising”). After the last rebellion, the 22-point multi-year plan of Russification was enacted. The plan included:• Abolition of the formal autonomy of the Kingdom of Poland;• Announcement of martial law for the next 50 years;• Mass deportation of Poles to Siberia;• Appointment of Russians on the high-medium level administrative positions throughout the country;• Disappearance of the term “Polish” (“Polski/a”) from every private and public institution;• Abolition of Polish higher education institutions and launching mandatory teaching of Russian in schools;• Prohibition of any contact with the Vatican and the Pope for the representatives of the Catholic Church of Poland.

After the above-mentioned turbulent period Poland regained its independence in 1918, but at thattime the communist regime became a principal threat to the sovereignty of the II Republic. However, Poland managed to defend its independence by defeating the Bolsheviks in 1921.

The existence of the II Republic continued only for 21 years. In 1939, on the basis of the Ribbentrop-Molotov secret pact, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The tragic events of the Second World War (WW2) were particularly destructive for Poland. Apart from human and infrastructural destruction, the Soviet secret services carried out a classified operation and slaughtered up to 22 000 Polish officers in Katyń and other Soviet cities. In addition, more than 60 000 Poles were deported to Central Asia from their homeland. 

After the WW2, Poland became the Eastern Bloc country for the next 40 years (against its will). During this period the communist regime did not stop repressions of Polish intellectual and political elite. There were such tragic events as brutal dispersal of Polish youth by Soviet troops in 1968 and martial law in 1981.  

As a result of these bitter historic experiences, almost every government of the III Republic of Poland (since 1989) – despite the different approaches to foreign policy – has striven to minimize the threats that come from Russia and ensure the stability of the entire region. Today more than 90% of Poles perceive Russia as a number one threat to national security, support the country’s EU/NATO membership, and believe that in case of military conflict, Poland has engage in combat to support NATO allies.

Military Modernization:

Another important reason why Poland matters is its active aspirations to become a guarantor of regional security. 

According to Dan Goure: “The Republic of Poland is rapidly becoming the critical member of the NATO Alliance in its increasing efforts to deter Russian military threats and counter Moscow’s attempts to subvert European democracy.” 

Poland spends more money in terms of a percentage of GDP than other NATO countries. In the 2019 budget, the Polish government allocated 2% of 2018 GDP, an amount equal to about $11.76 billion for total defense expenditures.  

An additional significant element for the role of Poland as a regional security guarantor is the US-Polish military cooperation. In September the US Vice President Pence announced that Poland and the United States had reached an agreement to increase the number of American troops in Poland from 4 500 to 5 500. President Trump has committed to stationing 2 000 US troops in Poland, in what has been unofficially nicknamed “Fort Trump”. The Polish government has offered to spend $2 billion toward a several base for locating the additional soldiers. Poland is also buying F-35A fighter jets from the United States.  

To minimize the threat of Russia, Warsaw increased the size of its regular armed forces by some 30% and added a fourth division to its army. As Dan Goure reports in his article: “Poland is also increasing a Territorial Defense Force which will eventually consist of some 17 light infantry brigades. These units can be mobilized to deal with Russia airborne troops and Special Forces or any attempt by Moscow to use so-called “little green men” to undermine Polish sovereignty. Also, Poland is investing a lot in the military modernization. According to a new Technical Modernization Plan for 2026, Warsaw will spend approximately $50 billion on fifth-generation fighter jets, UAVs, assault helicopters, short-range rockets, submarines, and cyber security.

Foreign Policy:

As a co-author of the Eastern Partnership Initiative, Poland is one of the most ardent advocates and supporters of the EU enlargement policy to the East. That’s why Poland’s eastern partners, in particular, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine remain a key area of the country’s activity. During his address from 2019 speech, FM Jacek Czaputowicz said: “For Poland, the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia and of other countries of the region, which have such ambitions, is a guarantee of long-lasting stability and economic, political, and social growth of our partners.” 

Poland is actively supporting Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia in their Euro-Atlantic aspirations and allocating millions of Euros to support democracy, transformation, and development in those countries. 

Another important platform for international cooperation is the Visegrád Group – a cultural and political alliance of four Central European states – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, that are members of the European Union and NATO. Poland is actively using this format to support and advocate sanctions against Russia and keeps the actuality of the issues like: “frozen conflicts” in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. 

Day to day Poland is becoming the closest ally of the United States in Europe which has an additional meaning for regional stability and security. Almost every foreign policy decision of Poland is supported by the White House.  

Fruit of an effective foreign policy of Poland is an uninterrupted pace of high economic growth averaging 4.2% per annum between 1992 and 2019. Poland is steadily catching up with Western Europe and has become the seventh-largest economy in the EU with a total GDP of $600 billion.

At the end of this very short and general review of the motives why Poland matters, one thing can be said: Poland has become a stronghold of Central and Eastern Europe and despite the huge ideological differences between the ruling party and opposition elite, this country – does not matter who triumphs in the next elections – will be a free “island” from Russian influence and an active supporter for the countries like Georgia and Ukraine.

Grigol Julukhidze

Senior Fellow

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