Poland is one of Ukraine’s main allies in the Russian-Ukrainian war. It is difficult to overestimate its contribution to the assistance provided to Ukraine and Ukrainians. Mariusz Błaszczak, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of National Defense of Poland told Ukrinform about the military component of this assistance, the assessment of Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic prospects, and the Russian threat.
WE WILL SUPPORT KYIV AS LONG AS IT TAKES
- Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, how do you assess the current situation in the east and south of Ukraine? In your opinion, is the Russian offensive, which has been talked about a lot lately, already underway or has it not started yet? If not, when should we expect it?
- The military knows the best answer to this question. Although, for obvious reasons, in Poland and among NATO allies, we constantly talk about supporting Ukraine and about what is happening at the front.
More than a year has passed since Russia's full-scale attack on independent and sovereign Ukraine started. This attack was supposed to be a short operation but turned out to be a difficult campaign with huge losses. Therefore, I believe that the Russians have no chance to deliver a final blow to Ukraine during the spring offensive. I also hope that Ukraine's allies will help it achieve the greatest possible success during the counteroffensive of Ukrainian troops.
We will support Kyiv as long as it takes. We all think alike and understand that we must win. And this is possible if Kyiv receives comprehensive assistance.
- What is your forecast of the end of this war: how long will it last, what will be the consequences?
- It is rather a matter of months, not weeks. Russia got stuck in Ukraine, as it was in Afghanistan before. At the same time, withdrawing from the war now would mean the Kremlin's recognition of its mistake and the need to take responsibility for the consequences of this barbaric attack. Putin's violent aggression changed the global security environment. I want to clearly emphasize that ending this war as soon as possible is in the interests of independent Ukraine, safe Poland, and fair world.
The Ukrainians have already won the first stage of this war. They pushed Russians back from Kyiv, stopped them in the east, and are successfully holding a long front line. Russia, despite all its propaganda of success, failed, and the "special military operation", which was supposed to end in a few days, dragged the Russians into a prolonged conflict that discredited them internationally and in which they suffer huge losses. This is the result of two inseparable facts: the heroism and resilience of the Ukrainian people and the support of the West. Maintaining this support is the only way to win and preserve the fundamental principles of international law in relations between states.
IN THE LONG TERM, THIS WAR MEANS THE END OF PUTIN
- Some Western politicians and experts say that Ukraine will have to accept the loss of part of its territory as a prerequisite for peace talks with Russia. What is your opinion on this matter?
- This would mean that we allow Russia to destroy the entire post-war order. This cannot be allowed. In the long run, this war means the end of Putin. I believe that the complete liberation of the occupied Ukrainian territories is only a matter of time, and it will lead to the fact that the terms of peace will be determined by the Ukrainians.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Putin will not be able to save his face in this war. Ukraine must win. Otherwise, it will be an incentive for Russia to strike again either Ukraine or other countries. The conclusion of another treaty like the so-called Minsk II deal will only facilitate rebuilding Russia's military potential to resume hostilities.
Therefore, the arms supply to Ukraine and economic and political pressure on Russia is currently the best tool to contain the Kremlin. We must not feel tired or relieved of our duty to support Ukraine as its people fight for the freedom of all Europeans and their values.
- How do you assess the current security assistance to Ukraine from the West? Is it enough for the Ukrainian troops to be able to conduct a successful counteroffensive and push the Russian troops back from Ukraine? If not, what needs to be done to increase this assistance?
- I repeat once again that the entire Euro-Atlantic community must oppose Russian intentions to destroy the existing order. I think what U.S. President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg are saying is very important because it puts pressure on all allies. My country, Poland, plays a key role. We are neighbors of Ukraine and have supported it from the very beginning. We want to border free Ukraine, not Russia. The Polish defense industry also takes an active part in the support process, but its production facilities will not replace cooperation with other defense industries of the EU, NATO member states, or even the so-called contact group of 50 countries in the matter of security assistance.
Together we can achieve a lot. The fact is: earlier it was said that it was impossible to transfer Patriot air defense systems to Ukraine. Pressure, Polish pressure, made the delivery of Patriot air defense systems possible. Earlier it was said that Leopard tanks cannot be sent to Ukraine. However, thanks to our diplomatic efforts, we managed to pave the way for the transfer of the entire battalion. This shows that this struggle, including on the diplomatic front, is crucial. That is why we constantly talk about forms of support for Ukraine. We know that spare parts and ammunition production are a big challenge. But all this leads to the fact that Europe and the West are restoring their defense capabilities which have been declining in recent years. The Russian threat was underestimated, some countries even cooperated with Russia, with Putin, giving him grounds for building up his military force.
However, after more than a year of Russia's imperial aggression against Ukraine, NATO is united as never before and ready for cooperation and assistance. It is necessary to support Ukraine as long as it takes. Today, the security of Poland and the entire eastern flank of NATO depends on the situation in Ukraine.
ALL PLEDGED TANKS ARE EITHER ALREADY IN UKRAINE OR WILL ARRIVE THERE IN A VERY SHORT TIME
- Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, you said that all Polish Leopard 2 tanks had been handed over to Ukraine. Being the head of the tank coalition on the transfer of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, can you say when the entire Leopard 2 tank battalion will arrive in Ukraine, that is, tanks from other countries as well?
- We made it so that the entire battalion of Leopard 2A4 tanks (I mean the Ukrainian battalion which will have at least 31 tanks) will be formed as part of the international coalition. The conclusion of agreements on the supply of Western armored vehicles to Ukraine has already yielded the first results. Poland was the first to supply Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2A4 tanks. The tank battalion, which will soon be transferred to Ukraine, will include eight more units from Canada, eight from Norway, and at least six tanks from Spain. I am negotiating the transfer of four additional tanks with Minister of Defense of Spain Margarita Robles. In turn, Finland will provide auxiliary vehicles within the framework of this coalition. All pledged tanks are either already in Ukraine or will arrive there in a very short time. I also expect other countries to join the delivery of Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
- The first group of Ukrainian tankers underwent training on Leopard 2 tanks in Poland's Świętoszów. Will the next groups of Ukrainian tankers train there? How many Ukrainian soldiers are currently training in Poland?
- Both the support for the Ukrainian army with heavy armored vehicles and the training of soldiers on the equipment provided by the West are of key importance for the defense of Ukraine against the Russian invasion. As part of the support package, we have already conducted training for Ukrainian military groups. Training the next Ukrainian crews is now underway. At the same time, I want to emphasize that Poland is a leader not only in providing Ukraine with armored vehicles and training the Armed Forces of Ukraine but also in providing shelter to Ukrainian refugees, for which I am also grateful to my compatriots.
- Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, you talked about plans to create a service hub for tanks transferred to Ukraine at the Bumar-Łabędy defense enterprise in Poland. When will this hub be operational?
- As I have already said many times, we are ready to launch a service hub in Poland. This is a hub where Leopard tanks delivered to Ukraine will be repaired and serviced. The most important thing now is to get out of the deadlock regarding Germany’s supply of spare parts for Leopard tanks. I have already discussed this issue with my German colleague. I want to make it clear: the Polish defense industry is ready to produce spare parts for Leopard tanks but the German Rheinmetall company has the documentation necessary to make this project work. Bumar-Łabędy enterprises have the proper conditions to re-launch a production line that was closed 20 years ago. Of course, this will be implemented in cooperation with Germany.
- Poland also plans to send 60 old T-72 and PT-91 tanks to Ukraine from its stocks. When could this happen?
- Since the beginning of the full-scale war, Poland has transferred more than 200 T-72 tanks to Ukraine. I want to emphasize that we will hand over the next batch of tanks and IFVs. But to continue to support our Ukrainian friends, we must replenish the combat capabilities of our armored units. That is why we are constantly purchasing modern equipment that the Polish military will get soon, including Abrams tanks, K2 tanks, K9 howitzers, HIMARS launchers, F-35 fighter jets, FA-50 aircraft, and K239 CHUNMOO multiple rocket launchers.
CREATION OF AIRCRAFT COALITION IS A MATTER OF TIME
- During one of the previous meetings of defense ministers in Ramstein format, you said that Poland would be able to arm and train one brigade for the Armed Forces of Ukraine by March of this year. Will the Ukrainian army really have one brigade trained and armed in Poland by the end of March?
- Ukrainian soldiers are trained by Polish instructors from the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade, as well as instructors from Canada and Norway. Thanks to our experience and the experience of the instructors of the Leopard training center, we did not have any problems with the organization or conduct of such training. As I have already said, we have prepared almost a brigade of Ukrainian soldiers in Poland. For obvious security reasons, I would prefer not to mention specific numbers. However, I must emphasize that the training cycle of Ukrainian tankers, which we consistently implement, is crucial in the process of countering the Russian offensive.
At the same time, I want to express my respect for Ukrainian military personnel being trained in Poland. These are soldiers who have combat experience, they serve daily in armored forces. I had the opportunity to talk with them: these are soldiers who have been fighting for years, have been serving in the army since 2014, after the Russian attack on Ukraine. These are military personnel who have great motivation to defeat the aggressor and win. I have deep respect for their willingness to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills and return to the front line as soon as possible.
- Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, the Ukrainian authorities say that the so-called aircraft coalition will be 100% formed, it is only a matter of time. In what form could Poland join it? How many MiG-29s could Poland hand over to Ukraine?
- It's true. I believe that the creation of such a coalition is a matter of time. As allies, we must come to this decision together. Poland is ready to transfer its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine as part of the international coalition. President Andrzej Duda spoke about it. In this matter, there is complete unity between the president and the Polish government. We are constantly working on a solution that will satisfy all parties.
- Poland is the undisputed leader, along with the USA and Great Britain, in providing security assistance to Ukraine. What is the worth of security assistance already sent to Ukraine? What Polish equipment did the Ukrainian military at the front like the most, and, perhaps, are asking Poland for more of it?
- The Armed Forces of Ukraine have received unprecedented military, humanitarian, and diplomatic assistance from Poland. We are not only the main assistance center but also one of the largest donors. Since the beginning of the war, we have transferred more than EUR 2.2 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine. I know from Ukrainians that Polish weapons, Krab howitzers, MSBS Grot rifles, Piorun man-portable air-defense systems, and Warmate combat drones perform well on the battlefield in Ukraine, efficiently destroying the enemy. A real cult has already been formed around Piorun MANPADS. I am proud that the weapons produced in Poland, which ended up in the hands of the Ukrainian army, fulfill their role well. These are the hallmarks of our defense industry and our solidarity with Ukraine at war.
WE DO NOT WANT THE REPETITION OF BUCHA, IRPIN, OR BAKHMUT IN POLAND
- What are the most important conclusions from this war that you see for Poland?
- Russia's barbaric, unprovoked attack on independent Ukraine confirmed the correctness of the decisions regarding further arming, modernization, and increase in the size of the Polish army. The new reality of security in Europe has changed a lot, it has shown that the protection of Polish territory and our values requires even greater investments. Hence the increase in the size of the Polish armed forces and the intensive process of equipping the Polish army with the most advanced equipment in accordance with the Law "On the Defense of the Motherland".
In addition, it is very important to strengthen alliances. The experience of Ukraine shows the need for immediate protection of the entire territory of the country. To act according to the doctrine of our predecessors, which provided for defense along the Wisła line and even on the western border of Poland, would be not only wrong but also shameful. We do not want the repetition of Bucha, Irpin, or Bakhmut in Poland. Hence my decision to create the 18th mechanized division and the 1st infantry division of the legions to be stationed in eastern Poland. After the brutal attack on independent Ukraine, we are purchasing even more weapons and military equipment both abroad and from Polish defense enterprises. The support we provided to Ukraine – let me remind you that we sent the first batches of ammunition to Ukraine even before the start of the war – forced us to further accelerate the efforts related to equipping and training the Polish army. We must be ready for any developments.
- Poland is consistently strengthening its border with Belarus and Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation, the country has recently concluded several multimillion-dollar contracts for the purchase of a large number of weapons. Is there an immediate threat to Poland from Russia and its satellite country Belarus in the near future? What form can this threat take?
- The hybrid attack on Poland has been ongoing since August 2021, when there was a massive attempt to cause a migrant crisis on Poland–Belarus border. It was planned in the Kremlin. But the important thing is that our government warned from the very beginning about the revival of Russian imperialism. President Lech Kaczynski, blessed memory of him, repeatedly emphasized this.
Today, Poland is safe, and the Polish army is growing in numbers and is equipped with modern weapons. Poland is also strong in alliances as evidenced by the presence of American, British, Romanian, and Croatian troops in Poland’s territory. We have long since ceased to be just a beneficiary of security. We constantly cooperate with allies, our forces are present, for example, as part of NATO’s multinational battle groups stationed in Latvia and Romania. At the beginning of April this year, the Polish army will receive the Abrams tanks ordered last year, which, together with K9 howitzers and K2 tanks, will guarantee our security on the eastern flank of the North Atlantic Alliance. They will close the "Brest Gate" to scare off every potential aggressor. We will not allow any imperial aspirations to lead to the violation of Poland's borders.
Very strong and decisive words of U.S. President Joe Biden, which confirm the unity of the North Atlantic Alliance, the presence of American soldiers on Polish soil and emphasize the importance of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, are of great importance. American leadership in NATO is of fundamental importance, including for defeating Putin's imperial ambitions.
UKRAINE'S VICTORY IS ITS MOST IMPORTANT STEP TOWARD POSSIBLE ACCESS TO NATO STRUCTURES
- Ukraine wants to receive security guarantees from allied countries and a clear prospect of NATO membership. How do you assess the possibility of obtaining such security guarantees during the NATO summit in Vilnius this year?
- We resolutely support Ukraine on its path toward joining NATO and the European Union. I have repeatedly spoken about this at international forums and when meeting with President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and my colleague, Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov. Today, the most important and urgent task is to ensure that Ukraine withstands as a sovereign and independent state. We must mobilize as many military, economic, and financial resources as possible to win this war. Undoubtedly, Ukraine's victory is its most important step towards possible accession to NATO structures. I believe that the NATO summit in Vilnius will be a great opportunity to talk about the prospects of Ukraine's membership in the North Atlantic Alliance. In my opinion, a fundamental principle of the Alliance is to keep NATO open for new members. Ukraine's integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic community will be the best investment for stability on our continent.
- In the coming years, the Polish army will be one of the best armed armies in Europe, and the Ukrainian army will be the most experienced on our continent. Do you see the possibility of a Poland–Ukraine military alliance after this war ends?
- The war created a new security architecture both in Europe and in the world and it also rebuilt Poland–Ukraine relations. The current geopolitical situation, and especially the war in Ukraine, has accelerated consistent and far-reaching military cooperation between our countries. Poland helps Ukraine on many levels, and the Poles stand in full solidarity with the Ukrainians. I have no doubt that when the war ends, we will have the strongest and most experienced army in Europe – the Ukrainian army. Strong, independent, prosperous Ukraine is in our national interests, but as reality shows, the strength of existing alliances is the most important and most efficient. First and foremost, this concerns NATO.
Photo credit: PAP and Getka