From Refugees to MiG-29s, Poland Is Playing a Huge Role in Aiding Ukraine

There is a stark contrast between now and how Warsaw handled the November 2021 Poland-Belarus border crisis.

5 min read
Hindi Female
Edited By :Tejas Harad

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to unprecedented unity among the European countries and the United States (US).

The European Union sanctions have been speedily slapped on Russia, and most countries are opening their borders to refugees from Ukraine.

Among the many European countries playing their part to support the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian government, Poland – which shares over 300 miles long border with Ukraine – stands out.

Of the approximately 2 million people who have fled Ukraine, 1.2 million have entered Poland, according to the United Nations (UN).

Additionally, Poland has stated that it is prepared to give its MiG-29 fighter jets to the US, so that the latter can decide how they can be best utilised to assist Ukraine.

We take a closer look at the ways in which Poland is contributing to the Europe's efforts to support Ukraine and why.


Poland's Humanitarian Response

Successive nationalist governments in Poland after the collapse of the Soviet Union, led to the implementation of tight anti-refugee policies.

In response to the Russian invasion, however, not only are Polish people being extremely receptive to fleeing Ukrainians, but even the Polish government seems to have changed its colours regarding the conflict-induced immigration.

For instance, Warsaw is, at the moment, drafting an emergency bill that aims to make it more convenient for Ukrainians to access the Polish labour market.

It will also make some social benefits available to Ukrainian refugees, which have, until now, been available only to permanent residents of Poland.

This is in stark contrast to how Polish leaders handled the Poland-Belarus border crisis that shocked the world five months ago.

Videos that went viral on social media in November 2021 showed thousands of migrants, mostly Iraqi Kurds, trying to flee from Belarus into Poland.

These refugees were met at the Polish border by defence forces, who had set up barbed wire fences to deny them entry into the country.

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had then accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of planning the whole crisis, claiming that while the cameras are focusing on Minsk, "it (the crisis) has its mastermind in Moscow."

The current crisis also has its mastermind in Moscow, but the differences in the response of the Polish authorities couldn't be more stark.

Nevertheless, the humanitarian response from Poland's civilian population has also been overwhelming.

During the weekend at the Medyka crossing, Polish people laid out boxes of clothes along a path and provided tea, food, and toiletries to the refugees.

"During that crisis (the Polish-Belarusian border one) the government made it extremely difficult for Poles to help refugees, and unfortunately many people chose to look away,” Reisigová Kielawski, an English language university instructor, told The New York Times.

"The grassroots movement to help Ukrainians, which we are seeing at the moment, is immense and heartwarming, but I have the impression that it is also lined with a sense of guilt that as a society we didn’t do enough back then (November 2021)," he added.


Supporting Ukraine's Military

Poland has also presented itself as an important player to aid Ukraine militarily so that it can defend itself against Russian aggression.

Most recently, it displayed its enthusiasm by advancing a proposal regarding its own MiG-29 fighter jets that could strengthen Ukraine's air capability.

The plan was that Poland would deliver the MiGs to the US base in Germany, from where they would be flown into a non-NATO country like Kosovo (which is a key ally of the US).

Then, Ukrainian pilots would swoop into that non-NATO country and fly those jets to Ukraine, technically keeping Poland outside the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The move would have weakened Poland's own air force, which is why it asked the US to provide F-16 fighter jets in return.

Poland would want to avoid officially aiding Ukraine militarily.

It is, after all, a NATO member, and if Russia militarily retaliates against Poland, that would obligate all NATO members to attack Russia (NATO Article 5), sparking a broader war consisting of the US, Canada, and most of the European countries.

This plan has been stalled as of now, with Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby saying that the prospect of the fighter planes flying from a US-NATO base "into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance."

US Vice President Kamala Harris is on her way to Poland, a trip scheduled before the fighter jet controversy started.

She will meet Polish President Andrzej Sebastian Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki along with Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

The fighter jets issue is expected to be discussed between Harris and the Polish government, given that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the West to provide high-tech jets.

Poland has also dispatched ammunition convoy to Ukraine, and plans to send mortars, drones and man-portable missile systems, known as MANPADS, according to The Economist.

The country has also offered to be of use to Ukraine by serving as a logistical centre, that is, the transit country for any and all military and humanitarian assistance that is being provided by other nations.

Konrad Muzyka, who serves as the head of a military analysis firm called Rochan Consulting, told The Economist that "the biggest share of military equipment, both lethal and non lethal, will go through Poland."

It is hosting troops of NATO's eastern flank, including thousands of US troops.

Additionally, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had announced in February, a week before the invasion, the sale of 250 Abrams tanks to Poland, when the threat of war was still looming over Eastern Europe.


The Geographical Factor

The longer this invasion goes on, the higher the risks of an unintentional attack on a country bordering Ukraine, such as Poland, which is extremely close to the former.

If a Russian missile is fired at north-western Ukraine, and it accidentally hits Poland, then a Russia-NATO war would become inevitable.

"The bigger the conflict, the greater the possibility of something like that happening,” Mary Elise Sarotte a post-Cold War historian, told Fortune.

In that case, Poland will have to prepare itself more and more quickly than most other European countries because of its proximity to Belarus, a staunch ally of Russia.

Any attack order by the Kremlin on Poland will go through Belarus, making it one of the first countries to be attacked by Russia in its war against NATO.

Therefore, it appears as if Poland wants Russia to be militarily weakened by Ukraine, just in case the worst happens.


'We Poles Understand the Meaning of War'

History might help us understand why Poland is being so supportive of Ukraine. It may have more to do with the oppressor – Russia.

Poland's history with Russia is a painful one for the Polish people.

Not only has Russia constantly tried to conquer Poland with invasion after invasion, but the 20th century in particular evokes horrific memories.

The Soviets, after all, collaborated with Nazis (Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact 1939) to cut up Poland amongst themselves one week before Hitler invaded the country and started the Second World War.

The Soviet invasion of Poland, which took place 16 days after the Nazi invasion, eventually led to the infamous Katyn massacre – a series of mass executions of more than 20,000 Polish officers by the Soviets.

Ironically, their graves were discovered by the Nazis.

Russia, throughout history, has scarred Poland.

"In a situation like this, there is only one thing you can do," Roman Pogorzelski told The Guardian while talking about Poland's relentless efforts to support Ukraine.

"We Poles understand the meaning of war."

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