WARSAW: Poland this week announced plans to send “tens of thousands” of armaments to Ukraine, as one former Soviet controlled territory seeks to aid another. The question now is what exactly is being sent, and whether the next-steps include a potential trilateral agreement between Poland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
That Warsaw made the move is, in some ways, not a surprise. Poland has long been among the most paranoid of the NATO nations when it comes to Russia, especially in the wake of Moscow’s 2014 invasion of Ukrainian territory. Still, the process took a while to get underway.
After the session, held under the classified procedure, Polish President Andrzej Duda stated that “Security, independence, and freedom of Ukraine, as well as Belarus, are important, strategic issues for us. I’m glad to see there is a sense of great responsibility for these issues at the Polish political scene.”
Three days later, on Jan. 31, Poland’s Minister of National Defence Mariusz Błaszczak tweeted that “I’ve spoken with my Ukrainian counterpart Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov about the proposal concerning aid that we submitted to the Ukrainian side in mid-January. We are ready to provide our neighbors, among others, with ammunition. Poland is in solidarity with Ukraine.”
On Feb. 1, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki officially announced that Poland is offering “tens of thousands of bullets and artillery ammunition, MANPADs, light mortars, reconnaissance UAVs and other types of defensive weapons,” but he didn’t disclose any further details about terms and conditions this delivery.
Warsaw has not yet published an official list of equipment it plans to donate, but the ammunition is likely to be the “Soviet type” used for Ukraine’s ZU-23 23mm towed anti-aircraft twin-barreled autocannon and AZP S-60 57mm towed, road-transportable, short- to medium-range, single-barrel anti-aircraft gun. According to open reports it is also possible Poland will transfer a tranche of 60mm and 82mm mortar shells, as well as 60mm LMP-2017 light mortars.
While the inclusion of UAVs — probably the WB Electronics FlyEye, which has been used over Ukraine since 2015 — will catch attention in the West, the most surprising inclusion is the type of MANPADs to hand over to Ukrainians.
Originally it was reported that the MANPAD to be shared was the Grom (based on the Soviet man-portable infrared homing surface-to-air missile 9K38 Igla, which uses a 72mm anti-aircraft missile), a system of which Poland has huge stocks. But on Feb. 1 Minister Błaszczak declared that “Poland will send to Ukraine ammunition and Piorun MANPADs,” a modernized version of the Grom produced in country by local industry firm Mesko.
Originally ordered in Dec. 2016, Poland is expected to take possession of the full order of 420 launchers and 1,300 rockets by the end of the year. Sending the Piorun to Ukraine (under the first-ever export deal for this weapon) would be controversial, as it would create the risk of the latest Polish defense technologies falling into Russian hands.
In addition to plans to ship the weapons, Poland has sent humanitarian aid for Ukraine. Michał Dworczyk, head of the Polish PM’s Office, said that 120 tons of medical equipment, dressings, bandages, medicines, beds and bed sheets had already arrived in Kiev. “They are carrying aid for 10,000 refugees. We hope that there will be no such need, but if there is escalation resulting in internal refugees, then those lorries are carrying aid for them.” Dworczyk said.
Meanwhile, Poland is working to shore up its own borders in case the Ukraine situation escalates.
When asked about military support plans for the eastern flank of NATO, Pawel Soloch, the chief of Poland’s National Security Bureau (BBN), said that “several response scenarios were being considered in case of a Russian attack on Ukraine. The Russians must know that we are prepared to stand up to them if an attack on Ukraine is launched.”
And there may be political movement to come. During a Feb. 1 meeting in Kyiv, Morawiecki and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and discussed the potential for a new trilateral security agreement between the three nations.
In a joint press conference with Morawiecki in Ukraine’s capital, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said “I hope that, in the near future, we will be able to officially launch a new regional format of cooperation Ukraine-Poland-UK. In the context of ongoing Russian aggression, we should sign a trilateral document on cooperation to strengthen regional security.”
“Security is absolutely basic value from which everything can be started. This means normal economic life, international trade and richer social and cultural life,” Morawiecki stated, adding that “the struggle for safety in the region is our common matter; it is the matter of the entire European Union.”
What that means at this early stage isn’t clear, and the open-ended nature of the statements has led to early skepticism. For instance, Waldemar Skrzypczak, a retired general who commanded Poland’s Land Forces, stressed in the interview with the Polish Press Agency, that the creation that alliance is not tantamount to sending military contingents to Ukraine.
“British and Polish soldiers could be sent to Ukraine if necessary, but only with the NATO consent. We must remember that United Kingdom is far away, and we are on the Russian front due to the geographical location. Therefore, activities carried out on our own are not in the interests of Poland. Our strength is NATO” he said.
Leszek Sykulski of the Polish Geopolitical Society noted during an interview with the RMF radio station that a “Ukraine-Poland-UK alliance will be [an] artificial creation. United Kingdom attempts to balance forces in Europe through other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. On the other hand, Poland has a lot of unregulated and unresolved issues with Ukraine. […] It seems that such rumors of this alliance are premature,” he said during an interview with the RMF radio station.
Meanwhile, Poland is preparing for an influx of American forces following the Feb. 2 announcement that the US will be repositioning certain Europe-based units further east, while sending more forces into Europe.
Among those forces — which the Pentagon has stressed are not there to fight in Ukraine, nor to be permanently deployed — are approximately 1,700 service members of the 82nd Airborne Division and key enablers who will deploy from Fort Bragg to Poland.
“Strengthening the American presence in Poland by 1,700 soldiers is a strong signal of solidarity in response to a possible Russian aggression towards Ukraine,” said Błaszczak, the Polish defense minister. “It shows that the USA and the Alliance are taking the threat posed by Russia seriously and are taking decisive deterrence measures. The strength of the allies in deterring a potential aggressor is unity, determination and solidarity.”
What weapons will Poland send to Ukraine – and is an alliance next? – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense is written by Aaron Mehta for breakingdefense.com