Barely three weeks into his term, Andrzej Duda, the new President of Poland, is moving to pivot his country to closer security ties with NATO and its immediate eastern neighbors. At the same time he courts confrontation with Moscow. The President has made a number of statements reflecting his attitude towards Russia and Ukrainian crisis that also reflect the stance of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) he represents, a political force that may well come into power within the next few months.
In his inauguration address, Duda called for an increased NATO presence in Poland and a stronger Polish military. He urged his NATO partners to press for more security guarantees in the region. «We need stronger guarantees from NATO. Not we as Poland but the whole Central and Eastern Europe whose current geopolitical situation is challenging».
While speaking on the day of the Polish army, on Aug 15, 2015, Duda suggested a need for a new NATO strategy against what he called the «increased Russian aggression».
In an interview to the Financial Times, he proposed NATO to treat Poland as a full-fledged member rather than just a «buffer zone» and to place permanent bases on its territiry. «We do not want to be the buffer zone. We want to be the real eastern flank of the alliance», Duda said. «NATO has not yet taken note of the shift of Poland from the east to the west. NATO is supposed to be here to protect the alliance. If Poland and other Central European countries constitute the real flank of NATO, then it seems natural to me, a logical conclusion, that bases should be placed in those countries», Andrzej Duda emphasized.
The new Polish President hopes that NATO will take such decisions at the next summit to be held in Warsaw in 2016. According to Duda, NATO’s increased presence in Eastern Europe will be its key topic. The President believes that by the time the meeting takes place he will be able to convince Germany to push NATO presence further to the east.
Duda also plans to focus on regional cooperation and widening the Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) «from the Baltic states to Adriatic». It’s been a dream of some Polish leaders for nearly a century: an alliance of Eastern European countries running from the Baltic Sea down to the Black Sea that would keep Russia at bay. Building such an alliance under Warsaw's leadership will be a priority of his presidency. The process has already been started. The former Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski approved the organization of the joint Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian brigade in order «to support Ukraine, among others, in the area of modernization». On October 8 and 9 the Polish leader will take part in a summit of the Visegrad Group to discuss the issue of forming an anti-Russia East European bloc.
His office is also calling for a mini-summit of Central European leaders in November to push for a large and permanent NATO ground presence in the region – the ideas Moscow has always condemned and which are also resisted by Berlin and other Western European allies who see them as provocative and a violation of the 1997 accord between the alliance and Russia. After the Ukraine crisis erupted last year, then Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski asked NATO for two heavy combat brigades. The plans never materialized, mainly due to Germany's insistence that NATO has to stick, at least formally, to the letter of the 1997 agreement with Russia (The Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation). The alliance has a military base in the Polish town of Szczecin that hosts the 12th Mechanized Division consisting of several mechanized and coastal defense brigades as well as artillery and air-defense regiments, being a part of the NATO-aligned Multinational Corps North East. Now, the US plans to use a former Polish military base in the town of Ciechanow to deploy its troops in order to «strengthen military cooperation» and to »perform tasks related to defense and national security», as reported by Polish national daily Rzeczpospolita.
Poland and Lithuania are also in talks with Washington about permanently stationing warehouses for US army equipment on their territories. Earlier in July, despite an agreement on Iran's nuclear program that ensured its peaceful nature, the US announced plans to position its missile defense sites in Poland.
Jedrzej Bielecki, a diplomacy writer for the Rzeczpospolita daily, pointed out new Duda's strategy: the new president will first try to build a coalition in the region and only then, once stronger, will he go to Berlin and Washington to see what he can achieve regarding a stronger NATO presence.
The ambition to head the anti-Russian alliance and boost the country’s clout within NATO marks perhaps the most significant difference between Duda and his rivals in the centrist government, which for years has prioritized ties with major ally Germany, France and the European Union in a bid to become a significant player in mainstream Europe.
The NATO mini-summit in Bucharest on November 3-4 will be co-hosted by the Polish and Romanian heads of state. The meeting will be attended by the presidents of the alliance's eastern flank, namely Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland.
The Polish President’s deeds and statements do not go unnoticed. The creation of anti-Russian alliance will be responded to.
Commenting on the plans to boost NATO’s military presence in Eastern Europe Army General Yury Yakubov, a coordinator from the Russian Defense Ministry's generalinspectors directorate, said Moscow would consider the arrival of US tanks and artillery in Eastern Europe «the most aggressive step by NATO and the Pentagon since the days of the Cold War». The General was quoted by Russian Interfax agency.
«Thus Russia will have no other option besides boosting its troops and capabilities on its western flank», Yakubov said. «Firstly the forces stationed along the perimeter of Russia's western border will be strengthened to include forming new tank and artillery capabilities. The missile brigade in the Kaliningrad region is also going to be rearmed faster to begin using the new tactical missile systems Iskander», the General added. According to Yakubov, Russia's presence in states such as Belarus, which is a member of the country's post-Soviet alternative to NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, will also be affected by the moves.
The Russian-Polish relationship goes on deteriorating to negatively affect the overall situation in Europe. When Duda won the election, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was determined to seek a constructive relationship with Poland’s new leader.
Mr. Duda hasn't totally lost that chance yet. The choice is between taking positive steps to improve European security or aggravating tensions to raise the risks. It’s up to the President to decide if resurrecting Cold War ghosts really meets the national interests of his country. The geopolitical aspirations serve no purpose if the security of common people is reduced instead of being enhanced as the currents of «enterprises of great pith and moment» may turn awry.