If NATO's reactions are not perceived in Moscow as decisive enough, who knows how Russia would behave?
Dr Jakub Bornio is a political scientist specialising in International Relations at the University of Wroclaw. He worked in the Regional Representation of the European Commission and conducted research, among other things, on the topic of European security with a special focus on Eastern Europe. He spoke to TRT World about the Russian incursion into Ukraine, Poland’s concerns about the offensive, and the role Türkiye could play to end the conflict.
TRT WORLD: Four weeks ago, Ukraine became a theatre of conflict. How big and how real is the concern that the military escalation could also affect Poland?
JAKUB BORNIO: There are two levels we should consider while speaking about concerns in Poland. First, there is the social perception with a relatively high level of concern, with 70 percent of Poles fearing war even before the invasion. And then there are the political/experts’ perceptions that try to assess the possibility of such a scenario.
Bearing in mind that Poland is a NATO member, the risk of direct confrontation with this country remains low. Especially while observing the problems that Russia’s army is facing in trying to conquer territories in Ukraine and fighting the Ukrainian army. Imagine what kind of assistance and response a possible attack on Poland or any other NATO member could trigger. [Also] keeping in mind the relatively high level of NATO assistance to Ukraine with all the anti-tank and MANPADs weapons and others. Of course, Ukraine wishes more, but that is a topic for another discussion.
Regardless of the fact that large-scale confrontation is extremely unlikely, one cannot exclude some provocative incidents carried out by Russia in the region. Let me remind you that Russia’s strategic objective is to push NATO, and most importantly the US, out of Central and Eastern Europe. In this context, it would be enough for Russia to undermine NATO’s collective security guarantees. Hence, Russia does not need to occupy the Baltic states nor Poland in order to achieve this goal. It is enough to crash coherence among NATO members.
Having said this, one should observe NATO’s reactions to Russian activities. If they are not perceived in Moscow as decisive enough, who knows how Russia would behave? To put it in other words, in order to prevent any escalation, NATO needs to be harsh, it needs to clearly demonstrate its abilities, and readiness to respond in case of any provocative action.
In Moscow, a military victory over Ukraine was apparently considered possible within a few days. But the advance has been much slower than expected. Was this course to be expected from Poland's point of view, and is an occupation of Kiev and the areas east of the Dnieper likely to happen?
In Poland, analysts were fully aware that the conquest of Ukraine and future occupation would cost Russia a lot, and would simply make Moscow suffer. Hence, some of them—and I was among them—did not perceive the large-scale operation likely to happen. At the same time, I was strongly emphasising that it couldn’t be ruled out, since Moscow has lost other tools of influence over Ukraine. So the military option was the only one that remained.
At the same time, we did not expect such great resistance from Ukrainians, and certainly did not expect that Russian armed forces would have so many gaps and shortcomings. Soldiers’ morale along with other factors like geography [and] external military assistance are playing a big part in the campaign. At the same time, I warn about being too optimistic at this stage. It seems that Russia is regrouping its forces and preparing for another offensive. It is hard to make any prediction on how it will go. As I said before, having in mind soldiers’ morale and the radicalised attitude of Ukrainians toward Russia, I can’t imagine Russia’s occupation of left-bank Ukraine ending well for Moscow.
What is the role of Poland's army and intelligence services in supporting Ukrainian forces?
JB: Poland has proven to be Ukraine’s crucial hinterland not only in the military but also in the civilian sense. Since the very beginning of the Russian war, Poland has been among the countries providing Ukraine with military equipment, including Polish-manufactured and extremely effective Piorun MANPADs, various types of ammunition, rifles, mortars, and most recently the light one-shot anti-tank grenade launcher, Komar.
Due to its geographical location, Poland serves also as a transport hub for deliveries of equipment to Ukraine. Poland also engages politically, trying to widen external military assistance to Ukraine at the common NATO level. When it comes to intelligence, it is hard to assess due to the nature of this type of activity. Bearing in mind the massive influx of Ukrainian refugees to Poland, I would expect secret services to focus more on that issue. Very recently on the Polish-Ukrainian border, the Polish Internal Security Agency detained a Spanish journalist suspected of spying for Russia. But Polish intelligence has some shortcomings, therefore I do not expect them to contribute a lot to military intelligence for the purposes of the Ukrainian armed forces. It is rather a role that the US agencies are playing right now.
Do you expect most of the Ukrainian refugees coming to Poland to stay there permanently?
JB: As of March 16, an estimated 1.9 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the border with Poland, the Polish Border Guard has reported. That requires a lot of effort from the state apparatus and from society. The future of these people depends very much on the outcome of the war in Ukraine. I do not expect this to end very soon, so these people will have to settle somewhere. Some of them are joining their families in other EU countries and consider Poland only as a transfer station. Yet still, bearing in mind the large Ukrainian diaspora that lived in Poland before the war (according to some estimates it was even two million people), one should expect that the vast majority of refugees will stay here.
The question remains, how many of them will be absorbed by the labour market and how many of them will find housing? Right now, most of them are hosted by ordinary Polish people in their private apartments and homes as well as by local authorities. However, the majority of these proud Ukrainian people want to be self-sufficient so they do not have to depend on others.
What role can Türkiye play now to end the conflict in Ukraine?
JB: Türkiye remains a key player in the geopolitics of the region, which contributes a lot when it comes to military assistance to Ukraine. At the same time, Türkiye became one of the most important hubs for Russian air travel after other countries sanctioned Moscow. Ankara’s policy remains ambiguous. The question, however, should not be how Türkiye may contribute to the de-escalation, but what Türkiye wants or would do. These are two different things. There are great efforts by regional leaders, including Polish President Andrzej Duda (who met Erdogan) to make Ankara harsher in its relations with Russia. Nevertheless, I do not expect Ankara to resign from its policy of “balancing” between Russia and Ukraine.