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Feb 20, 2024

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Poland: Prime Champion of Free Ukraine

By Robert Strybel
Warsaw Correspondent

WARSAW–Poland’s leadership had long been vigorously urging the West to take a hard line on Moscow, calling for painful, far-reaching economic sanctions. Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki for months had been in the forefront of leaders lobbying for unified support for beleaguered Ukraine. They stepped up their campaign after Russian dictator Putin recognized the “independence” of two pro-Russian breakaway “people’s republics,” illegally set up on Ukrainian soil. Soon thereafter, Putin sent in Russian troops which he referred to as “peacekeepers.” They were ostensibly deployed to protect the Russians living there against Ukrainian forces allegedly threatening them with “genocide.”

In Poland and throughout the West, the general view was that Putin would focus on taking over the two-thirds of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions still outside the two quasi-republics. Most everyone was therefore surprised when before daybreak Russian troops moved in on Ukraine from three sides, shelling not only military infrastructure but even housing developments. Putin called the invasion “a special military operation” whose purpose was to “de-militarize and de-Nazify” Ukraine. He threatened anyone who tried to stop him with an immediate response more severe than anything ever seen to date.

On the eve of the invasion, Duda was meeting with the presidents of Ukraine and Lithuania on ways to forestall the anticipated aggression. Back home, the Polish government had just launched a Homeland Defense Act which included doubling the Polish army’s troop strength to 300,000 and further upgrading its defensive hardware. The Polish Foreign Ministry has called on Poles in the Ukraine to return home, but the Polish diplomatic mission would remain there as long as possible.

Along the Ukrainian border, Poland has set up centers to accommodate Ukrainians fleeing the war. Successive planeloads of crack US combat troops have been arriving in Poland to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank. America’s new ambassador to Poland, Mark Brzeziński, has reassured Poles they are safe under NATO’s core principle: an attack on one member is an attack on the entire alliance. But Both President Joe Biden and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg have ruled out sending their forces in to reinforce beleaguered Ukraine.

With the unpredictable Putin at the helm, the outcome of the hostilities are difficult to foresee. The West is developing more potent sanctions than ever before, but so far those imposed after his 2014 annexation of Crimea did not really phase the Kremlin chief.  Recently he signed an anti-Western pact with China to create a ”new world order.” His faithful team of sanction-busters has been hard at work seeking out new markets including India, Brazil and Africa to offset any losses. Cyber-attacks on government accounts and infrastructure in Ukraine and elsewhere continue apace, although proving their Russian origin is not easy.

Putin’s arch-enemies are the US, NATO, the European Union and the West in general which, parroting Ronald Reagan’s nickname for Soviet Russia, he calls the “Evil Empire.” In his view, it was the West that has turned Ukraine into an hostile “anti-Russia” and is pumping it full of lethal weaponry aimed against his country’s security. The Kremlin-controlled media are depicting the current conflict as an attack by a “fascistic,” Western-backed Ukraine on Russia which is forced to defend itself. Deprived of wider access to alternative news sources, many Russians seem to actually believe that.

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