Britain’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has admitted that Poland was right in its longstanding warnings about Russia. During a visit to Warsaw to meet with her Polish counterpart, Zbigniew Rau, she also praised Poles for the support they have given to Ukrainian refugees.
“At this time of shattered European security amid Putin’s appalling war, we’re very, very grateful for what Poland has done,” said Truss after meeting Rau. “You have been at the front line of helping Ukraine, including supporting those who have fled this appalling war.”
Around 2.5 million people have fled to Poland from Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. It is estimated that over half of them remain in Poland, where national and local authorities, as well as civil society, businesses and religious groups, have been providing them with support.
In her remarks yesterday, Truss noted that Poland has been at the forefront of those calling for a strong response to Russia’s aggression, “urging tougher action against Putin at every opportunity”.
But she also added that, even before the current crisis, “Poland has always been clear eyed about Russia. You have understood Putin’s malign intent. You were right”.
Her comments follow an admission by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month that “the West made a terrible mistake” by letting Vladimir Putin “get away” with his “act of violent aggression” against Ukraine in 2014.
By contrast, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has long warned of the dangers posed by Russia. The party’s founder, the late president Lech Kaczyński, warned in 2008, amid Russia’s war with Georgia: “Today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, the day after tomorrow the Baltic states, and then, perhaps, the time will come for my country, Poland.”
The current president, Andrzej Duda, likewise declared during a trip to Tbilisi last year that Russia is “not a normal country” but rather “an aggressor state”, adding that its “activities cannot be accepted by the international community”. He also condemned Russia’s “illegal annexation” of Crimea during a speech in Kyiv.
The PiS government has in recent years pushed for NATO, and in particular the US, to increase its presence in Poland, arguing that there needs to be a stronger deterrent and potential defence against Russia.
Following yesterday’s meeting, Rau thanked “close ally and dedicated partner” Britain “for its support and for strengthening our security”. The UK has recently moved to boost its troops numbers in Poland – which currently stand at around 700 – and to deploy its most advanced air defence system there.
Rau, however, repeated Poland’s appeal for further “strengthening NATO’s activities on the eastern flank”. He also noted that “together with Great Britain we are in favour of severe sanctions against Russia” to try to prevent it from “committing further acts of aggression”.
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.