Poland: Europe's defence sentinel?

Poland: Europe's defence sentinel?
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Valérie Gauriat
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The Ukraine war and uncertainty about future US funding of NATO have rekindled fears about Europe's defence. Witness reporter Valerie Gauriat went to Poland to assess the potential for a spillover of the conflict into other parts of Europe and to gauge expectations of EU and NATO allies.


On 22 April, some 5,000 soldiers from seven European countries and the United States took part in a NATO defensive exercise 80 kilometres south of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Part of Operation Steadfast Defender 2024, the largest series of manoeuvres by the Atlantic alliance since the end of the Cold War, to test the inter-operability of forces.

“In line with our regional plan, we are exercising the defence of the eastern flank of Europe”, General Krzysztof Król, advisor to the Polish Army’s Chief of General Staff, told Euronews.

Anxiety on Poland's northeastern border

Our journey takes us further north to the border post of Goldap, just two kilometres from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. It has been closed since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

The proximity of NATO forces reassures the area’s inhabitants, but they want to be ready for any eventuality. Piotr Bartoszuk, Headmaster of a Vocational High School in Goldap, shows us the virtual shooting range installed in the school’s basement. Military training, subsidized by the Ministry of Defense, was added to the curriculum this year.

“Everything is done to prepare our society to defend itself in the event of an attack.” says Bartoszuk, “The civil defence act being processed in Poland requires us to educate people, and to build shelters and warning systems in Poland. Whether it’s a science fiction scenario that Putin will attack us or not – it’s good to be prepared.”

Poland urging EU to boost defence

The largest European contributor to military aid to Ukraine, Poland urges its EU partners to step up their support, and boost defence budgets.

“We never had a greater sense of such immediate threat. If we don't stop this fierce war that's happening at the borders of Poland, of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, we might soon be facing a much bigger threat. And it's a threat to every European country”, Cezary Tomczyk, the Polish Vice Minister of Defence, told Euronews.

“The European Union is the largest economy in the world today. We are able to build the capabilities that will allow Europe to be a safe zone and not look around the world for that.”, he added.

Some 80% of arms acquisitions currently come from outside Europe, 60% of which from the United States. Last March, the European Commission proposed a new strategy, aimed at boosting the Union's defence industry.

The European Union’s ambitions are too modest and dangerously slow to materialise, says defence expert Łukasz Maślanka at Warsaw’s Center for Eastern Studies.

“We hear from France. Italy, Germany, words about European defence. But these words aren't followed by deeds”, he told Euronews.

“Today, it doesn't seem likely Putin will start another war with a NATO country. But who knows what will be in two years? We don't know who will be the president of the United States, or if there won't be a populist government in an important European country, which could hamper European efforts to counter Putin's aggression. This can create very comfortable conditions for him to pursue his aggression in Europe,” he warned.

Polish citizens preparing for war

This is a feeling shared by many in Poland. More and more citizens are enrolling in the Polish Territorial Defence forces.

“The risk is very serious because Ukraine is losing the war, and the West is not helping it enough.” Grzegorz Szczepański, a Polish Territorial Defence volunteer, told Valerie Gauriat. “The risk of an invasion in our country is very high.”

“There's awareness of the threat from the “Great Bear” from the East coming back to us. That's why society has started preparing for a worst-case scenario.”, says Senior Corporal Przemysław Łuszczki, spokesperson of the Territorial Defence’s Warsaw Brigade, concluding: “We don't want Russia to conquer Europe again. We will be the first to defend her.”

Click on the video above to see the full report.

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