No Real Change in Warsaw’s Ukraine Policy
Poland will remain one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies because it is in Warsaw’s own national security interests to do so. Yet the news out of Poland appears to indicate that Ukraine is yet another victim of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s populist election campaign tactics.
The Western press is wrongly interpreting Prime Minister Morawiecki’s statement as a turn in foreign policy priorities. Morawiecki said that Poland is "no longer transferring any weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming ourselves with the most modern weapons.” The Western media turned this into “Poland will not deliver weapons”, but the original message was a statement of fact. After having transferred $3 billion in total bilateral military aid to Ukraine since February 24th, 2022, Poland is now in the process of replenishing its own stocks. The last time Poland delivered weapons to Ukraine was in April 2023.
From a strategic perspective, Ukrainians are defending not only themselves but the Poles too. If Ukraine were to fall, Poland would have to defend hundreds of miles of border from an aggressive adversary. Poles know this. GMF’s Transatlantic Trends survey shows that of the 14 countries surveyed, Poland is among the most supportive of Ukraine. More than 70% of Polish respondents favor offering Ukraine NATO and EU membership, and contributing financially to the country’s restoration.
The Polish response to the full-scale invasion was decisive and generous, but PiS made two diplomatic mistakes. First, it failed to use the good press it got to position itself as a leader on Ukraine. The populist government highlighted only its own role in supporting Ukraine, and in Polish state-run media, Western allies were portrayed as weak and timid. The PiS government pushed to send MiG fighter jets and Leopard tanks without a concerted approach within NATO. This surprised allies. Poland also became more isolated from the G7’s donor coordination platform for Ukraine, pushing itself further away from the decision-making on Ukraine (mostly carried out in Kyiv among the G7 Ambassadors). Poland may have paved the way for greater and more daring military aid to Ukraine, but it failed to act as a good NATO and EU ally.
Second, the PiS government expected too much from Kyiv’s gratitude. Kyiv is not currently prioritizing Poland because Warsaw no longer has military equipment to offer, and since Poland is not a political leader in Europe, it has not been included in key decision-making. Warsaw had hoped that its generous aid would lead Zelenskyy to argue for Poland to have a key role, but this did not happen.
The grain embargo was the last straw in a tit for tat between capitals that began in August this year. Using the grain dispute to gain votes among its agrarian base in next month’s election is simply the latest display of PiS’s subordination of foreign policy to its domestic needs, and it is very dangerous. Nevertheless, Western media outlets are wrong to state that Poland is no longer committed to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes; this only undermines European unity. Aid for Ukraine will continue: The West has the resources, but ordinary Poles have the will that the West sometimes lacks.