As the crisis in Ukraine continues, the Polish government has voiced concerns, as to the long-term intensions of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and how it might impact Poland. It has long been voiced that Putin, a KGB Officer of the Cold War, has long since held aspirations to re build the greater Russian “Sphere of Influence”. Since Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004 it has consistently shown it’s concern surrounding Moscow’s intentions in the former eastern bloc. Poland’s leadership have stated that the annexation of Crimea by Russia is just the first step of Putin’s expansionist policy and that the world has sat back and watched it happen, encouraging Putin to continue his actions which now play out in Eastern Ukraine.
Conventional and Asymmetric Military Threat to Poland from Russia
Despite reports of a Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s eastern border, Putin’s current tactics are purportedly far from conventional, utilising deniable, covert operatives, working with pro-Russian activists in the east of the country to maintain instability. It has been suggested that his short-term intent is simply to maintain sufficient instability within the country to prevent upcoming elections taking place, which might foster a political vacuum in which an ever destabilising security environment might incubate and give birth to civil war. Such a scenario might present an opportunity for Russia to overtly intervene in the defense of Russian speakers in the Ukraine, as it did in Crimea, justifying a conventional Russian military presence in Ukraine that would certainly alarm those countries on its borders, such as Poland.
Should civil war in Ukraine become a reality border countries such as Poland may well become a safe haven for refugees, although its position to the far west of Ukraine may not make it the first port of call for fleeing civilians. Should refugees become an issue however, an operation some 50 km from the border may well be affected, but the precursors of such a scenario are far from evident at the time of writing.
Even in the unlikely event that Russian military intervention in a Ukrainian civil war would allow them to threaten border countries such as Poland, whom would the Russian forces face? As Poland invoked article 4 of NATO regulations, which allows a country to call for consultation if it feels that its security and independence are threatened, the US has authorised the deployment of hundreds of US troops to Poland and F16 fighter jets to take part in a military exercise in a clear demonstration of support to Poland and the broader EU. A US/NATO conventional military force is something that Russia would have to think very hard about before taking on.
An asymmetric military threat inside Polish borders may be of concern should US plans to deploy missile defence shields go ahead and with the ongoing presence of US/NATO Troops on the Polish border in the future. Such a threat might also impact elements of Critical National Infrastructure as a way of dissuading Poland working too closely with its US/EU friends. This scenario however does not present a significant threat in the short term however as a chain of precursor events would have to play out before such a scenario could be considered a plausible threat, but should remain a consideration for medium to long term planning.
One might also consider that if Putin does indeed hold aspirations of Russian expansionism into former eastern bloc territory, are there not far easier conquests than Poland? Would we not see a more aggressive move into Abkhazia, Georgia before any move into countries bordering Ukraine?
Economic Threats to Poland from Russia
Economically trade relations between Poland and Russia do not appear to be critical to the Polish economy and a reported reliance on Russian natural gas has eased significantly after Germany completed an investment allowing Poland to meet the bulk of its consumption needs should there be disruptions to its gas imports from Russia. In addition Poland has called on the EU to create an energy union in order to prevent Russia from using the energy prices as a weapon during the current conflict.
Security Threats to Poland, related to the Ukrainian Crisis in the Short to Medium Term
1. Deniable asymmetric threats to Polish and International military forces and Critical National Infrastructure
- Intent – Little
- Capability – Moderate
- Threat Level – Low
2. Conventional Military Threat by Russia toward Poland
- Intent – Little
- Capability – Extensive
- Threat Level – Moderate
De-Escalatory Trigger Events
- If the Ukrainian elections go ahead and the current government is voted in, Poland will continue to enjoy the sovereign status of a historically friendly neighbour.
Escalatory Trigger Events
- If the Ukrainian elections are unsuccessful and a new government not voted in, a potential power vacuum may result.
- As we have seen in a number of countries following the Arab Spring, such an environment may foster violence and civil unrest and allow the growth of militia and extremism within the country, which in turn may escalate to civil war if not controlled.
- International intervention by Russia and US/NATO may escalate civil war into a regional/international conflict.
- Russian military operations inside Ukraine may threaten the security of its neighbouring countries, such as Poland, if Putin expansionist aspirations are to be believed.
1. Where is your operation located in relation to Polish military bases, Critical Infrastructure projects such as pipelines, power stations and International Military operations?
2. Wait for the result of up and coming Ukrainian elections that, if successful, might elevate concern of military Threat from Russia to Poland even if internal stability in Ukraine remains a concern.