Poland Plays Leading Role in Garnering Support for Ukraine’s Defence, Reconstruction and Accession to Euro-Atlantic Institutions

23 March 2023

From the onset of Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine, Poland has provided all manner of support to its democratic institutions and the people of Ukraine. Poland’s response has been undergirded by a powerful cross-party and societal accord about the need to stand with its neighbour. Nothing has illustrated the depth of this sentiment more than the remarkable generosity of Polish people towards millions of refugees from Ukraine. Of an estimated 10 million Ukrainians who came to Poland since the outbreak of the war, roughly 1.5 million Ukrainians are currently living, studying or working in Poland.

This powerful camaraderie and shared sense of destiny between Poland and Ukraine was a central theme of a dialogue that 24 legislators from 11 NATO member parliaments and a member of the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada engaged in with senior Polish government officials, their counterparts in the Polish parliament, academics, military leaders and policy experts. The delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Relations (PCTR) and the Sub-Committee on Transition and Development (ESCTD) was led by PCTR Chair Lord Hamilton of Epsom (UK) and ESCTD Vice Chairs Tamas Harangozo (Hungary) and Lubna Boby Jaffery (Norway). One purpose of the visit was to generate information for an Assembly report on the reconstruction of Ukraine, which Michal Szczerba (Poland), NATO Parliamentary Assembly Vice-President and ESCTD Rapporteur, is currently preparing.

Opening the two-day visit, Ryszard Terlecki, Vice Marshal of the Sejm, said that Poland along with its Baltic Allies never ceased warning that Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 was only an opening gambit. Russian President Putin’s ambitions were imperial in nature, they had maintained all along, and he would not stop in Crimea. Russia’s attack on Ukraine launched on 24 February 2022 vindicated that warning. 

Supporting Ukraine, advancing NATO adaptation 

Polish interlocutors noted that the provision of critical military support has been crucial to the greater effort to expel the Russian invaders. They repeatedly expressed their hope that Ukraine will ultimately prevail in this war, adding that Allies need to ensure that Ukraine is fully supported.

They also welcomed the presence of 10,000 American soldiers and military personnel from other Allies deployed on Polish territory which underwrites NATO’s deterrence and defence posture. The challenges and threats on NATO’s eastern flank were also a key topic during briefings by experts from Poland’s leading think tank, the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW). 

Tomasz Grodzki, Marshal of the Senate, like several other speakers who addressed the delegation, suggested that Ukraine’s accession to both the EU and NATO is fundamental to that country’s future and to peace and security in Europe more generally. The only alternative to Ukrainian integration with the West, according to Polish interlocutors, is Putin’s twisted vision of Russkiy Mir – or a greater imperial Russia which, were it to emerge, would pose a constant threat to the European order. 

If Russia were to be positioned to claim success in this war, its aggression would not end in Ukraine, warned Paweł Jabloński, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. NATO, he added, made a grievous mistake at the Bucharest Summit when it decided not to grant Membership Action Plans to Georgia and Ukraine. Putin saw this as a green light for aggression. This mistake cannot be repeated, he warned, and it is precisely for this reason that Ukraine’s prospective membership in NATO should now be understood as an essential pillar to the coming European security order. 

Polish authorities and experts stressed that NATO should not limit its force presence on its Eastern flank, arguing that the NATO-Russia Founding Act is now effectively a dead letter. They also urged all Allies to dedicate at least 2% of their GDP to defence, which should be understood as a floor and not a ceiling. Polish policymakers also feel very strongly that Sweden and Finland should join NATO, and they appealed to Türkiye and Hungary to support the accession of the two Nordic countries.

A View from Kyiv 

Galyna Mykhailiuk, Deputy Head of the Committee on Law Enforcement in the Verkhovna Rada, participated in the visit and shared a Ukrainian perspective on developments in her country. She told the delegation that while the war rages in Eastern Ukraine, cities, including Kyiv, face continued missile attacks, for example by hypersonic missiles that cannot be shot down with the air defence systems currently deployed in Ukraine. She said that, after successful Ukrainian counterattacks that led to the liberation of Kherson in November, the conflict has now become a brutal war of attrition. 

She appealed to parliamentarians gathered in Warsaw for continued military and budgetary support for Ukraine, so that it is positioned to prevail in this war. Ms Mykhailiuk noted that foreign assistance currently accounts for 60% of the national budget, adding that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has provided critical monitoring of government fiscal management, which has confirmed the integrity and viability of state institutions. A financial coordination platform has been established to ensure that support for Ukraine is coherent and effective. 

Looking Towards Ukraine’s Reconstruction

Polish officials and experts were adamant that Russia must underwrite the costs of Ukraine’s reconstruction. Rebuilding Ukraine is critical to reinforcing Europe’s security architecture, the delegation heard. Western governments have so far frozen an estimated USD 35 billion in assets from the Bank of Russia and from oligarchs and entities linked to the regime. This money, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Poland, Wasyl Zwarycz, argued, should first be used to finance the purchase of munitions and equipment and the remaining funds could then be used to help pay for reconstruction. Tomasz Grodzki, Marshal of the Polish Senate said that this is a point of consensus in Poland. He added that Putin is trying to deny that sanctions are working, but, in fact, they are taking an ever greater toll, and the economic situation is worsening even in Moscow.

Polish experts warned, however, that the prospective costs of reconstruction are rising inexorably with the passage of time due to ongoing Russian attacks on critical civilian and economic infrastructure. The delegates were told that, by the end of 2022, infrastructure losses alone stood at roughly USD 140 billion or approximately 70% of Ukraine’s GDP that year. Expectations that Ukraine will quickly recover after the end of the war need to be managed, experts warned. 

Beata Daszyńska-Muzyczka, the President of the State Development Bank, noted that her bank was playing a key role in coordinating aid to Ukraine and has worked with European and Japanese investment banks among others to issue bonds to help pay for accommodation, food, health care for refugees and essential development projects in Ukraine. The Bank is also helping Ukrainian entrepreneurs finance their operations in Ukraine and in Poland. An estimated twenty thousand Ukrainian businesses are currently operating in Poland, and these will play an important role in galvanising the country’s reconstruction once the war has ended.

Dr Jakub Karnowski from the Warsaw School of Economics described a major university project to chart out a plan for Ukraine’s economic reconstruction. He stressed that the EU will have to play a central role in reconstruction as this process must be inextricably linked to preparing Ukraine for eventual accession to the EU.

Piotr Arak, Director of the Polish Economic Institute, argued that ultimately, the effectiveness of reform and institutions matter more than aid levels. Limiting corruption and red tape and ensuring an effective and impartial judiciary are fundamental to the reconstruction process. Dr Arak also suggested that while it will take time to prepare Ukraine for membership in the EU, it should be invited to join the OECD as soon as possible as that organisation can provide critical advice and support for the reform process.

The View from the City of Warsaw

Rafał Trzaskowski, Mayor of Warsaw, told the delegation about the critical role of sub-national authorities and civil society actors coping with the situation when millions of Ukrainians took refuge in Poland and Warsaw’s population suddenly increased by 20%. He said that while monetary support for Ukrainian refugees came from the central government, city authorities distributed the funds and shouldered the burden of furnishing a range of public services funded with a very overstretched city budget.

At the Polish parliament, the delegation also engaged with several high-ranking Polish officials and prominent experts, representing the National Security Bureau, the Ministry of Finance, the National Democratic Institute and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. 

The delegation also visited the Bureau of Security and Emergency Management of the city of Warsaw.

The visit ended with a tour of the base hosting the 1st Warsaw Armoured Brigade in Wesola. Participants had an opportunity to learn about the tasks, function, history and traditions of the Armoured Brigade and observed force training exercises, including Leopard 2 tank manoeuvres.

Photos courtesy of the Chancellery of the Senate
© Rafał Zambrzycki, Chancellery of the Sejm, © Ewelina Lach, © SGH Warsaw School of Economics

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