The effects of the Russia-Ukraine War have been felt in many parts of the world, especially in Europe. In this context, the roles of countries in the region have started to change as well as the increased responsibilities of overarching actors such as the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in European politics. At this point, Poland, which has come to the forefront of its disputes with the EU, has gained importance due to its increasing defence expenditures, being an active member of NATO and its contributions to Ukraine in the ongoing war, which raises some questions about Poland’s willingness to reshape its position in Europe and the EU in the short and long term.
Poland has been most prominent in Europe recently in the field of defence and in providing assistance to Ukraine. Poland’s history with Russia is one of the reasons why it has been more active in providing assistance in this war than other EU members. For many years, Poland’s warning to the other members of the Union against Russia has been one of the issues that Warsaw has been criticized for in the past. However, now that Russia has become an actor threatening Europe, Warsaw’s attitude towards Moscow has gained importance.
Moreover, Warsaw has increased its defence investments, developed military relations within NATO with the alliance’s “big brother”, the United States (US), and engaged in an action against Russia. In addition to allocating a large share of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the defence industry and purchasing Abram tanks and F-35 fighter jets from the US, the country has also signed arms trade agreements with South Korea. In addition, the deployment of German Patriot air defence systems in Poland instead of Ukraine was also a noteworthy element in this process.
In addition to settling accounts with Russia for past events, Warsaw does not rule out a possible threat from Moscow. Being geographically located just east of Ukraine poses a great risk of war for Poland. Even if the likelihood is low, there is a considerable number of experts who believe that the war could spread to Eastern Europe. Therefore, armament also has such a dimension.
In addition to the weight given to defence, Warsaw’s attitude towards Ukrainian refugees has completely changed, as it is remembered for its harsh attitude towards asylum seekers during the refugee crisis in Europe in 2015. International media reports and news articles have noted Poland’s welcoming attitude towards civilians fleeing the war in Ukraine. It is worth recalling here that Warsaw built a wall on the border with Belarus a few months before the start of the Russian-Ukrainian War to prevent refugee crossing.
Of course, all these dynamics point to a reshaping of the balance in European politics, considering all actors. In the European leg of NATO, in addition to Germany, France and the United Kingdom, Poland also wants to be among these states in the field of defence. In addition to military expenditures, Warsaw’s military alliance with Britain and Ukraine after the outbreak of the war can be considered an indicator of this.
When it comes to the EU dimension, disagreements between Poland and Brussels seem to have been put on hold for a while. Foremost among these issues is the rule of law debate. On December 16, 2020, the European Parliament and the Council adopted a Regulation on the general regime of conditionality for the protection of the EU budget, in which they decided that states that do not respect the rule of law will not benefit from the union budget. However, first Hungary and then Poland filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Justice to annul the decision. In this process, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke of the need for a limit to EU competence, while the European Commission emphasized that concepts such as the rule of law are the foundation of the union and that both member states and candidate states should adhere to the EU’s values.
Although tensions have persisted for nearly two years, Warsaw has taken some steps towards legislative changes. Although it is believed that these changes will not completely transform the judicial system in Poland, some outcomes are believed to have been achieved as a result of the disagreements with the EU.
From an overall perspective, it is indeed evident that Poland is trying to transform its place in Euro-Atlantic politics. This transformation is primarily in the security and military spheres. Warsaw’s arms deals with NATO and non-NATO member states, modernization of its army and increase in its defence budget have been noteworthy after the start of the Russia-Ukraine War. While such changes took place in the security dimension due to the impact of the war, in the political dimension, Poland’s problems with the EU, of which it is a member, were postponed for a while. The most prominent of these problems is the disagreement on the “rule of law.” Following the rulings of the European Court of Justice against Hungary and Poland, the Warsaw administration started to take some steps in terms of the judiciary. It is possible to say that the legal amendments, to some extent, constitute progress in ensuring the rule of law. As a result, Poland’s importance in NATO has increased and the country has started to have a positive profile in the EU.
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