Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
With the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine fast approaching on next Friday, the conflict in her eastern neighbour dominated developments in Poland this week. This was in the context of both the announcement that U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Poland next Tuesday and Wednesday, and foreign trips by top Polish leaders which they used to press for further Western military support to Ukraine. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Poland was willing to transfer older MiG fighter jets to Ukraine, but only as part of a U.S. – led international coalition.
The main developments over the past week have included:
• Polish leaders use overseas visits ahead of President Biden’s trip to the country next week to lobby for further military support to Ukraine
• Leading UK newspaper The Times hails Poland’s role in becoming a European leader over Ukraine and an emerging military power
• Inflation in Poland hits 17.2% in January as the recent downward trend is halted, and
• Four fugitives from justice in Poland are extradited from Ireland onboard a Polish military aircraft.
US national security spokesperson John Kirby has said that Biden’s trip to Ukraine will focus on bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and Poland and further efforts to support Ukraine, which is thought to be facing an imminent Russian counter-offensive. On Friday Kirby said that during his trip to Poland, Biden ‘will thank President Duda and, in fact, the Polish people for the $3.8 billion in military and humanitarian assistance that they have provided to Ukraine over the past year and for all the efforts that the Polish people have done to generously welcome more than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine’.
Biden, is scheduled to arrive in Warszawa on Tuesday morning on a two-day visit the highlight of which will be a speech on Tuesday afternoon at the Royal Castle focused on the situation in Ukraine. He’ll also have talks with President Andrzej Duda as well as other top Polish government leaders. On Wednesday Biden will participate in a summit meeting with the leaders of the so-called Bucharest Nine, comprising countries on the eastern flank of NATO.
Speaking ahead of the visit, President Duda said on Thursday that he will ask Biden to station more U.S. troops in Poland as well as increase the storage of military equipment in the country. He told TVP Info news that enhanced stockpiling of weaponry would be ‘an additional security guarantee’ for Poland and would facilitate the faster movement of troops ‘in the event of a threat’.
President Duda was warmly greeting in the UK where on Thursday he met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and on Friday had an audience with King Charles III. The changed perception of Poland arising from the country’s stance over the war in Ukraine was evidenced by an article in The Times newspaper on Thursday under the headline ‘Gung Ho Poland is becoming a military leader in Europe’. The article by the paper’s diplomatic editor Roger Boyes had the sub-heading ‘The Franco-German axis is tired and NATO is looking eastwards’. Whatever about the use of the term ‘Gung Ho’ the article lauds Poland for providing leadership in support of Ukraine while Europe’s traditional leaders, France and Germany, dithered. It also highlighted Poland’s commitment to strengthening its own defences.
In an interview with Sky News on Friday Duda said that following a recent meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky he believes the key priorities for Kyiv are air defence systems and modern tanks, as well as modern fighter jets ‘in the future’. Asked if he thought the war would be over in a year’s time, Duda replied ‘I’m afraid not’.
On the issue for fighter jets Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Saturday that Poland is ready to transfer old generation MiGs to Ukraine but only as part of an international coalition led by the United States. He was speaking at a press conference in Germany where he’s been attending the annual Munich Security Conference. Morawiecki said that Poland could only offer older aircraft because it’s itself waiting for deliveries of new fighter jets it’s ordered from the United States and South Korea.
President Duda also joined the Munich Security Conference following the conclusion of his visit to the United Kingdom.
Inflation in Poland Hits 17.2% in January
Inflation in Poland shot up again in January ending two months of declines. A preliminary estimate from Głowny Urząd Statystyczny (GUS) or Statistics Poland on Wednesday put year-on-year inflation in January at 17.2% compared to 16.6% in December. Official estimates still expect inflation to sharply tail off in Poland later this year, but the forecasts also point to a sharp fall in the country’s GDP growth rate.
Four Fugitives Extradited from Ireland to Poland
Turning to developments closer to home, on Friday morning four Polish fugitives were repatriated back to Poland on board a Polish air force jet. Gardaí carried out the extradition from the Irish Air Corps’ Baldonnel Aerodrome in County Dublin, with the men transferred into the custody of Polish police. The four men were discovered hiding in Ireland to avoid justice in Poland where they face sentences of between 8 months and twenty years imprisonment. In the circumstances of this case the authorities deemed it safer to utilise military transport rather than a standard commercial flight.
Among the men returned to Poland is Emil Pompa (35) who is facing 20 years imprisonment for kidnapping and robbery and Grzegorz Grzesiak (45) whose facing a nine year sentence for kidnapping and fraud. The men had all been the subject of European Arrest Warrants issued by the Polish state. The presence of the men was identified through the EU criminal Schengen area database system, which Ireland joined in 2021. Three of the four men were not under suspicion of any illegal activity in this country, with one being under investigation for the suspected use of fraudulent documentation.
The smooth running of this extradition is in sharp contrast to some earlier cases where legal challenges based on alleged issues with the rule of law in Poland delayed proceedings for years. Detective Superintendent Michael Mullen from the Garda Extradition Unit commented that ‘This successful operation highlights strong international co-operation between An Garda Síochána and international partners resulting in the removal of fugitives who posed a risk to communities in Ireland.’ He added that ‘This operation also highlights the continued commitment of domestic stakeholders including the Department of Justice, the Defence Forces and the Irish Prison Service all of whom work in tandem to ensure wanted fugitives are brought to justice’.
Strong Winds Ravage Western Poland
Poland is this weekend facing strong winds with firefighters being called out to deal with fallen trees and other damage from the elements, mostly in the western part of the country. Power supplies have been disrupted with Marek Kubia, the Deputy Director of the Rządowe Centrum Bezpieczeństwa (RCB) or Government Security Centre, saying on Saturday morning that 200,000 people across at least five provinces have been left without electricity. People had been urged via text messages from the RCB on Friday afternoon to avoid open spaces and secure any items which could be blown away.
Finally, I do hope that you didn’t over indulge too much on Thursday which was of course Tłusty Czwartek or Fat Thursday, a day when Poles feel free to eat as much sweet things as humanly possible, most especially of course pączki. It’s estimated that in Poland around 100 million of the doughnuts were consumed on the day – an average of two and a half for every person in the country. Its said that the ideal pączek weights between 55 and 70 grams and contains a hefty 400 calories.
Just remember of course that Ash Wednesday next week is the beginning of Lent. I’m mostly looking forward to Pancake Tuesday!
That’s all from the Hello Irlandia Weekly News for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.