Hello Irlandia Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, Poland has acted in a leadership role amongst European NATO allies, and well as being Ukraine’s most vocal advocate in its quest to obtain effective Western military assistance. This has once again been evident over the past week with President Duda’s announcement that Poland will transfer four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, which was rapidly followed by a similar announcement from neighbouring Slovakia. Meanwhile the Polish European Affairs Minister has claimed that his country’s voice ‘is being increasingly heard in Europe’ after the invasion of Ukraine proved that Poland was right about Russia all along. That may be true for Poland on some issues but as the ruling Prawo i Sprawiedliwość party itself often points out, there are many, many ways in which the European Union institutions act as anything but a friend to Poland.
The main developments over the past week have included:
• Poland seeks to trigger an international fighter jet coalition for Ukraine with the donation of four MiG-29s
• ‘U.S. Army Garrison – Poland’ is officially launched in Poznań cementing a permanent U.S. military presence in the country
• Poland’s European Affairs Minister claims that ‘our voice is being increasingly heard in Europe’ and
• Israeli President Isaac Herzog is to visit Poland amid the resumption of youth exchanges and a warming in previously frosty relations.
Following its success in changing the minds of its Western allies over the supply of tanks to Ukraine, Poland is now taking the lead over the supply of fighter jets, and with some initial signs of success. President Andrzej Duda announced last Thursday that Poland would donate four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine ‘in the coming days’. On Monday Britain’s junior Defence Minister James Heappey indicated that his country is prepared to support the defence of Poland’s skies saying ‘We will look very positively at a Polish request to fill in the gaps that have arisen’. The Polish move has been welcomed by Lithuania as well as Ukraine. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda commented that ‘We welcome the decision of Polish President Andrzej Duda to send fighter jets to Ukraine. It’s a major development that will significantly boost Ukraine’s fight against the aggressor. True leadership brings Ukraine’s victory and peace in Europe closer’.
A day after the Polish announcement, Slovakia last Friday said that it would transfer 13 of its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger commented that ‘The process of handing over these fighter jets is closely coordinated with the Polish side, with Ukraine and, of course, with other allies’. MiG-29s are ex-Soviet technology and not the Western aircraft such as F-16s which Ukraine craves, but it is still a formidable aircraft and the Polish and Slovak moves may well encourage other NATO members to follow suit.
‘U.S. Army Garrison – Poland’ Officially Opened in Poznań
On Tuesday, in a ceremony attended by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence Mariusz Błaszczak and U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Mark Brzezinski, the new permanent ‘U.S. Army Garrison – Poland’, located in Poznań, was officially launched. The new garrison is based in Camp Kościuszko, named after the 18th century Polish – American independence hero.
Błaszczak commented that ‘We are witnessing the fulfilment of the declaration of the U.S. government. We may be satisfied that our partnership is going so well. This is highly important for our security, building our interoperability, and the entire eastern flank of NATO’.
There are currently over 10,000 U.S. troops stationed in Poland. These previously belonged to Area Support Group Poland which has now been upgraded to form what is the first U.S. Army Garrison on NATO’s eastern flank. In addition to the new outpost in Poland, on the European continent the U.S. Army has five garrisons in Germany, one in Belgium, and one in Italy.
Szynkowski vel Sęk on EU: ‘the Polish voice is strong and it is being heard’
This week saw some positive remarks from a Poland government minister about his country’s often fraught relationship with the European Union. European Affairs Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk claimed after a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels on Tuesday that ‘We are pleased that the EU’s stance is increasingly often identical to the Polish stance. This is in contrast to the situation a few years ago, when we were critical of the conclusions being adopted at European Council meetings and would seek to blunt their message, which was unfavourable from our point of view’. His comments came prior to the two-day EU summit meeting which commences on Thursday.
Szynkowski vel Sęk went on to say that ‘We are part of a coalition of countries in which the Polish voice is strong and it is being heard. This is the fundamental change that has occurred over the past dozen months or so. Poland was the country that warned others about potential Russian aggression, a warning that sadly wasn’t heeded at the time, and we were proved right later. Thanks to this, our voice is being increasingly heard in Europe. This is also evident at European Council meetings. Recently, Poland has often been setting the tone of the discussion among EU member states’.
Polish Involvement in ICC Case Leading to Putin Arrest Warrant
Polish government leaders strongly welcomed the issuing of a warrant for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin last Friday by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for being ‘allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation’.
Speaking at an international meeting of Justice ministers in London on Monday, Sebastian Kaleta, a Secretary of State in the Ministry of Justice, said that Polish prosecutors have provided the ICC with evidence of Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children. The purpose of the London gathering was ‘to boost international support for the ICC’s vital investigations into war crimes’.
Kaleta told TVP Info that ‘Poland has been one of the leaders in this process. Our prosecution service, which is conducting an investigation together with prosecutors in many other countries and ICC prosecutors, has collected, at the request of Polish Justice Minister and Prosecutor-General Zbigniew Ziobro, a body of evidence that was useful in these proceedings’. Kaleta added that ‘The Polish prosecution service has gathered, and supplied the ICC with, very serious evidence of child abductions, including material from filtration camps. The perpetrators of some of the crimes have been identified directly. It’s Poland’s significant contribution to holding the criminals from Russia accountable’.
Israeli Youth Trips to Poland to Resume
In a move that confirms recent indications of a thaw in what had been strained relations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Warszawa announced last Thursday that Poland and Israel have reached agreement on the resumption of visits by Israeli youth groups to Poland. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that ‘On 16 March 2023 the negotiations on the agreement between the Government of the Republic of Poland and the Government of the State of Israel on the cooperation in the field of study visits of organized youth groups have been held in Warsaw. An initial agreement on the issue has been reached’. The move follows a three-year hiatus on such trips, which involved up to 40,000 Israeli students on an annual basis.
Today it was announced that Israeli President Isaac Herzog will visit Poland in April to mark the 80th anniversary of the 1943 Warszawa Ghetto Uprising. The Israeli Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, is this week on a visit to Poland, including for talks with his Polish counterpart, Zbigniew Rau.
Hurkacz and Linette Both Rise in Latest Tennis Rankings
The latest ATP rankings brought good news for Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz who moved up two places to world number 9 – equal to his career best ranking. The 26-year-old Pole was previously ranked ninth in the world at the end of 2021 / beginning of 2022. The ranking comes after Hurkacz last week reached the third round of the Indian Wells Open before bowing out to Tommy Paul of the U.S.
Meanwhile the latest rankings from the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) saw Iga Świątek maintain her position as world number one, despite losing her Indian Wells title last Saturday 6-2, 6-2 to Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan. The big move from a Polish perspective was Magda Linette’s jump by two places to a career high world number 19. It comes on the back of her reaching the semi-final of the Australian Open in January.
Ambassador Sochańska Joins Gorey St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Turning to developments in Ireland, the Polish Ambassador Anna Sochańska joined the team from Gorey.PL – Polish Cultural Association in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Gorey, Co. Wexford, last Friday. Gorey.PL – Polish Cultural Association was awarded the prize for the most creative participants in the parade. Well done to all involved!
That’s all from the Hello Irlandia Weekly News for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.