Poland is increasingly anxious that Russia may employ the same type of hybrid warfare against it that Moscow utilised in eastern Ukraine.
Polish general Stanisław Koziej, the head of the president’s National Security Bureau, has told Newsweek how he is concerned Russia could reproduce the tactics that have led to months of deadly conflict in Ukraine in its NATO-member western neighbour.
This hybrid war wouldn’t come in the form of direct military aggression against Poland and would be prosecuted in a way that’s careful not to trigger NATO’s collective defence obligations. Instead, a Russian push into Poland would be built around propaganda and subversion.
“There is a negative image of Poland being created in Russian society,” Koziej told Newsweek. “An example of such pressure was the recent declaration of moving Iskander rockets to Kaliningrad region, that is to the Polish borders. A few days ago a Russian document on annexation of Crimea stated that Poland backed up Maidan revolution by training Ukrainian fighters, which naturally is not true, but has built a certain image of Poland in Russian society.”
This vilification of Poland in the Russian media recalls how Moscow portrayed the revolution in Ukraine that overthrew Kiev’s pro-Russian government in February 2014. According to the Kremlin’s narrative, the Ukrainian members of the Maidan movement were fascists and Nazis who led an unconstitutional coup that necessitated Russian intervention in Crimea and eastern Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians who were suddenly under threat.
This risk of covert aggression, with a focus on propaganda, subversion, and sabotage, is steadily growing within Poland, Koziej warns.
“We cannot be that certain in case of threats under the threshold of war — hidden aggression, diversion, which cannot be disregarded since Russian annexation of Crimea,” the general said.
In October 2014, Poland arrested two individuals suspected of spying for Russia’s military intelligence service (GRU). One of the suspects was a Polish army officer and the other was a dual-national attorney in Warsaw. The two spies are thought to be part of a network of at least a dozen GRU operatives collecting intelligence within Poland.
Poland has responded to growing Russian assertiveness by taking a greater lead within NATO. It’s expanded its military budget, with Warsaw pledging to spend 2% of its GDP on defence by 2016 in accordance with NATO spending goals.
Poland’s fear of an expansionist Russia stems from its geographical position as well. On the east, Poland borders Ukraine and Russian ally Belarus, while on Poland’s northeast border is the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Russia has made Kaliningrad a focus of its new military doctrine announced last year.Since at least 2012, short-range ballistic missiles have beendeployedin Kaliningrad while Russia moved nuclear-capable Iskander missiles into the region in March. The territory also hosts the Russian Baltic Fleet as well as the Chernyakhovsk and Donskoye air bases.
The twin air bases have enabled Russia to conduct a series of provocative incursions into NATO airspace since the start of the Ukraine crisis. Russian spy planes, fighters, and bombers have flown in and out of Kaliningrad before being intercepted by NATO’s Baltic air-policing mission.
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