Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak stressed his nation’s plans to increase its defense capabilities during a visit Wednesday to Washington, where he was greeted by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.
During a meeting at the Pentagon, Austin commended Poland for its humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine, saying it has not only provided “much-needed security assistance to the Ukrainian military to help it continue to successfully fight back invading Russian forces.” It is also performing “the absolutely essential role of facilitating the delivery of security assistance from the United States and other NATO Allies and partners from around the globe” to Ukraine,” he said.
“Perhaps most importantly, the Polish people have opened their hearts and their homes to millions of Ukrainians fleeing the violence, and you’ve done it with grace,” Austin said in his welcoming remarks.
Since Russia started the war in Ukraine about two months ago, nearly 3 million people fleeing Ukraine have entered Poland.
Blaszczak said in Washington that his country considers the U.S.’s active defense policy and leadership as crucial and that Poland is “proud to host American troops” and would like to “maintain this momentum.” He added that closer collaboration between the two countries in the political and military domain will bear fruit in the industrial and economic sectors.
Since the war in Ukraine started, an additional 5,000 U.S. troops have gone to Poland, adding to the 5,000 on rotation there.
On the eve of the Polish delegation’s visit to Washington, Pentagon spokesperson John F. Kirby announced that Ukraine has received additional fighter jets and parts “to be able to increase their aircraft fleet size,” without giving details as to how these jets and parts were delivered.
Asked by a gathering of mainly Polish media reporters what role Poland may have played in that delivery, Blaszczak declined to comment.
Ray Wojcik, a retired U.S. Army colonel who served as an attache at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw from 2014 to 2018, said it made good sense to keep the details of the delivery secret. Earlier publicity about a Polish proposal to transfer MiG-29s to Ukraine, which was rejected by the United States, amounted to a media “blunder,” he told VOA.
Standing alongside Austin, Blaszczak said “Poland considers its security very seriously; thus, in the view of Russian invasion on Ukraine, we have already implemented a new law which will facilitate the strengthening of our armed forces. It will increase our defense budget up to 3% GDP from the next year on.”
In his remarks to the Polish reporters, Blaszczak said, “We will soon talk about assault helicopters,” adding that “manned vehicles are an important component of the Polish armed forces.” The minister made similar pronouncements on social media.
During his talks with Austin, he said, he had “emphasized the fact that the strengthening Poland’s defense capabilities equals to strengthening defense capabilities of NATO’s entire eastern flank.”
Wojcik said he believes Poland is “on the cusp” of announcing plans to purchase Apache attack helicopters, which the U.S. so far has made available to only a small number of allies.
The Apaches work “hand and glove” with the latest U.S. Army Abrams tanks, a prized procurement Poland secured just last month, according to Wojcik, currently a senior fellow at the Transatlantic Security and Defense program at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington. “It’s a key capability” badly needed by the Polish military, he said.
Poland’s new defense spending law will enter into force on Saturday, giving the defense ministry new funds to beef up the nation’s armed forces and equipment.
Blaszczak told reporters the Polish delegation was scheduled to meet Thursday with U.S. defense manufacturing firms Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Boeing. U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters are manufactured by Boeing.
The 3% GDP figure catapults Poland to the top of all European nations in defense spending other than Russia and leaves it second only to the U.S. among NATO members, according to Wojcik.
Poland is also doubling its armed forces to 300,000, with 250,000 active duty, Wojcik said, noting that all in all, Poland will rise to be a military powerhouse in Europe and in NATO in a few years’ time.
“Poland will indeed be the best equipped military in the region and among the top six in NATO” as a result of its increase of defense expenditure and planned procurements, Wojcik said.
Judging by land force alone, he said, “in about five years’ time after major acquisitions and integration of new gear,” Polish armed forces’ strength will be exceeded within NATO only by the U.S., Britain and France.