John Singer Sargent The moraine 1908
Symbolism & Substance
Zelensky’s first state trip to Poland since the start of Russia’s special operation last year took place earlier this week, during which time he was awarded with his host country’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the White Eagle. His visit occurred at a crucial moment in the NATO-Russian proxy war, which adds an element of intrigue to it, as does its symbolism. The present piece will thus analyze the aforesaid in order to better understand the importance of Zelensky’s latest trip.
The Latest Military-Strategic Dynamics
To begin with, the NATO chief declared in mid-February that his bloc is in a so-called “race of logistics”/“war of attrition” with Russia, one which Moscow is winning as evidenced by its continued military resilience and Zelensky’s remark late last month about running out of ammunition. Wagner founder Prigozhin also recently claimed victory in the Battle of Artyomovsk/“Bakhmut” after his group captured that city’s administrative center, which prompted a policy reversal from the Ukrainian leader.
Back in late February, he said that his forces might abandon that area if their losses there become unreasonable, but then he told CNN last month that losing that city might result in Russia rolling through the rest of Donbass. Zelensky then built upon this prediction to warn just a little more than a week ago that he’ll be pressured at home and abroad to “compromise” with Moscow if that happens, but now he’s snapped back to his prior position after preconditioning the public to expect a possible withdrawal.
It remains to be seen what’ll ultimately happen, but there’s no doubt that the military-strategic dynamics favor Russia. This isn’t wishful thinking either but is predicated on the damning details contained in the Washington Post’s report from the middle of last month about how poorly Kiev’s forces are faring. With this larger context in mind, it’s clear that Zelensky’s latest trip to Poland truly took place at a crucial moment in this conflict.
The De Facto Polish-Ukrainian Confederation
As for the symbolism, Poland is among Ukraine’s top allies, so much so that those two declared their mutual intent last May during President Duda’s visit to Kiev at the time to eventually remove all borders between them. This resulted in them gradually merging into a de facto confederation, which advances Poland’s geopolitical project of restoring its lost commonwealth in pursuit of its grand strategic goal of once again becoming a Great Power.
Zelensky’s reaffirmation of their mutual intent to remove all borders between them during his latest trip to Poland extends credence to this assessment, as does a neoconservative lobbyist’s push for that geopolitical project in a recent article for the influential Foreign Policy magazine. With a view towards legitimizing Ukraine’s status as his country’s de facto protectorate, Duda declared that Warsaw is seeking additional security guarantees for its neighbor ahead of this summer’s next NATO summit.
For as much as those two want to gradually merge their countries into a de facto confederation, there still remain some very serious obstacles in their way. For starters, there’s obviously the question of financing this geopolitical project, which Poland can ill afford. Second, Poles are disgusted with Ukraine’s glorification of Hitler’s fascist genocidal collaborator, Bandera. The more that the Polish state tolerates this in spite of its occasional rhetoric in defense of historical truth, the angrier that average Poles get.
Building upon the aforementioned observation, the third challenge to this geopolitical project is rising anti-establishment sentiment in Poland, which could lead to the Confederation party winning enough votes during this fall’s elections that the ruling party is forced to form a governing coalition with them. That outcome could throw a wrench in these plans, thus indefinitely delaying their implementation, especially if Confederation finds a way to block the requisite funding and/or security guarantees.
The Prospects Of A Polish Military Intervention
There’s still plenty that can still happen before the next elections, however, including a Polish military intervention in Ukraine. Its Ambassador to France thundered late last month that “If Ukraine fails to defend its independence, we will have no choice but to enter the conflict. Our fundamental values, which are the cornerstone of our civilisation, our culture will be in fundamental danger, so we don’t have a choice.” Even though the embassy said his words were decontextualized, the intent was clear.
Russia has been warning about this scenario for quite a while already, which could represent an unprecedented escalation in NATO’s proxy war against it by dint of Poland being an official member of that bloc whose countries have mutual defense obligations to one another. A Polish intervention could therefore serve as a tripwire for that anti-Russian alliance to formalize its role in this conflict, especially in the event that Poland announces its “unification” with Ukraine and brings it under their umbrella.
While this sequence of events remains speculative, it’s nevertheless founded on a factual basis as was explained thus far in this piece, especially considering the disadvantageous military-strategic dynamics that cast a cloud over Zelensky’s latest trip to Poland. Returning to those and keeping in mind the words of the Polish Ambassador to France as well as these two countries’ leaders reaffirming their desire to remove all borders between them, observers shouldn’t discount the possibility that this transpires.
In fact, it could very well unfold prior to the next elections in fall should Russia’s capture of Artyomovsk lead to it rolling through the rest of Donbass like Zelensky earlier predicted might happen, which could prompt Poland to intervene in accordance with the conditions that its Ambassador to France stipulated. The only variables that could credibly offset this scenario are Russia continuing to only make piecemeal progress on the ground or Kiev agreeing to a ceasefire with Moscow prior to resuming peace talks.
The first’s chances could be strengthened by a surge of modern Western weapons to Ukraine while the second’s could be reduced by Poland promising whatever support Kiev requires in order to not feel forced by circumstances into negotiating with Russia. Therein lies the likely purpose behind Zelensky’s latest trip to Poland, namely to explore exactly what Warsaw could provide in this respect so as to better assess whether it’s worth seriously considering during this crucial moment in the conflict.
Reassessing Duda’s Demand To NATO
Duda implied during an interview with Le Figaro in early February that he feared France might try to broker a ceasefire, the scenario of which could be advanced by Macron’s ongoing trip to China, whose 12-point peace plan was praised by President Putin during his counterpart’s visit to Moscow last month. The political dynamics of this conflict are therefore just as disadvantageous from Kiev’s and Warsaw’s shared perspective as the military-strategic ones since they both point to an impending ceasefire.
This observation adds further context to Duda’s demand that NATO give Ukraine more security guarantees. His statement can now be interpreted as either hinting at a forthcoming Polish military intervention (irrespective of whether this is preceded by formalizing their confederation) or suggesting that these could soon be extended to reassure Kiev of that bloc’s enduring support in the event that it’s forced by circumstances into agreeing to a ceasefire with Russia (regardless of who might mediate it).
Ukraine’s Upcoming Counteroffensive
Duda’s desire for this to be done sometime in the next three months before early July’s NATO summit places a concrete deadline on his demand, which coincides with Kiev’s expected counteroffensive. About that, the Washington Post’s earlier cited report tempered expectations about its success, as did the latest assessment from the former commander of the Polish Land Forces. Waldemar Skrzypczak told leading Polish media that Ukraine is “not ready” for this and that “Now it’s time for politicians.”
Cynics who might claim that this retired official doesn’t have accurate information about the conflict’s military-strategic dynamics should be reminded of what incumbent Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces General Rajmund Andrzejczak told publicly financed media in late January. He warned that time is running out for Kiev, confirmed that Russia’s military might still remains formidable, and expressed serious concern that Ukraine could ultimately be defeated.
Despite this dire analysis from Poland’s top military official, who’s indisputably in a position to receive the most up-to-date classified information about the NATO-Russian proxy war in Ukraine, Kiev will probably still attempt its planned counteroffensive anyhow. That will in turn influence whether Poland formalizes their de facto confederation and/or militarily intervenes in its support, exactly which security guarantees NATO might give Kiev, and whether a ceasefire is reached before the bloc’s summer summit.
This insight leads to the conclusion that Zelensky’s latest trip to Poland was super significant since it’s intended to shape the course of the NATO-Russian proxy war over the next three months. Warsaw’s role in forthcoming events will powerfully influence what Kiev does during this crucial moment in that conflict, hence the timing with which the Ukrainian leader decided to meet with his counterpart. For as carefully as Zelensky is planning everything, however, he might still fail in reversing his side’s fortunes.
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