Polish prime minister, Matesuz Morawiecki, has declared that his country is “no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine”. Instead, it will be focusing on “arming Poland with more modern weapons”. As explosive as the announcement is, it is unlikely to change the situation in Ukraine in the short term.
What matters more is the language. It is incredibly telling that president Andrzej Duda described Kyiv as behaving “like a drowning person clinging to anything available”, potentially bringing down those attempting to save them. It sounds like an acceptance that Ukraine cannot win this war, at the current scale and intensity, and that Europe cannot continue to supply it.
Almost every commentator has linked Poland’s decision with the ongoing dispute over the sale of cheap Ukrainian grain within the EU. While there is some truth to this version of events, the more relevant point is that Poland is running out of materiel to send. After Washington and London, Warsaw has been the biggest military donor since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.
Poland has already given virtually all of its legacy Soviet-era platforms and military vehicles, in addition to a sizable chunk of its more modern equipment, including over 60 of its Leopard 1 tanks and two dozen Leopard 2s.
This generosity is coming to an end, in part because the cupboard is now bare. Since the war began in February, Poland has had one eye firmly and nervously on the Suwałki Gap – the thin strip of land separating Poland, Belarus, and the Russian nuclear fleet in the Kaliningrad enclave.
Warsaw has accordingly been keen to beef up its own defences and military, continuing the build-up that began after the invasion of Crimea in 2014. While the west of the continent was greedily buying up Russian oil and gas, the Baltics and Poland were investing in armour and shells. Understandably, Warsaw is unwilling to pledge its new stocks to Kyiv before it’s even received them.
Poland’s decision shouldn’t be exaggerated. Warsaw hasn’t said it will halt vital flows of munitions, and Poland’s essential role as the logistics hub for all western military aid making its way across the Atlantic and through Europe to the battlefields of southern and eastern Ukraine will continue. Without these flows, quite frankly Ukraine would have fallen before last winter.
Poland may also likely continue sending the legacy munitions that have proved so valuable in this century’s version of the Great War – a conflict dominated by massed artillery, infantry assaults, and miles upon miles of layered defences.
This sort of fighting is characterised by massive expenditure of ammunition, and in particular artillery shells, so additional supplies are extremely valuable as stockpiles decline. Even if Poland stops sending weapons platforms, this can be a major contribution to Kyiv’s defence.
However, even if relations between Warsaw and Kyiv thaw, the limitations in terms of what is physically available to give will still hold. So, too, will the uncomfortable knowledge that doubt is spreading across European capitals. As the war rages on with no end point in sight, it’s hard not to wonder: which domino will be next?