Ukraine war hands Poland new international role
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Warsaw (AFP) – Weakened on the international arena since its nationalist government came to power in 2015, Poland's image has been transformed over the past year by its leading role in the coalition supporting Ukraine.
When Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, neighbouring Poland opened its border to the millions of Ukrainians fleeing their country and ordinary Poles lined up to welcome refugees in their homes.
Like the Baltic states, Poland quickly became a key advocate of Ukraine's cause within the EU and NATO and has sent large amounts of arms and become the main transit country for international aid.
Poland has also stepped up its own arms purchases, with its military budget this year rising to more than four percent of gross domestic product.
"Poland's response, both that of the government but also of ordinary citizens who took in refugees, has been viewed very positively," said Lukas Macek of the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris.
The war has also enhanced Poland's position in NATO, according to Rolf Nikel, vice president of the DGAP think tank in Berlin.
"Poland has become a new state on the frontline of the systemic conflict that is emerging between the West and Russia, a role similar to that of Germany during the Cold War," he told AFP.
"This also reinforces Poland's importance to the US."
In part, Poland is helped by being a stop-off point for the majority of Western leaders travelling to Kyiv.
On Tuesday, for the second time in the past 12 months, US President Joe Biden began an official visit to Warsaw.
It came just after his surprise trip to Kyiv ahead of the first anniversary of the start of the invasion.
On Monday, as she passed through Warsaw before boarding a train to Kyiv, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told reporters that, "faced with the conflict in Ukraine, Poland represents a moral and material frontier for the West".
"This is a country that we as Europeans should thank for its extraordinary work to support Ukraine," she said.
The words are music to the ears of the Polish government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has been heavily criticised at home and abroad for its stand-off with Brussels over judicial reforms.
Under PiS, Poland has also fallen in international rankings for democratic norms and media freedoms.
Last week, the European Commission launched legal action after Poland's constitutional court appeared to challenge the primacy of EU law.
Macek said that for Poland to capitalise on its enhanced credibility "it needs to resolve the impasse... in its relations with the rest of the EU".
"You can't bill yourself as a top Vladimir Putin opponent while following a policy at home that has a whiff of Putinism," he told AFP.
With parliamentary elections looming later this year, the international context means that Poland's domestic political scene has been less fractious recently.
On the issue of Ukraine, the government can count on unanimous support.
"For the moment, it is acting as a unifying element for all political forces in Poland," former foreign minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld told TOK FM.
"This political class that lacks class has shown itself, in this case, to be up to the challenge".
© 2023 AFP