As most of our European Allies continue to fade, there are other, more important nations aligned with the US that continue to fly under the radar.
They are indispensable allies, the first line of defense in a world power conflict.
Poland is about to emerge as one of the most important.
Located at the geopolitical center of Europe, Poland has been coveted by every expansionist regime in the region since the early 1600’s. Poland in the pre-WWI period was an occupied land, partitioned between Prussian, Austrian, and Russian masters. WWI was devastating to the Polish people, with more than 2 million Poles fighting in the war, and roughly 450K perishing.
In late 1918, the German puppet regime cut its strings from Germany and declared the foundation of the Second Polish Republic, which lasted in some form until WWII. During this time, Poland maintained a large and capable standing army and built out critical infrastructure.
However, interwar Poland was also turbulent, culminating in a coup in 1926 by Józef Piłsudski. Though Piłsudski died in 1935, his regime led Poland up until the onset of WWII in September of 1939.
Through it all, the Poles showed themselves to be a resilient people.
The Nazi invasion of Poland by Germany on 1 September 1939 is considered the start of WWII. However, many do not recall that the Soviets invaded on 17 September, part of a geopolitical pincer maneuver arising from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The Pact was a secret treaty of non-aggression between the Soviets and Nazis, and included provisions for establishing their respective territories’ border as being the middle of Poland. The Pact held until mid-1941, when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union.
Central to the Pact was the fact that the independent Poland had aligned itself with France and Britain against the Nazis.
The Soviets were allies with all three nations, but did not trust them to commit to attacking Germany.
Poland was again caught in the middle.
After the surprise invasion by its enemy Germany and its nominal ally the USSR, Poland fell. The Nazis took control of most of Poland, while the Soviets annexed Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The Nazis, now in control, began their Holocaust (Generalplan Ost). The Poles were simply too strong-willed of a people to be subjugated forever, and the Nazis feared this about them.
The importance for the future of Poland is this fierce cultural character.
They do not see themselves as “citizens of the world” – after all, “the world” has made a habit of running roughshod across their nation. To be clear, Poland has embraced its role in NATO, as well as the global picture.
It has reacted strongly against the influx of immigrants into Europe, and moved towards a more nationalist stance. The recent elections bear this out.
This stands in stark relief to the increasing antagonism to the Trump-led US expressed by major NATO allies France and Germany. Both have proven themselves to be unreliable in different ways. Worringly to NATO, Macron of France is increasingly engaged with Russian matters.
Keeping a wary eye on these developments, Poland must again make plans for the day its allies do not stand to its defense, as in 1939.
However, the ratcheting tension between France/Germany and the US has also opened opportunities for Poland to emerge as a critical partner.
Poland knows that there are three main threats to stability in Central and Eastern Europe:
– China’a Belt and Road
Poland has become critical to addressing all three.
Moreover, a new emerging alliance is looking to Poland for leadership. With regard to Poland’s neighbor, Ukraine, the situation continues to deteriorate. Ukraine was once Europe’s firewall against a Russian resurgence towards reclaiming the might of the USSR.
China, in particular, threatens to crumble that firewall.
𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐔𝐤𝐫𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐞 𝐏𝐫𝐨𝐛𝐥𝐞𝐦
But the real game of Ukraine interest is not the impeachment proceedings.
It involves a company few Americans have heard of, China, Russia, and some aircraft engines.
With China suddenly looking more likely to secure Motor Sich, Russia and other Chinese allies will again have access to the full range of Ukraine’s military manufacturing base. The takeover-by-proxy of Ukraine will also grant Russia more latitude in the Black Sea region.
That latitude is extremely important to Russian interests, given its Black Sea Fleet and involvement in Syria. The Black Sea is where Russia stages any heavy-lift maritime operations for the Mediterranean theater of operations, routing cargo from Novorossiysk to Tartus.
This activity serves two Russian interests:
– Maintains Russian influence in a region that increasingly competes with Russia for energy trade to Europe
– Builds a bulwark against NATO in the Med
But Turkey controls the gates of the Black Sea.
𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐀𝐱𝐢𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐖𝐨𝐫𝐥𝐝
As the US media breathlessly reports on anything involving Russia, and diligently provides air cover for China, one nation has positioned itself to be the axis of the 21st Century’s balance of power:
Despite Turkey’s commitment to the S-400 missile program, they have maintained only an uneasy peace with Russia. The two nations’ involvement on opposite sides of the escalating Libyan civil war could threaten Russia’s Black Sea interests.
Turkey knows that its strongest leverage with Russia is access to/from the Black Sea. Russia knows it as well, which is why it supplements its growing Mediterranean Squadron heavily from its Baltic and Northern naval fleets (especially submarines).
The Russian Baltic Fleet is based out of Kaliningrad Oblast, a curious little piece of Russia on the Baltic Sea that shares its land borders with Poland and Lithuania. It’s a figurative Russian island in continental Europe.
Kaliningrad to the east, home of Russia’s powerful Baltic Fleet, which is increasingly important to Russia in both the Baltic and Mediterranean theaters. And Gdynia, straight across the gulf, home to the Polish Navy and a key NATO naval base. Kaliningrad to the east, home of Russia’s powerful Baltic Fleet, which is increasingly important to Russia in both the Baltic and Mediterranean theaters. And Gdynia, straight across the gulf, home to the Polish Navy and a key NATO naval base.
Gdynia turns the Baltic Sea into a chokepoint for Russian mobility. Poland has invested in its anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. This is driven largely by Russia’s particular emphasis on naval force projection. Further, Poland has spearheaded the most significant European geopolitical initiative in quite some time: The Three Seas Initiative (TSI).
Ukraine has recently made overtures to join the TSI, it remains on the outside. Should that stance continue, it would indicate that Poland and the other TSI members believe it to be a lost cause, too compromised by China and Russia to be an effective member.
TSI is fundamentally an infrastructure and logistics alliance. The Russian economy depends on its natural gas exports, especially in Europe. The current maze of pipelines is at the center of Russian ambition in Ukraine, but it is TSI nations that are the true chokepoints:
Poland, as well as the TSI at large, is a major threat to Russia’s economic and energy interests. To counter this, Russian energy giant Gazprom has been building the Nord Stream 2, a massive undersea pipeline through the Baltic Sea. And at the other end, Germany.
The pipeline has been one of the major sources of contention between the US and its NATO ally, Germany. Poland also sees the NS2 project as a threat, because it undermines the TSI nations as a check on Russian influence in Europe.