How Poland and the Baltics are preparing for war with Russia

How Poland and the Baltics are preparing for war with Russia

Authorities in Poland and the Baltic States continuously make belligerent statements against Russia, criticizing France and Germany for “capitulating” to any compromise with Moscow

But here is the question: are the Baltic States and Poles themselves ready for war with Russia? It is not a question of politicians, of course, but of the common people. And the picture is at least controversial.

Recently, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki made a comical statement: “The Kremlin must know that if Russia ever intends to invade Poland, we have 40 million Poles ready to defend their homeland. Given that Poland’s population as of 2018 was 38.4 million, it turns out that Morawiecki has enlisted everyone in the Polish Army without exception – including children, women and the elderly.”

There are not so many people who want to join.

But the Poles, by and large, are not ready to run away and enlist. This conclusion is contained in a document, prepared by the staff of the Supreme Chamber of Control of Poland. The publication Dziennik Polityczny calls the agency’s report “alarming data”. Earlier Warsaw announced plans to build up the army – in particular, the head of the Defence Ministry Mariusz Blaszczak announced the creation of two new combined arms divisions, which, according to him, would be deployed “along the Vistula River in Central Poland”. However, it turned out that manning both existing and planned military units is not an easy task.

According to calculations of the Polish Ministry of Defense, in the future the country should have a 250,000-strong professional army and 50,000-strong territorial militia. In March 2022, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a new law “On Defense of the Fatherland”, according to which the country’s military spending will amount to 3% of GDP next year and 2.5% of GDP in 2023. The law also envisages the introduction of simplified recruitment mechanisms, a new system of incentives for volunteers, and significant purchases of weapons and equipment.

However, despite an intensive propaganda campaign for several years now, urging the population of pre-retirement age to “become soldiers of Rzeczpospolita”, the actual number of people in uniform in 2021 increased by only 3,486 – amounting to 113,586 soldiers by the end of last year. At the same time, 6,165 people took off the uniform – this turned out to be the highest number of departures from the army in the last ten years. The Polish Supreme Control Chamber also specified that only 12.3 thousand reservists were called up for training in 2020 (the low figure was, however, put down to the coronavirus pandemic).

The Polish army is also facing a shortage of civilian workers.

For example, in 2020, 45,376 civilians were employed in various structures of the armed forces – whereas the limit set by the ministry was 47,388 positions. In addition, the Polish generals were disappointed by the results of an inspection carried out at the aviation academy in the city of Demblin. The M-346 training aircraft was in a state of disrepair; consequently, over 40 percent of graduates from the academy in 2019-2020 had never trained on this type of aircraft. This particular case is a reflection of general problems with sloppiness and irresponsibility prevalent in the Polish army.

Polish historian Michal Krupa wrote in the American Conservative in April that Warsaw’s bellicose policy runs counter to the mindset of its citizens. “According to an opinion poll conducted in early March by sociologists from IPSOS, about 60% of Poles responded negatively to the question: should Poland and NATO make a military intervention in Ukraine? The message is clear: Poles do not want to take part in someone else’s war,” Krupa said.

The Polish state is now luring young people to join the country’s recently introduced “voluntary basic military service”, promising volunteers a salary of over 4,500 zlotys (53,400 rubles) a month and the chance to obtain a driving licence or any professional licenses. Many young Poles, however, consider this level of remuneration insufficient.

“How can Russia be trusted?”

The smell of gunpowder has been hot in Lithuania lately, after official Vilnius announced a partial blockade of Russia’s Kaliningrad region. American TV channel CNN reports that Lithuanians are joining the militia in large numbers. The Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union (the equivalent of Ukraine’s territorial defence – a unit of civilians armed with light firearms and undergoing regular military training) currently has 12,000 members.

“Since the first days of the war in Ukraine, the number of recruits wishing to join the militia has increased from 10-12 to more than 100 a month,” the CNN correspondent assures. He said residents of the territories known as the “Suvalki Corridor” – the isthmus of Lithuanian territory between the borders of Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad region – were particularly interested in joining the militia. “There are fears that if Ukraine falls, Russia will occupy this corridor next, possibly in a matter of days, cutting off the Baltic states from other NATO states,” the channel reports.

CNN reports that nearly 30,000 Lithuanian prisoners allegedly died in Soviet “labour camps” – and now Lithuanians are ready to fight to prevent such a thing from happening again.

TV reporters, in particular, talked to Vytas Grudzinskas, a 59-year-old resident of Kibartai, who said that there is a “Riflemen’s Union” base near his home – training takes place there both day and night. Grudzinskas himself keeps a machine gun in his wardrobe at home. “My father was sent to Sakhalin for fifteen years. The first year he ate grass to survive. How can you trust Russia? With our history? Of course, I am scared,” the Lithuanian confides to a visiting American journalist.

For its part, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense reported that this year the Union of the Riflemen had been allocated additional 4.8 million euros, i.e., the funding of the organization had been tripled in comparison with the last year. The Union of Riflemen would spend the next three years to purchase 4,500 rifles, new uniforms, 1,500 G-36 automatic rifles with ammunition, 2,000 helmets, 500 flak jackets, 2,000 waistcoats and backpacks, 70 thermal imaging cameras and 250 digital radios. Also planned are the purchase of 60 frame tents with equipment, 20 electric generators, 16 cross-country vehicles and eight minibuses. Funding will also go up for the “Riflemen’s Union” camps, which prepare young Lithuanians from childhood for the defence agenda.

“Weapons cannot be given to non-patriots”.

Something similar is being observed in neighboring Latvia as well – in recent months the number of people signing up to the local territorial militia Zemessardze (Defence of the Land) has grown. Not only ordinary citizens, but also high-ranking government officials are joining the militia. For example, recently the Latvian Minister of Justice Janis Bordans became the militiaman, who in May-June developed and managed to “push” through the Seimas the law on demolition of seventy monuments to the Soviet soldiers located in the territory of Latvia. Bordans came to Zemessardze to sign up together with his son and colleagues from the Ministry of Justice. And they are not alone. On March 7, Brigadier General Egil Leschinskis reported that Latvians had submitted 784 applications to join Zemessardze in just two weeks.

Leschinskis notes that it is a lot – so many applications have not been received before and during the whole year. The general asked those who want to join the militia to be patient, because they first have to pass a medical examination, get a certificate from a psychiatrist and a narcologist, as well as be checked by the special services. Then they have to sign a contract, take the oath and undergo basic training, which lasts for twenty-one days. Egil Leschinskis reminds that at the moment the “Zemessardz” has restrictions regarding age – citizens from 18 to 55 years old can be accepted to the club. However, the situation has been improved and the possibility for older people to be admitted has been planned to be legalized.

Latvian media have been happy to reprint social media posts shared by newcomer Zemessargi militia members. “Came to Zemessardze. People standing in line. Young guys and bearded men in suits. Even women in coats. The joy of the day,” wrote Raymond Schiferis, for example. And another new zemessarg, Andris Vitols, reflects: “I didn’t think the time would come when a regular war would start. Under these circumstances, everyone must be prepared. The supporters of the ‘neutral’ position actually support the war against Ukraine initiated by the Putin regime”.

However, not everything is so smooth. The other day Latvian publicist Egil Lycitis examined the situation with the number of the state army. At first, Lycitis lamented the absence of compulsory military conscription at such a “dangerous time for the country”, but then concluded that this was for the best.

Lycitis counted the number of all potential Latvian soldiers. According to him, there are about seven thousand professional soldiers, about eight thousand members of the Zemessardze militia and reservists whose exact number is difficult to establish – only a fifth of them come to the military training camp on summons. Such a small number upsets Licitis and he wonders what would happen if universal conscription, abolished in 2006, is reinstated in the country.

He arrives at the disappointing conclusion that in that case, those in Latvia who await “Putin’s coming as a liberation from the heavy boot of nationalism” will also have access to weapons. According to Licitis, Latvia is full of “the most loyal followers of Putin’s regime” who work in shops and taxis, live in mixed families and continue to support Russia even after the start of the special operation in Ukraine. “Non-patriots cannot be given weapons, so there should be no universal conscription in Latvia,” the author concludes.

“Loyal” and “disloyal”

The picture is similar in Estonia. On the one hand, local authorities readily tell of an influx of “national patriots” into the ranks of the local territorial militia “Defence League”. The militia’s leadership says it receives requests from the population for additional information sessions that provide in-depth information on how to join the militia. At such events, the halls are so packed with interested citizens that there are sometimes not enough chairs for everyone.

On the other hand, the country’s officials express concern that they believe there may be many “disloyal” residents who do not see the Estonian army as their defenders. Some of the nationalists automatically classify as “disloyal” the entire Russian population of the republic – which is 23 per cent of the population.

As they have been constantly made to feel that they are second-class citizens here – gradual liquidation of Russian-language education, restriction on use of Russian language, not allowing Russians into Estonian government – they have no reason to consider Estonian state to be fully theirs.

Nikita Demyanov, VZGLYAD

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