Poland would be more amendable to Britain’s EU demands if the island nation helped bolster NATO’s defenses in Central Europe, the country’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, has said.
Waszczykowski made his unusually forthright proposal in an interview with the Reuters news agency that was published on Sunday.
“We still consider ourselves a second-class NATO member state,” the Pole said, “because in Central Europe … there aren’t, aside from a token presence, any significant allied forces or defense installations, which gives the Russians an excuse to play this region.”
Polish president Andrzej Duda called for a permanent NATO deployment in August, saying, “We do not want to be the buffer zone. We want to be the real eastern flank of the alliance.
Western powers shied away from permanently deploying troops in the former Russian satellite states that joined in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse until Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Since then, NATO has stepped up military exercises in the region and deployed fighter jets and tanks.
It has also created a high-readiness force of 5,000 troops that can respond instantly to threats on the eastern frontier. Britain to due to contribute 3,000 soldiers to the task force this year.
Poland itself, which has the eight-largest army in NATO, is moving the bulk of its armed forces to the eastern border under a three-year modernization plan to respond to what it has described as “unprecedented” Russian military activity in the area.
Western jets have repeatedly intercepted Russian bombers in and near NATO airspace in the last year in cat-and-mouse games that are reminiscent of the Cold War.
Duda’s conservative Law and Justice party won the parliamentary elections in October and is keen to score a diplomatic victory at a NATO summit due to be held in Warsaw in July.
British prime minister David Cameron, for his part, needs Poland’s support to limit the access of EU labor migrants to national welfare systems.
Hundreds of thousands of Poles work in other European countries.
Waszczykowski previously rejected Cameron’s proposal to deny foreign workers benefits for the first four years of their residency. “If Cameron wants to divide people according to their nationality then that is against the free movement of labor and the treaty,” he said in November.
The Atlantic Sentinel predicted at the time that Poland, along with the other former East Bloc states that joined the European Union between 2004 and 2007, would eventually acquiesce to keep the British in.
“But they were never going to roll over on day one,” we cautioned.
Even if they agree that it may be unfair for one country’s taxpayers to finance the welfare benefits of another’s, they were never going to say so publicly on the day Cameron made his proposal.
Cameron has promised his voters a referendum on EU membership following a renegotiation of Britain’s relations with the bloc.