It is only a matter of time before Russian President Vladimir Putin expands his war goals in Ukraine to include the conquest of additional territory that was once part of the Soviet Union, a Polish diplomat has warned.
Adrian Kubicki, the Polish consul general in New York, said Moscow currently does not have the military capability to launch an attack against Poland or any other Nato country, but warned that Mr Putin has long-term “imperialistic” ambitions and is looking to chip away at neighbouring lands.
“It's a continuous process of Russia trying to invade some of the regions that they claim as theirs,” Mr Kubicki told The National.
“If we allow Russia to move forward, to make little steps forward, eventually they will knock [on] our doors.”
Mr Putin has never accepted the dissolution of the Soviet Union and has described its collapse as a “great tragedy of the 20th century”.
Poland today is a member of the EU and the Nato alliance, but after the Second World War, it was ruled by a Moscow-allied communist government until the Soviet Union's collapse in 1989.
“Russia might have a different name, but its ambition is still the same,” Mr Kubicki said.
Pawel Markiewicz, chief specialist analyst to the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said Poland is right to be suspicious of Russia, which seeks to expand by force and by breaking international law.
“After the fall of communism in 1989, Poland’s chief foreign policy goals were to join western multilateral institutions like Nato and the European Union in order to move out of a so-called ‘grey zone’ where Russia still has its eyes set,” he told The National.
Poland shares borders with Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.
Any Russian attempt to take territory back from Poland would put Moscow in direct confrontation with Nato, the military alliance founded on the principle of mutual self-defence.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov suggested last month that Russia should seek to “denazify” Poland, using the same language Mr Putin deployed to justify invading Ukraine.
“After Ukraine, Poland is on the map! I will not hide that I personally have such an intention,” Mr Kadyrov said on the social media platform Telegram.
US President Joe Biden visited Warsaw last week to credit Poland for its role in the Ukraine war and its embrace of Ukrainian refugees.
“Thank you, Poland,” he said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you for what you’re doing.”
Mr Biden went on and pledged to defend “literally every inch of Nato”.
Poland has set a high standard in Europe’s humanitarian response to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and accommodates far more Ukrainian refugees than any other western nation.
Mr Kubicki pointed out that since the invasion last year, Warsaw had recorded nearly nine million crossings from Ukraine.
Poland, he said, is now sheltering about two million Ukrainians. It also provides a range of services, including access to health care and education along with employment possibilities. The aim is to help refugees to integrate and “move on with their lives,” he said.
The consul general said his country is setting “new standards on how to handle a refugee crisis”.
It creates a “new blueprint” that he believes could be “implemented in other places
In a speech in 2008 after Russia invaded Georgia, the Polish president at the time, Lech Kaczynski, noted that Mr Putin was deeply resentful of how the Cold War had ended, with Moscow losing territory and influence.
Russia was a growing threat, the Polish president warned. He added that the invasion of Georgia was the first step to the re-establishment of the Soviet Union and the days Moscow controlled 15 republics and all the countries behind the Iron Curtain.
Mr Kaczynski appealed to the EU, Nato, and the United States to oppose Russia's invasion of Georgia.
“Today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, the day after tomorrow the Baltic states, and then, perhaps, the time will come for my country, Poland,” the president said at the time.