Jakub Palowski: The brutal, full-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine, which has been going on for almost a year now, has a giant impact on the security environment. Both NATO member states, as well as NATO as a whole, are involved in the process of providing aid to Ukraine. Following a series of failures and losses in the autumn of last year, Russia decided to mobilize its economy and reserves. What are the risks involved, in your opinion? And how the NATO member states supporting Ukraine should respond? Tomasz Szatkowski, Ambassador Extraordinary, and Plenipotentiary - Permanent Representative of the Republic of Poland to NAT: The response of the allied countries should primarily involve increased intensity in the provision of material aid to Ukraine. That would be a strong signal for the Russian Federation, that the coalition supporting Ukraine would not allow for the conflict to be "frozen" allowing the Russians to "wait it out", to get ready for another aggression - as this is currently the goal the Russians pursue. The scope of material aid should be sufficient for Ukraine not only to successfully continue the defence but also to continue the offensive action and regain access to its territory as quickly as possible.
Let me recall, last year the Armed Forces of Ukraine have successfully undertaken offensive actions, including near Kharkiv and Kherson. The decisions on a partial mobilization of the reserves, and the economic potential as well, especially when it comes to the equipment overhauls, have made it possible for Russia to stabilize the situation, from the Russian point of view. Currently, Moscow hopes to establish a prospect of a long conflict, a war aimed at fatiguing the enemy, during which the Ukrainian determination itself, or the determination of western societies and states supporting Ukraine, could be exhausted.
The experiences gathered last year confirm the thesis that intensified deliveries create a chance for the war to end sooner. One could even state that if the armament deliveries had been conducted in a properly broad scope from the very start, as Poland postulated, among other states, Ukraine, right now, would be able to recapture a much greater portion of its territory and approach a point where it would be able to gain a major advantage in the war. Increased supply is very much needed, to provide a safeguard that would prevent a scenario in which Ukraine still faces a risk of Russian aggression.
In what way the “freezing” of the conflict, specifically, may be viewed as a threat to Ukraine?
Essentially, we can consider three basic development scenarios for this conflict: Ukraine winning the war, Russia winning the war, which in a manner that remains obvious would be a very dangerous prospect for us all, or, thirdly, a scenario in which the conflict is frozen. In case of a deadlock of some kind, Russia would go back to full-scale aggression, at a moment that remains beneficial for Moscow, which would translate into a possibility for the Russians to accomplish their long-term objectives.
Thus, currently, in principle we have no other option and we need to significantly increase the extent of material support for Ukraine. The war is in a decisive stage, and NATO Member States do bear a particular responsibility. This also has been mentioned by Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg.
However, is potential as such available at NATO, for NATO to be able to complete deliveries as such? The NATO reserve stockpile remains very much limited, especially when it comes to heavy equipment for the land forces, such as main battle tanks, or self-propelled howitzers.
In my opinion, in the current circumstances, extraordinary measures are required, such as large-scale procurement of military equipment and armament, also from foreign partners, as Poland is doing right now. In parallel, one should be driven to multiply the industrial base of the NATO member states. The member states should be expanding the scope of aid simultaneously with reinforcing the defensive capabilities of their own.
Another solution that should be implemented is a mutual support scheme between the member states, aimed at filling in temporary gaps in capabilities, emerging as a result of providing aid to Ukraine. This could take on the form of proper deployments of forces, but it could also be done through equipment leasing between the NATO member states. The problem here stems from the limited scope of NATO's involvement, as some of the member states remain reluctant when it comes to getting a broader array of NATO structures in support for Ukraine. Aid is coordinated via the Ramstein group for instance, not within the framework of NATO structures directly. We have no direct mandate necessary to plan and coordinate activities as such, directly involving the aid of the individual member states.
Our situation is very special, and what happens in Ukraine could determine the security situation of the NATO member states. The material aid should be happening at a higher level, in parallel, the capabilities of the member states shall be reinforced as well. Thus, in our opinion, the aid for Ukraine shall be provided within a broader scope, with deeper coordination happening at NATO as well.
And how, in your opinion, the war may play out, during the upcoming months? On one hand, we see a mobilization happening in Russia, and on the other, aid supplied to Ukraine by the western nations.
Currently, we are experiencing a growth of frontline saturation, with reserves supplied in high quantities. To break the frontline, one would need a decisively greater potential. Both sides have already suffered from certain equipment losses. Still, despite the losses, they have reserves at hand, especially when it comes to units capable of conducting defensive action, with a high number of soldiers.
This is why it is necessary to implement a qualitative, and quantitative boost in the provision of aid to Ukraine. Ukraine needs far more armament and new types of equipment, including heavy equipment, to be able to make decisive gains and not allow for the conflict to freeze. The latter is considered to be Russia's goal, and it entails a grave danger, both for Ukraine, as well as other states.
Let us move on and discuss the actions undertaken by NATO itself. Last year, during the summit in Madrid, a decision was made to establish a new force model for NATO, with more forces remaining at NATO's disposal, and enhanced eastern flank presence. How is the implementation of those arrangements progressing? Is there a risk that they would only remain valid in a form of a paper trail?
NATO is currently at the key stage when it comes to the implementation of the arrangements made during the summit in Madrid. I deeply believe that the decisions made would take on a tangible form, both when it comes to the possibility of rapidly reinforcing the Central Eastern European presence of NATO forces, as well as in the area of multiplying the forces assigned to the contingency plans. Steps are made in a direction aimed at implementing those measures in line with the adopted plans.
Since NATO was making decisions on reinforcing the potential during the summit in Madrid, Russia has implemented mobilization, and also declared an increase in the number of troops serving in the Russian Armed Forces. Would the implementation of Madrid arrangements be sufficient then? Is NATO taking further steps toward reinforcing its assigned forces, as the alliance is facing the Russian threat?
The matter tied to the growing Russian threat, following the mobilization, and expansion of the Armed Forces has already been mentioned at the NATO HQ. So far, there has been no consensus on the degree to which those decisions may be a real threat, as those Russian steps may also be viewed as a reaction to the plan aimed at making Finland and Sweden a part of NATO.
We must remember that Russia has suffered major losses during the war, not just when it comes to personnel, but also when it comes to personnel necessary to train new units. And thus, the scope of NATO's reaction would very much depend on the assessment of the actual growth of the Russian threat levels - and only then could it be determined.
You have mentioned Sweden and Finland. The ratification of NATO accession for those states is still yet to be finalized, documents have not been signed by Hungary and Turkey. What are the chances that this would happen this year?
When it comes to Hungary, it was declared that the parliament would handle the ratification of accession for Sweden and Finland early this year. In the case of Turkey, the situation is more complicated. If the ratification process is not finalized by the summit in Vilnius, this would certainly have a detrimental impact on NATO's integrity. I want to add that Sweden and Finland have already secured security guarantees from the USA, and other member states. There is no risk those nations would be left by themselves. Nevertheless, that would be a bad signal if the ratification process had not been finished until the Vilnius summit.
I do hope that despite the doubts and differences, Turkey would decide to include Sweden and Finland in the NATO structures. The talks are continuously underway. The representatives of Turkey often stress that they do recognize the Alliance's structures, as an important component of defence and security.
I want to ask about a separate matter, tied to a discussion related to the material aspects of the aid provided to Ukraine, and the options for increasing the scope of deliveries. Are you not under the impression that NATO has somewhat forgotten about matters such as mobilization capabilities, reserves, or maintenance of a quantitative potential, speaking more broadly?
Of course. Ever since the nineties, we have been hearing the quality over quantity slogan. It was false, from the very start. The declared quality often did not replace quantity, and the quantity was being consistently reduced - especially during the current Century. In some areas, such as Ground Based Air Defence systems of mobile land forces elements, rocket artillery, or large armour units, atrophy of capabilities has been experienced in the case of several member states.
I would like to add that having a proper quantitative potential at hand is necessary to talk about armed forces of proper quality. Let me give you an example: to organize military exercises at a specific level, large, well-staffed tactical units are a must. In the past NATO was adopting solutions that made it possible to depart from the model in which threats and quantitative requirements were very specific, such as "Capability-based Planning". This encouraged the reduction of quantitative potential that was replaced with what alleged modern force profile.
The "Capability-based Planning" mentioned by me is an element of a certain jargon that used to be considered a modern one. Nowadays, it is just archaic. It served as a smoke screen for cuts. We must remember: it was claimed for quite some time at NATO, that we would never again experience a conventional conflict involving state actors. Terrorism and cybernetic threats were the only ones being acknowledged. History has not ended. Now NATO needs to restore its conventional defence capabilities.
One of the capabilities that was esteemed highly during the Cold War, and now it has been lost by many states, is the use of cluster munitions. Did the European NATO member states reflect on that somehow, is there a plan to recover the capabilities offered by the use of cluster munitions?
I have no information on whether discussion as such is going on within NATO. The political limitations among the nations that signed the convention banning cluster munitions still remain valid. Neither has Poland signed the Oslo convention nor is it willing to join the group of signatories.
Poland, in fact, needs the capabilities offered by cluster munitions. States that are the source of threat, Russia primarily, own munitions as such and use them. How they are used, and how those states conduct war, create a giant threat, also for the civilians. We see this in Ukraine, daily.
I would like to add that Finland, which for years has been a member of the EU, and that is currently a NATO membership candidate, and that has a long land border with the Russian Federation, also decided not to sign the Oslo convention. And we do not have any information suggesting that Finland may be willing to withdraw from using cluster munitions and thus join the signatories.
Thank you for this conversation.