The American base in Poland is not aimed against Belarus, and Putin perceives our country as his own territory, Roman Polko, one of the most respected Polish military, a former commander of the elite Grom group and former deputy director of the National Security Bureau, told Belsat. In an interview with Siarhiej Pieliasa, the retired division general explained why he wants to see the Belarusian military in the future Fort Trump in Poland.
How realistic is the prospect of creating a US military base in Poland at the moment?
I think it is real, and this is the first answer to this question. I believe that the base will be there no matter what. It is needed not only by American soldiers, potentially, if they are our guests. This modern infrastructure is needed so that the allied forces, our soldiers, could really learn at the level of the 21st century. In high-class training centers, and not waste time wandering around the facilities that do not meet these standards.
What could be the potential localization of this base? Or maybe it will not be one base, but several bases, as some suggest, to spread them all over the territory. So that Russians would not have a single target.
Indeed, the hardest thing is to start doing something. For several years, I have been saying that several bases need to be created. And here it is not about concrete actions against Russia or defensive actions. But, firstly, it is an effective training base, since the small garrisons do not have it. Also, it is an opportunity to build infrastructure relevant to the times we live in. Also, we need an infrastructure that prepares us to fight in cyberspace. And, of course, the redeployment of our units is important. It turns out that all the key units are stationed in the way that the Germans — NATO members — could have attacked us.
What Putin does is he perceives Belarus as his territory, conducting exercises like “Zapad” with the participation of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. This is the first, most important signal that shows that these bases are needed and need to be created soon.
An international battalion or NATO battalion group has appeared in Poland. Just like in the three Baltic countries. Why have another American base? Maybe you do not need to tease Putin with an entire American division, as they say, but these battalions and the fact that Poland is strengthened with its own forces are enough?
The late President Lech Kaczynski warned us when we were building a strategy in Poland that said that nothing threatens us, that this is the end of history, peaceful times have come. Later it turned out that Russia attacked Georgia, and the president said that Ukraine would be next. People, of course, did not believe in it. It turned out that Crimea belonged to Ukraine and Russia had signed the relevant agreements. But they attacked Crimea and Donbass. During the maneuvers, they perceive Belarus as a dependent state, not an independent one. These are the things we should be afraid of. Therefore, we are forming the Territorial Defense Forces and are strengthening our allied capabilities. Countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia are our neighbors, unable to defend themselves in front of a bear like Russia. And Russia, in a situation where we are not doing anything, feels even more relaxed and is trying to expand the territory that it would like to have under control.
General, when talking about the possible presence of US troops in Poland, the issue of the so-called NATO-Russia Act from 1997 is raised. Some argue that placing such a base or bases would violate this agreement. Others disagree, since this is not a NATO base, but an American one. What do you think about this?
Of course, you can play various games with words, but let’s look at what is happening. Putin violates all international agreements. Instead of a policy that should lead to peace, we are constantly seeing aggression against neighbors, permanent violation of the border. In such a situation, it is difficult to behave like a noble knight and yield the field when the other party violates all agreements. I am not interested in how to interpret these agreements, but the current situation requires them to be checked and changed. First of all, it is necessary that countries such as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland are not second grade NATO members. Otherwise, such an alliance is not needed, because it does not provide defense capabilities on its eastern flank.
Almost simultaneously, the question of restoring or creating the fourth Polish division appeared. It is already officially known that it will appear in the east of the Vistula in order to cover the Belarusian direction. In your opinion, why should the Belarusian direction be covered by Poland now?
Naturally, from a strategic point of view, Russia, which would be separated by such states as independent Belarus and Ukraine, is a much smaller threat, and, probably, there would be no need to build permanent bases here. But if Russia regards Belarus as its territory and it has an aircraft carrier in the form of the Kaliningrad region… In fact, it can do nothing more there, but, however, it can somehow attack our territory. In such a situation, there is no other way out than to reformat and create new divisions that will be able to repel a kinetic strike on the eastern wall, because there are not enough forces there. The fourth, I think that also the fifth division will be needed, when Putin, of course, continues to develop his capabilities in the field of land operations. We also need to increase your capabilities in the areas of cybersecurity, post-truth and various types of information manipulation. There appear voices, here in Poland or in Belarus, as well as those coming from Polish general, who said that such bases are not needed and will only tease the bear. Such statement do appear and they play in the hands of Putin, who, apparently, is now happy that the Kremlin propaganda is a success.
You have brought up the issue of cybersecurity, post-truth, information security. Poland supports projects related to countering Russian propaganda. For example, ” Belsat” is one of them. Is it enough or something else can be done in the information sphere, in the media, on the Internet, which could strengthen both Poland and its eastern neighbors — Belarus and Ukraine?
During the Economic Forum in Krynica, I, together with international experts, discussed this new space of war — the cyberspace. There was a question: “Ok, what did Germany, Poland, Hungary do in this direction?” I realized that we do little. Germany plans to create a command center. Poland has a TV channel Belsat, but it does not operate in this area. We need offensive actions to transfer this information, our narrative. It is necessary that the residents of, say, Belarus have a complete picture of the situation. How it looks from one and from another point of view. But first of all, they need to know for sure that the bases in Poland, even with a permanent Polish presence, are definitely not created against Belarus.
I don’t remember any drills when Belarus, even with the current leadership, planned an attack on Poland. But from the side of Russia such maneuvers do take place, during which they plan and simulate a nuclear attack. There, Belarus is a state deprived of sovereignty, through which the Soviet or Russian forces will pass as they please. For them, the Armed Forces of Belarus is like our former Territorial Defense. In Poland, its task was to ensure the passage of Russian troops through Poland in the event of aggression in the West.
The question of the potential American base and, a little less, but still, the question of the 4th Polish division east of Warsaw have sparked a discussion in Belarus. There are different voices. Basically, two of them. By the way, the other day Mikalai Statkevich, former military, and now one of the opposition leaders said that the base is not in the best interests of Belarus, that it could provoke Russia’s actions against Belarus. Another well-known analyst Andrei Parotnikov said that it does serve the interests of Belarus. That the base will scare Russia away, and it will not want to act against Poland and potentially against Belarus. Statkevich added that it is better for Poland to send these 2 billion, apparently, it was a question of dollars, because it was said in Washington, to the creation of the 4th division. What would you say to Lieutenant Colonel Statkevich on such a proposal?
I want to say to my military colleagues that this topic has opened a discussion about security. We need to discuss this. Views may differ. And at the discussion level, some things become clear. But the main thing is that 2 billion are needed for the base, but the 4th division is also needed. It’s not like, they say, “we will build one, but we don’t do the other”.
It should be a common, strong system. This base is needed not only by Americans. We need it. We do not have modern training centers. The army is scattered. And when it comes to real action, it turns out that it is difficult to glue it into one. In fact, I would advise Belarus to build a remarkable modern base so that the army could train there. So that these were not exercises for show, for the media, where several thousand people run according to the exact scenario. Only those where we can conduct large-scale maneuvers. We need to understand what logistical problems we have. How it works. We also need to ensure our personal safety.
Poland wants, first of all, to be responsible for its own security. We really need Belarus to be a strong state with a strong army. After all, it guarantees and increases the security of Poland.
Over the last five years, Russia has been trying to convince Belarus, to force the Belarusian authorities to deploy an air base pf the land aircraft carrier, which is Kaliningrad. It was about the unit of fighters. Different localizations. Lukashenka has so far managed to defend himself, despite his great dependence, including in the military sphere, on the Kremlin. What advice would you give in such a difficult situation to Belarus for it to effectively defend itself against attempts by the Russian authorities to deploy large forces in Belarus?
Putin is deceiving others. We see it all the time. The bringing in of “green men” in Crimea ended with its annexation. Donbass is destabilized. As if it is done by people from Donbass. Even if not special forces, and Belarus would allow foreign troops to enter its territory, this would be an occupation. I don’t know if Belarus wants to be occupied. I think that it wants to be an independent country. And I think that this is understood even by today’s president, who understands that in a few years it can end for Belarus with the loss of independence. The question is whether Belarus wants to be independent and decide for itself. Does it want to return to the system from the past, when it was a territory under Russian control.
I want to ask you to imagine a black scenario. This is somewhat related to the simulation presented by “Defense24.pl” at the exhibition in Kielce. According to it, in 2028, Russia attacks Poland from the territory of Belarus. Poland defends itself, by the way, with the forces of the already newly formed 4th division. I suggest we imagine that there is already an American base in 10 years. How could such a war look like, God forbid, of course, but please imagine. How would you describe such a scenario and how would such a conflict end?
In fact, I describe the scenarios of war in my book, “It Used to Be Safe.” This conflict will not be kinetic. There will be different “green men”, construction catastrophes, some accidents, someone will be disconnected from the grid. Suddenly, someone will get access to mobile communications. It will take place in a completely different space than the Second World War. It is worth remembering this. That does not mean that a conventional conflict cannot take place. After such an attack, regular troops may enter. Thus the 4th division is also needed. Looking at this black scenario, I want to draw attention to one thing. If the Russian army were to pass through Belarus, this black scenario would have been realized before it was drawn. After all, this would mean that Belarus would lose its independence if it lost control over its own territory. And I do not believe that the Belarusian society has a desire to attack Poland and conquer territory in order to control it.
Nevertheless, Belarusians and Poles are united by many centuries of history, the best or the worst, but life in a joint state.
The same is true about Lithuania, and Ukraine.
I dream that this modern base appears and that the Belarusian army will come to study with ours. After all, this is the most important thing now.