Rzeczpospolita: The NATO summit in Warsaw is to be a signal for the Kremlin that attempted aggression on Alliance countries will meet with a response. Is a return to Cold War-type deterrence politics necessary today?
Antoni Macierewicz: The part of Europe we live in is in real danger. Russia is the aggressor. Never before, since World War II, did we face such a situation. What’s more, Russia is not hiding its aggressive intentions, neither towards Ukraine - whose territory it is occupying - nor towards other countries of the region, including Poland. Russia has its eye on changing the borders in all those places where a Russian minority lives. This situation is unprecedented and until the Kremlin authorities change their policy, we have to treat Russia as the biggest threat to peace in Europe and in the world.
Rz: It’s hard to expect that Russia will change its approach. Did the incidents on the Baltic Sea and the announcement of the deployment of Iskander missiles near the Polish border make NATO change its strategy?
AM: That is partially true, because Russian aggression is proving that our analysis, which we have presented to our Western allies for years now, was right. It’s worth reminding people what former Polish President Lech Kaczyński famously said in Georgia. He warned that Russia will aim to make Central and Eastern Europe its sphere of influence once again. That has already happened.
Rz: You said it’s partially true. Why?
AM: Because it was not Russia’s behaviour alone that made our allies change their minds. It was also caused by a change in Polish government policy after the 2015 elections [when the Law and Justice party came to power]. Our government has made it very clear that a continuous presence of NATO combat troops is needed in Poland, rather than just temporary exercises. We made a decision to expand the Polish army, we’re building up local defence groups, we’re now spending two percent of our budget on the army and we are demonstrating solidarity with our allies.
Rz: [Previous Defence Minister] Tomasz Siemoniak also pointed to the fact that this is needed and took action to change the resolutions of the NATO Summit in Newport.
AM: This is precisely what is only partially true. Minister Siemoniak was mainly talking about the presence of NATO troop in terms of exercises, but not in terms of a combat mission. What’s happened now and is changing the character of NATO is a continuous, real, combat - and not an exercise-type - presence of Alliance troops. There’s also obviously the question of the scale of the presence. The previous heads of the defence ministry could not even imagine such a major strengthening of the eastern flank as that which is about to happen.
Rz: Is this thanks to the PiS government?
AM: It is thanks to the President [Andrzej Duda], Prime Minister [Beata Szydło], Foreign Minister [Witold Waszczykowski]. The defence minister only implements their policies. But we have to remember that this line of policy was worked out for years by pro-independence groups and was ultimately shaped by PiS, led by Jarosław Kaczyński.
Rz: The US will command a battalion in Poland, Germany in Lithuania, the UK in Estonia, and Canada in Latvia?
AM: The official decision will be announced by presidents during the summit in Warsaw. It is commonly known that these four countries will be framework countries and will be responsible for each of the battlegroups. But I cannot say who will be stationed where. It will be announced at the summit. I can only say that we have been assured many times by the United States that the US will be efficiently, militarily present in Poland.
Rz: Is that enough to scare off Russia?
AM: We need to understand that these are battlegroups bigger than Polish battalions. Second, they will have combat equipment and that will be their character. Third, their aim is to defend a certain territory, so that help from either a Spearhead Force or NATO support forces can arrive in time. These are units capable of an effective combat response [...] What’s more, we should remember that a US heavy brigade will also be stationed in Poland and we want the command of all the battlegroups to be located in Poland too. There will be many announcements made during the summit. This potential will be enough to deter and deal with any potential Russian attack, until help arrives. That was the main aim, although we are treating this potential as the minimum.
Rz: What does that mean?
AM: Ultimately the potential should be much bigger. At the beginning of the 1990s it was said that in each of the central European countries there should be one division. But everything depends on Russia’s next steps. If Moscow changes its policy and we will be dealing not with an imperial Russia that is threatening the order in Europe, but with a peaceful country, such forces will not be necessary. We will adjust the Alliance’s potential depending on the threats, because NATO is a defensive alliance. Strengthening our army is an important element as well. The government, led by the prime minister, aims to increase the Polish army up to 150,000 troops as soon as possible. That is not its final target size, though.
Rz: Was the decision to deploy troops on the eastern flank agreed by all NATO countries? France and Germany as well?
AM: I must admit I was pleasantly surprised when I talked to the defence ministers of Germany, France, Italy, Britain and the US in recent months. Contrary to what is often written, especially in one very serious newspaper, which misleads public opinion and the Polish political class, claiming that Germany opposes a strengthened NATO military presence in the East. Nothing is further from the truth. In this regard, the Germans understand perfectly well the threat from Russia and the necessity of stationing the alliance’s forces on the eastern flank. The Germans support the Polish initiative to locate the NATO intelligence command headquarters for this part of Europe in Poland. Polish policy and our engagement in securing the southern flank of NATO also contributed to this understanding, because the source of these threats is the same as in the east. That’s why the “Kościuszko” frigate has set off to the Aegean Sea and that is why Polish special forces will go to Iraq and Polish F-16 planes will patrol territories endangered by terrorists. However, we must remember that the mission involves exercises and patrols, rather than being a combat one.
Rz: How much of a political deal is sending the Polish army to the Middle East? Are we doing that in exchange for securing our borders?
AM: It is not a deal, but an understanding that participation in NATO means benefiting from the help of our allies, but also supporting them when they are in danger. Here, the source of the danger is the same. Russian troops in Syria cause more and more concern also among our allies.
Rz: Polish special forces are officially going to Iraq for a training mission. And unofficially?
AM: Polish special forces will go on a training mission, and will train the Christian militia to protect its people.
Rz: Special forces often perform secret combat missions under an official cover.
AM: (silence) I want it to be clear. Polish troops will not engage in combat missions. That was the order that I have signed.