“On February 24 2022, we woke up to a totally new reality,” said Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland, speaking at the London Defence Conference, yet, for Poles, Russian atrocities in Ukraine “come as no surprise.” 

For many Western nations, the notion of another war in Europe filled with such indiscriminate killings and senseless aggression “seemed unimaginable” but those in “central and eastern Europe remember the terror of living under Russian occupation,” said Duda.

Poland knew “as early as 2014” that Russia would not stop with Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk, when its leader’s mission is to “destroy the current world order.” The world order Putin wishes to create in its place will have “no respect for the value of human life and the rule of law and democracy,” he warned.

The Polish President was keen to highlight the degree to which the citizens of his country have stepped up to help their neighbours: of the roughly 15 million who have fled Ukraine, 12 million have crossed the border into Poland and “they all found accommodation amongst Polish families in Polish homes.”

But, he warned, “we are not going to bring the hostilities to an end by political and humanitarian ends only, hence why Poland is one of the biggest military suppliers to Ukraine.” 

The UK, he acknowledged, has also played a key role, particularly through “joining the tank coalition.” And Poland and Britain have a long and important history of military co-operation, he added. But Duda also called on Nato allies to increase defence spending, with a particular plea for the defence potential of the eastern flank to be boosted by increasing the number of NATO troops stationed there. 

What’s more, Duda was keen to point out that conflict in Ukraine has implications far beyond Europe. “This crisis will spill over and impact all regions of the world.” We have already seen this with grain shortages affecting Asia, Africa and the Middle East alike. 

The president stressed the importance of getting countries in the global south on side, particularly on the African continent. And, here, Poland may be able to play “a special role.” Its lack of colonial past could help to generate more productive discussions on this front, he suggested. 

Duda ended with a plea for European nations to “stay united”, insisting “it’s only with our help” that Putin’s aggression in Ukraine will be brought to an end. 

To some in the West, the price of helping Ukraine might seem steep. But “Poles know perfectly well,” he added, “that the cost would be much higher if Ukraine lost.”

Watch the 2023 London Defence Conference live here

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