Polish Militants Join Armoured Assaults Into Russian Territory: Warsaw Expands Central Role in War Effort

Polish militias fighting in Ukraine have participated in recent assaults into Russia’s Belgorod Region, with the Polish Volunteer Corps releasing an announcement and video evidence of their roles in these operations. The militants were specifically involved in an assault of Belgorod’s Grayvoron District on May 22, which was one of the initial major incursions launched from Ukrainian territory. The Russian and Western sources have both widely reported that these incursions have been supported by Russian far right groups which have coordinated closely with the Ukrainian Military and with foreign fighters in Ukraine. Videos published by the Polish militants regarding their operations show them using Ukrainian T-72B tanks and Mi-8 helicopters as well as U.S.-supplied HMMWV armoured vehicles, which comes as part of a much wider trend towards Polish combatants in Ukraine being given extensive access to weapons supplies as they are often considered more reliable than many of the local conscript units. As a former member of the Warsaw Pact which widely relied on and license produced Soviet armaments, military personnel and contractors in Poland are widely familiar with such equipment. 

Poland has been outstanding even within the Western world for its hard line position against Russia, with senior politicians calling for Russia’s balkanisation into separate states, while the country’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated shortly after the outbreak of fighting in Ukraine that the only way forward for the West was through “fighting” against Moscow. Characterising Russian policymaking as “pure evil,” Morawiecki said that only more extreme economic sanctions would be morally acceptable, stating regarding the impossibility of negotiations: “How many times have you negotiated with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin? You do not negotiate with criminals, you fight them. Would you negotiate with Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot?” The country has accordingly been a leading supplier of armaments to Ukraine. In contrast to political leaders, however, Polish military leaders have repeatedly expressed serious doubts regarding Ukraine and its allies’ ability to prevail in the ongoing war against Russia.

Although forces from multiple Western countries have been deployed very widely in Ukraine, forming what the New York Times referred to as a ‘stealth network’ of assets directed by Western intelligence agencies to fight Russia within the country, Poland has been the leading contributor of manpower among foreign contries involved in the conflict. Former senior advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Defence U.S. Army Colonel (ret.) Douglas McGregor accordingly reported the presence of an estimated 20,000 contractors from Poland alone who have played key roles in the war effort including in frontline positions such as Bakhmut, which was for months a key centre of hostilities until its capture by Russian forces in late May. The head of the Russian Wagner Group paramilitary force Yevgeny Prigozhin who has overseen many of the operations in the area, reported in late April regarding the deployments of large numbers of Polish forces to Bakhmut: “Well-trained enemy units are now being tossed into Bakhmut. Polish speech all day long. While I used to say there were few mercenaries, now there’s a large number of them.” The use of Western equipment, including American armoured vehicles and Belgian firearms, for assaults into internationally recognised Russian territory has drawn some scrutiny from Washington and its allies.