More than any country in the West, Poland in recent years has been ahead of the curve in resisting aggressive moves emanating from Russia. Six months before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, Warsaw was embracing territorial defense, fearing invasion from the East. Last year the Polish military, which is in the middle of an extensive defense modernization effort, created a new, part-time force designed to resist Putin’s “little green men” in case Moscow decides to unleash a Crimea-like operation on Poland.
None of this is surprising, given Poland’s long history with its Russian neighbor, most of it unpleasant. Memories of Muscovite occupation remain fresh in Polish minds and motivate Warsaw to take preparations for war more seriously than most of NATO does. For Poles, the threat from the East is painfully real and doesn’t need to be explained: it simply is.
Moreover, Warsaw’s preparations for war include contending with the constant efforts by Russians spies and provocateurs to harm Poland in what I’ve termed Special War—the secret espionage and propaganda struggle at which the Kremlin regrettably excels, as Americans learned to our great political pain in 2016.
It’s no accident that NATO’s new Centre of Excellence for counterintelligence just opened shop in Poland. The Atlantic Alliance runs several Centres of Excellence, specializing in a wide array of military and security subjects, and the creation of a CoE for counterintelligence could not be better timed. The new Cracow-based CoE will provide counterintelligence expertise and training to NATO students, with an emphasis on rising espionage threats. Antoni Macierewicz, Poland’s defense minister, explained forthrightly that the Cracow center is “fundamentally important, especially in the face of threats from Russia.”
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