Home More News With US aid, Ukraine can be ‘Putin’s nemesis’: Polish foreign minister

With US aid, Ukraine can be ‘Putin’s nemesis’: Polish foreign minister

With US aid, Ukraine can be ‘Putin’s nemesis’: Polish foreign minister
Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Radosław Sikorski's keynote speech at the Atlantic Council on Feb. 26, 2024, focused on getting the U.S. to pass a military and economic aid package for Ukraine. (Konrad Laskowski/Foreign Ministry of Poland)

The war in Ukraine is part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to restore the glory and territory Moscow lost when the Soviet Union collapsed, Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski told an audience at the Atlantic Council in Washington last month.

But Putin’s goals go deeper than that, and hit closer to home for Americans, he said.

Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski’s speech at the Atlantic Council on Feb. 26  focused on getting the U.S. to pass a military and economic aid package for Ukraine. (Konrad Laskowski/Foreign Ministry of Poland)

Among them is a desire to destabilize the United States and pit the country and its allies against each other.

The longtime leader of Russia, who is very probably going to be re-elected this week, is being “aided and abetted by a crime family of dictators from Iran, North Korea, but also lauded by, among others, those ruling Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria” in his war in Ukraine, Sikorski said in a keynote speech at the Atlantic Council on Feb. 26. China is also supporting Putin’s aggression by buying Russian oil and gas, putting money into Russia’s war coffers.

In return, Putin “helps his fellow despots fuel chaos in the Middle East, Asia, and here on your southern border,” Sikorski said. “He welcomes Hamas in Moscow, and his propaganda supports the terrorists.”

Putin seeks to undermine democracy by spreading disinformation, said Sikorski, who grew up in Poland when the country was, in his words, “a Soviet colony.”

“Anything that spreads conspiracy theories, anything that makes us weaker, they (Russia) support,” he said.

‘Show that the US is weak, divided’

The cabal of dictators and terrorists linked to Putin “all desire to destroy the stability of America and to create victory where it is not deserved,” Sikorski warned.

“They’re hungry to show that the U.S. is weak, ineffective and hopelessly divided, that America can no longer act effectively, or be a force for good in the world.”

Sikorski visited Washington as the U.S. Congress continued to dither over approving military and economic aid for Ukraine.

Ukrainians protest in Washington, D,C, near the White House against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, (Nick Starichenko /Shutterstock)

Just over a week after Sikorski’s speech, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said at a meeting in Washington with Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck that Congress’ failure so far to approve the $61 billion package for Ukraine was “nothing short of a gift” to Putin. Ukrainian forces were running short of ammunition and struggling to hold off the Russians, she said.

Recalling Bucha and Irpin

Sikorski reminded the Atlantic Center audience, which included Polish Ambassador to the United States Marek Magierowski, U.K. Ambassador Dame Karen Pierce, officials from the Embassy of Japan, and former U.S. ambassador to Poland, Dan Fried, of the horrors found in Bucha and Irpin in the early months of the war after Russian forces aborted their attempt to swiftly take Kyiv and retreated.

The invading forces had raped Ukrainians, tortured them, shot them and left their bodies to rot in the streets. They targeted mothers, infants and medical staff in maternity hospitals in bombing raids, and abducted Ukrainian children “to turn them into Russians,” Sikorski recalled.

But as the war enters its third year, it’s not too late to stop Putin’s “march of cruelty,” he said. The United States and its allies must provide Ukrainians with the military aid they need, he said. They need to create a “deterrence so powerful that it dwarfs Putin and his cronies.” They need to grow alliances and put themselves in a position of strength that will secure lasting peace.

“When American and European investment is combined with Ukrainian innovation and courage, Putin retreats.” – Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski

If, on the other hand, they don’t act, Russia would do to Ukraine what “the then-chancellor of Nazi Germany did to Czechoslovakia,” Sikorski said, without mentioning Adolf Hitler by name.

Putin would use Ukraine’s “industrial [and] human resources against us,” he said. “Ukrainians who are today resisting him would be forcibly drafted into his army.” The cost of deterring further aggression would rise exponentially, he said.

The reference to Czechoslovakia was about ultimately ineffective attempts in 1938 to tamp down Hitler’s appetite for more “Lebensraum” for Germans. At the end of September of that year, Britain, France and Italy signed an agreement ordering Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudetenland region to Germany. In exchange, Germany, which six months earlier had annexed Austria, was to make no further demands for land in Europe.

World War II broke out 11 months later when Germany invaded Poland.

Celebrating 75 years of NATO

Four years after the war ended, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. Poland joined the alliance on March 12, 1999, one of the first former Warsaw Pact countries to do so.

Battle tanks and infantry vehicles from Poland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and United States assemble in Poland before crossing the Vistula River during NATO exercise DRAGON24, March 5, 2024. Poland joined NATO in March 1999. (Jackie Faye Burton/US Europe Command)

NATO leaders will gather in Washington in July to mark 75 years of the alliance’s existence. But in a question and answer session after his speech, Sikorski was asked how the success of the NATO summit can be ensured, particularly if the war in Ukraine is at a stalemate or Ukraine is on the back foot.

His response: Get Congress to pass the stalled Ukraine aid package.  A former speaker of the Polish parliament, Sikorski warned that if it “were not to pass and Ukraine were to suffer reversals on the battlefield, it will be [U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson’s] responsibility.”

He urged the United States to show the leadership it had displayed at the start of the war two years ago, wqhen prompt U.S. action to buttress Ukraine inspired allies in Europe, Asia and Oceania to also come to the country’s aid.

The alternative – abandoning Ukraine – was unthinkable: it would lead Putin to believe “he can get away with whatever he wants,” Sikorski warned in his speech.

“He will push up much closer against the borders of NATO states, threatening further military incursions in Europe where our children will have to fight him,” said Sikorski, who has a son serving in the U.S. Army.

Showing strong support for Ukraine now will send a stern signal to Putin, who, Sikorski said, only attacks when he thinks he can get away with it.

“When American and European investment is combined with Ukrainian innovation and courage, Putin retreats,” he said, calling on the United States to join its allies and “help Ukraine become [Putin’s] nemesis.”

Karin Zeitvogel

Karin Zeitvogel started her journalism career at the BBC World Service and has worked since then for international media outlets and organizations including Agence France-Presse, U.N. agencies, Voice of America, RIA Novosti and the National Institutes of Health. She's lived in nine countries, speaks fluent French and German, good Spanish and a smattering of other languages.