Why Russia will Never Attack Poland
Recently, fears have erupted in the press about a possible Russian military action against the three Baltic countries and Poland, in reaction to the NATO announcement of the transfer of 4,000 NATO troops, including two U.S. battalions, into these countries. In response, Russia has carried out military exercises near the borders of these countries, along with close fly-bys over the Baltic Sea against U.S. military aircraft and Navy vessels.
What gives? Could Russia possibly invade Poland?
I have lived in retirement as an American ex-pat in Poland for the past eight years. I live near Legnica, which is a city in southwest Poland which, for several decades, was known as "Little Moscow" because half of the inhabitants of Legnica were Russian military personnel, assigned to the headquarters for the entire Western Front. If Moscow had ever issued orders for the Red Army in Germany to attack West Germany, those orders would have been processed through Legnica.
The Russians will never dare attack Poland, and here's why:
1) DEMOGRAPHICS -- Russia is a country with 160 million inhabitants. 40 million people live in Poland. Any war-gamer or military strategist will tell you that when two military forces of equivalent quality are matched against each other, an attacker needs about a 4 to 1 advantage to assure his victory over the defender. Russia barely has that.
However, Russia's actual ratio over Poland is really much less than 4 to 1. In the case of a war against Russia, Poland could mobilize its entire armed forces against Russia, but Russia could not do likewise, since Russia is a vast country with many thousands of miles of borders to garrison and defend. Russia's actual edge over Poland is therefore a lot less than 4 to 1.
2) LENGTH OF BORDERS -- In the event of war with Russia, Poland would have very short borders to defend.
There are four possible borders across which Russia could invade Poland. These are:
a) from the Kaliningrad Enclave -- 200 Km long,
b) through Lithuania -- the corridor there is less than 100 Km across,
c) from White Russia -- perhaps 350 Km, and
d) across Ukraine -- perhaps 400 Km.
Only the Kaliningrad Enclave offers Russia a border that directly abuts Poland. But Kaliningrad is a geographical island. It has no land connection directly with Russia anymore. Instead, for Russia to establish land contact with Kaliningrad, it would have to march through at least two countries.
Kaliningrad is very difficult to resupply, and therefore to defend. In the event of war with Poland, there is every chance Poland could overrun Kaliningrad. For this reason alone, Russia will think long and hard before it decides to attack Poland.
As for Lithuania, in order for Russia to use this corridor to attack Poland, it would first have to attack Lithuania, much as Germany in WWII attacked France by violating Dutch and Belgian neutrality. Russia will not lightly contemplate such a move.
White Russia (Belarus) is a close ally of Russia and could be relied upon to cooperate. But in order for Russia to attack Poland from Ukraine, Russia would first have to invade Ukraine, a state which is hostile to Russia, and would have to march hundreds of miles across Ukraine to get to the Polish border. It is unthinkable.
In short, Poland would have short borders to defend, and moreover would have much fewer problems of logistics, since it would be defending interior lines, and since Russia would be forced of necessity to use extended and exposed supply lines to fuel its attack.
3) QUALITY OF MANPOWER -- Doubtless, in the event of an attack on Poland, Russia would deploy its best, elite units. Nevertheless, the backbone of the entire Russian military remains its conscripted soldiers.
Russia still practices conscription. It still calls up classes of its young men twice per year for two-year army stints. These conscripts are poorly trained, poorly equipped, and poorly motivated. They can't wait to be mustered out, and have no interest in fighting any war that they can't perceive is in defense of the survival of the "Rodina" (the "Motherland"). (This has characterized Russia's armies for the past several centuries, by the way.)
Poland's army, by contrast, is an all-volunteer army. Poland observed the success of America's all-volunteer army, and decided to follow suit. And as a result, its army is well paid, well trained, and well motivated. Advantage: Poland.
4) QUALITY OF EQUIPMENT -- Poland has the latest of NATO weaponry. Russia doesn't. Advantage: Poland.
5) NATO -- Poland is a member of NATO, and an attack on Poland is an attack on all NATO member states, including the United States.
6) MOTIVATION -- Understand this about Poland: Polish people don’t like Russia.
Poland has never liked Russia. This goes back over a thousand years of history, to the beginnings of Polish and Russian civilizations, when both countries accepted Christianity. Russia chose Greek Orthodoxy; Poland chose Roman Catholicism instead. They did so because it wanted not to be Russian, but instead a member of Western Civilization.
Consider World War II. Germany committed massive war crimes against Poland, and subjected Poland to a rigorously brutal occupation. In addition to Poland's 3 million Jews who died at Nazi hands, Poland also lost 3 million of its own Polish Catholic ethnics, and had its entire country leveled to the ground in the process.
And yet, to this day, Poland is far more upset about the 20,000 or so Polish Army officers who were massacred by the Russians at Katyn than they are about the entire German occupation.
Go to the waterfront of Union City, N.J. sometime, right across the Hudson River from where the old WTC stood. There you will see a statue of a Polish soldier with a bayoneted rifle sticking out of its back with the one-word inscription -- "KATYN." Nothing there about the German occupation at all, though the Germans perpetrated far worse against Poland than the Russians ever did at Katyn.
Six years ago, an airplane carrying most of the Polish government crashed while flying to Smolyensk to participate in a commemoration of the Russian deeds at Katyn. Imagine that -- the Russians were set to admit, and apologize and atone for their acts, and then the tragedy occurred. It was the last thing they wanted to happen! But it did, and to this day, most Poles believe that Russia destroyed the airplane deliberately. The belief makes no sense and is nothing more than conspiracy theory. But just as millions of Americans still wrongly believe there was a JFK assassination conspiracy, so too do most Poles think the Russians downed that airplane deliberately.
A few years ago, a hit movie Warszawa 1920 was made about the miracle defense of Poland in 1920 from the attacking Red Army. It was very popular.
In short, Poland is generally well-motivated to defend itself. And defending itself against Russia only adds to Polish motivation.
Russia is aware of all these things, and will never attack Poland. Though I reside in Poland, I'm not the least bit worried.
James A. Nollet is a retired US Food & Drug Administration chemist and current author who has lived in Poland in retirement for the past nine years.