Poland’s defense ministry issued a statement today denying that the country is seeking to join NATO’s nuclear weapons sharing program, a day after Polish Deputy Defense Minister Tomasz Szatkowski told a private broadcaster that Poland is considering hosting nuclear weapons. While it is possible that the deputy minister’s statement was unauthorized, the timing of the comment, as well as the ministry’s official denial a day later, indicate that the Polish government likely instructed Szatkowski to make the statement to a broadcaster as a trial balloon, in an effort to gauge the reaction of both the West and the Kremlin to such an option.
On the surface, the deputy minister’s statement reflects the highly anti-Russian sentiments of Poland’s new ruling party, Law and Justice, which is seeking to expand Poland’s armed forces and boost defense expenditures. Nevertheless, the comment was made at a time when Poland, as well as other countries along the borderlands between Russia and Europe, is increasingly worried about an emerging understanding between the U.S. and Russia.
The U.S., as well as some Western European governments, are pursuing cooperation with the Kremlin over the future of Syria. The Baltic states, Poland, Ukraine and other countries in close proximity to Russia are concerned that this cooperation in Syria would lead to the U.S. and other Western governments, especially France and Germany, to prioritize their relationships with the Kremlin and see these borderland countries as only of secondary strategic importance. The deputy minister’s statement is in keeping with assertive Ukrainian government moves over the past weeks, which include an electricity cutoff in Crimea.
The Kremlin’s reaction to this comment will be an important gauge of Moscow’s commitment to cooperating with Washington and minimizing tensions in the borderlands at this moment. The denial from Poland’s defense ministry also indicates that Poland may have received negative feedback from its Western allies, most importantly the U.S., following the deputy minister’s comment yesterday. As the U.S. and Russia continue negotiating over Syria, and as Russia seeks concessions from the U.S. on the status of Ukraine, countries in the borderlands may begin taking more steps to draw attention to their own defense predicaments.