Throughout recent days, public discourse in Poland has been dominated by multiple instances of violations of the Polish airspace. Balloons crossing the Polish-Belarussian border, drones disturbing passenger planes approaching their airports and a Russian missile, discovered in a forest 250 kilometers from the nearest frontier are just few examples of what appeared in the latest news.
However, the government’s response to these events remains very limited, which only deepens the citizens’ concerns towards the operativity of the Polish national defence systems. By engaging in a game of responsibility-shifting and blaming the subordinates for possible oversights, the authorities not only display the unpreparedness of the highest command to address any potential attacks on the Polish soil, but also provide an insight into the current divisions within the government itself.
On April, 27, the news of an unidentified flying object found in a forest near Bydgoszcz spread all over the country. Unofficial data revealed that it was discovered by a civilian and included inscriptions in Russian language. Yet, almost two weeks passed until the Ministry of National Defence officially stated that the object was a Russian Ch-55 rocket, capable of containing a nuclear charge, which after entering the Polish airspace and crossing half of the country, crashed in the suburban woods.
During his press conference on the 11th of May, the head of the Ministry, Mariusz Błaszczak, provided the media with details from the inspection conducted within the Armed Forces General Command, and claimed, that the Operational Commander Tomasz Piotrowski “failed to carry out his duties” by informing neither him, nor any other governmental body about the incident. He disclosed that the missile entered the Polish airspace as early as on December, 16, after it was spotted by the Ukrainian military, which warned the Polish command. Błaszczak states that although the object soon went off the army’s radars, “all the procedures for allied cooperation were properly launched,” underlining the immediate deployment of Polish and American fighter jets, following the event.
While the incapability of the armed forces to eliminate the rocket and the Ministry’s lack of awareness about the issue sparked unrest in the public discourse, it was the response to the Błaszczak’s conference that fueled further controversy around the topic. Shortly after his speech, Tomasz Piotrowski, the commander whom Błaszczak blamed for not informing the government about the incident of December 16, as well as Rajmund Andrzejczak, Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces, issued their statements, that although appealed to avoid any emotionally-charged conflicts and to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner, strongly implied that the army performed its duties correctly.
Further comments were made by the President of Poland, who, addressing the question of disciplinary measures within the Polish army suggested by Błaszczak during his conference, responded that neither he notices any reasons for the commanders’ dismissal, nor there are any motions on that matter within the Presidential Office. On top of that, the case is currently being investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office, supervised by the Ministry of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro, whose relations with the Błaszczak’s party lately become more and more strained, which only increases the intensity of the situation that Błaszczak found himself in. The only reinforcement for his narrative came from the Prime Minister, who claimed that he was informed about the missile in late April.
However, the discovery in Bydgoszcz is not the only recent instance of the Polish airspace violation, for on May, 12, the Ministry of National Defence announced the presence of a balloon-looking object that after crossing the Polish-Belarussian border, began to move west. As in the case of the missile, the military immediately deployed its MiG-29 and F-16 fighters, yet, similarly to the rocket, the balloon, widely deemed as a Russian spying device, soon vanished from the radars. It is now sought by the Territorial Defence Forces, and the citizens of three voivodeships in northern Poland, where the balloon might have landed, received messages on their mobile devices that instruct them to inform the authorities if the object is found.
The airspace above Polish civilian airports also does not seem to be secured, which was proven on May, 13, when two drones disrupted the landing of PLL LOT aircraft firstly at the Chopin airport in Warsaw, and subsequently at the Pyrzowice airport near the city of Katowice, Silesian voivodeship. According to the flight control staff, the drone identified in Warsaw was the size of a glider, with a wingspan of several meters. When a plane arriving from Poznan approached the runway, the drone crossed only 30 meters above it, which posed a great threat for the passengers inside the aircraft.
Shortly after the incident, all operations at the airport were brought to a halt. To this day, it is not clear whom the drones belong to, nor how they managed to enter the closed airspace above both airports. Because of their size and features, it is doubted that their owners are amateurs, yet the efforts to identify them are still under way.
All these examples of domestic air defense’s vulnerability not only bring about great concerns within Polish society, but also give ground for a sharp critique of the current authority, that instead of proving its ability to address sudden crises, exacerbates its internal divisions and shifts the blame for its inefficiency onto the military command. This may be a real blow for the PiS government, which in recent years based much of their narrative on Polish security and sovereignty.
It seems that the party leadership already realized this threat, and in order to draw the public attention away from the issue, announced an extension of their universal child benefit program. Nevertheless, regardless of the effect that the latest events may have on Polish politics, one crucial question remains unanswered: Should the tensions in Eastern Europe escalate, would the Polish government be able to effectively protect its citizens?
Written by Mateusz Gwóźdź