Polish citizens are taking their money out of banks and filling out U.S. visa applications in anticipation of Russia’s westward push reaching Warsaw, according to a report from a professor visiting the Polish capital.
Brian Grodsky, a political science professor visiting the University of Warsaw and writing in Al Jazeera, reports that Polish citizens are taking Vladimir Putin’s threats that he will use the military to defend ethnic Russian minorities in Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia seriously. “Poles are watching Russia’s movements the way Texans might watch a Category 4 hurricane that has formed in the Gulf,” he writes, noting that he has not perceived any panic but that Warsaw residents are not naive about the possibility of being left alone in the event of a Russian invasion.
“Local friends are renewing their passports,” he notes, while others “are filling out U.S. visa applications that only a couple of weeks ago seemed too long and burdensome to bother with. Some are withdrawing their money from banks in the fear that instability will spread and they will be left stuck in long ATM lines, as witnessed in Crimea. Their bags may not yet be packed, but euros pad their pillows.”
Their concerns are not unfounded. Putin accused the Polish of helping “train” the Ukrainian “agitators” that toppled the Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych regime. Watching the way the West reacted to Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the anemic reaction to the annexation of Crimea this month “made it clear to a growing number of Poles that they will be, at the end of the day, largely on their own in the face of a Russian threat,” Brodsky argues.
The West has not entirely abandoned Poland, however. In fact, the Obama administration sent Vice President Joe Biden this week to Poland to represent the U.S. in NATO negotiations. During his visit, Vice President Biden told Poland that he had personally “led the fight” to allow Poland into NATO despite not having any such power when that decision was made. He also described Putin’s Russia as “alone” and “naked,” but did not specify how or what the United States was going to do about it other than a promise that more sanctions will come if Putin continues his westward push. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski did not hide the fact that he is deeply concerned that the United States is not doing enough to protect his country.
The vice president also did not mention any other potential danger zones that Russia could exploit to continue his march westward. Far beyond Kiev, ethnic Russians are beginning a push like Crimea’s to leave their home states. One area that could be of great trouble for the region is Kaliningrad, a province in-between Lithuania and Poland that is ethnically Russian in population. With a wedge area in their midst, Poles will continue to worry that they are next on the list, and history justifies their concerns.