The Polish government is enacting plans to legitimise and work with civilian militias while it grows and re-equips the official armed forces, as the attention of military planners continues to be drawn east.
The apparent intent of Putin’s Russia to regain territory lost at the end of the Cold War has unsettled a number of European and Baltic states, including Poland, which with Lithuania contains the heavily armed Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian ‘exclave’ inside Europe. In common with a number of those nations Poland is now seeking to modernise it’s ageing Soviet-era equipment and recruiting more troops. At the same time the nation is moving to officially recognise a number of civilian paramilitary groups for the national defence.
In contrast to almost all nation states which eye heavily armed, organised groups of civilians with suspicion, or even fear, the Polish military is now beginning to incorporate the countries Riflemen’s Associations (Związek Strzelecki) into national defence planning. Even more astonishingly, re-enactment groups which dress in period uniforms, learn traditional drills and survival skills, and recreate battles from history like the Medieval battle of Grunwald, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Second World War are being encouraged to get involved.
The associations aren’t just filled with middle aged reenactors, either. The groups, some of which are over 100 years old and claim proud associations with resistance movements against historic invasions, have large numbers of young women members too. The government will now pay the wages of a small core of local defence militia men, who until now worked as volunteers, so they can work full time to recruit and direct others.
In an interview with The Economist earlier this year, the head of the largest, and one of the oldest associations said the idea of the groups was not to create additional formations to fight invaders on the front line. Instead, the groups would act as light infantry units, waging guerilla war against invaders if the formal Polish army was crushed, similarly to the role of the Polish Home Army during the German occupation in the Second World War.
Sky News reports interest in the associations has surged since the start of the conflict between Russia and the rump Ukraine, with applications to join flooding in since the government announced they would be recognised earlier this year. One paramedic who trains with an Association told Sky:
“Everybody in here shoots by AK-47 and Glock pistol.
“We will teach everybody how to shoot, how to rescue people, how to camouflage, how to use radios, basic knowledge in the field. I think everybody who has a clear mind in Europe knows the war is a true possibility, especially in Poland.”
While the British government eyes £1 billion in cuts for defence, potentially taking the national spend below the two per cent mandated by NATO, and agreed to by David Cameron last year, the Polish government is boosting defence by almost 20 per cent. Defence minister Tomasz Siemoniak said:
“We can see that Russia is going in the direction of restoring the influence it had at the time of the Soviet Union.
“If that is the case then the situation is not over by any means with Crimea and it will move on to the territories of other countries, that will either be targeted by aggression or by some other measures taken by the Russian federation, so we have to be ready.”