Poland’s PM confident US Republicans will not backtrack on Ukraine

Poland’s prime minister has downplayed fears that the Republican party will water down US support for Ukraine, saying sceptical voices were part of a political “poker game” in the lead-up to the 2024 elections.

Mateusz Morawiecki, a strong European ally of the Republican party and frequent guest at US rightwing events, spoke to the Financial Times after Florida governor and likely presidential candidate Ron DeSantis triggered a flurry of concern by saying Kyiv was not in America’s “vital national interest”. 

On Thursday, DeSantis walked back some of his comments, insisting his characterisation of the conflict in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” had been misunderstood. But the governor’s words come alongside former US president Donald Trump’s isolationist stance and regular attacks on the White House over its handling of the war in Ukraine.

The Polish prime minister said that meetings with US senators in February had left him convinced that the Republicans and Democrats were singing from the same “hymn sheet” with regard to Ukraine, Russia and China. Morawiecki also maintains a solid relationship with the administration of Joe Biden, having received the US president in Warsaw last month ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“Defeat of Ukraine [would mean] the defeat of the west, and such a defeat would be bigger than Vietnam,” the prime minister said following an EU summit in Brussels. “I’m cautiously optimistic about the American . . . political class — bipartisan, GOP and Democrats.”

Morawiecki said he had initially been worried by DeSantis’s remarks but noted that the Florida governor had subsequently made a “significant step back”. “I believe it’s all said in the context of the political battle preparing for the election next year. I see this as part of this poker game,” Morawiecki said.

The prime minister added that if China became more seriously involved in the conflict on the side of Russia it would prompt the US to “step up” its support for Ukraine. Provision by China of large quantities of weapons to Russia would be “very dangerous”.

For the time being, Morawiecki did not see evidence that China is giving substantial support to Russia’s military effort, adding that deliveries of spare parts and drones had not come in large quantities. “I’m very hopeful that China will not decide to send weapons to Russia.” 

However, he struck a downbeat note about the prospects for Beijing’s attempt to broker peace talks in Ukraine, following discussions between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week, and as Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez prepares to travel to China.

“I do not believe China is a good broker in those circumstances. They are too much anti-free world and pro-Russia,” Morawiecki said. 

As far as western military support for Ukraine is concerned, the Polish prime minister said that things that were previously “beyond our imagination” were being realised, including the delivery of German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

Poland and Slovakia have recently said they will send Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, the first allies to take this step. Morawiecki said Poland would not be sending American-made F16s — the type of aircraft Kyiv has long been calling for — because it did not own sufficient numbers of the jets, but he said he would “strongly encourage those countries that are more abundant with F16s”.

He also advocated the provision of longer-range missile systems to Ukraine, saying this would help Kyiv tear apart Russian weapons logistics chains inside the occupied Donbas and Zaporizhzhia regions. He said he believed Ukrainian assurances that it would not use such long-range systems to attack Russian territory.

Kyiv has been asking for long-range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which can reach 185 miles.

Morawiecki said he could not predict whether the US would authorise the delivery of long-range tactical systems to Ukraine, but he added: “I see the pendulum is moving towards more and more trust towards Ukraine in terms of usage of modern weapons.”

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