War a real threat and Europe unready, warns Poland’s Tusk

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(L-R) French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk shake hands after a news conference at the Chancellery in BerlinImage source, HANNIBAL HANSCHKE/EPA-EFE

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has delivered a blunt warning that Europe has entered a “pre-war era” and if Ukraine is defeated by Russia, nobody in Europe will be able to feel safe.

“I don’t want to scare anyone, but war is no longer a concept from the past,” he told European media. “It’s real and it started over two years ago.”

His remarks came as a fresh barrage of Russian missiles targeted Ukraine.

Russia has intensified its bombardment of Ukraine in recent weeks.

Ukraine’s air force said it had shot down 58 drones and 26 missiles and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said energy infrastructure had been damaged in six regions, in the west, centre and east of the country.

Mr Tusk, a former president of the European Council, said Russian President Vladimir Putin had already blamed Ukraine for the jihadist attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall without any evidence and “evidently feels the need to justify increasingly violent attacks on civil targets in Ukraine”.

He pointed out that Russia had attacked Kyiv with hypersonic missiles in daylight for the first time earlier this week.

He used his first foreign interview since returning to office as Polish prime minister at the end of last year to deliver a direct appeal to Europe’s leaders to do more to bolster its defences.

Regardless of whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump won November’s US presidential election, he argued Europe would become a more attractive partner to the US if it became more self-sufficient militarily.

A handout picture provided by the Chancellery of the President of Poland (KPRP) shows US President Joe Biden (C), Polish President Andrzej Duda (L) and Polish Prime Donald Tusk (R), during their meeting at the White House in Washington, USA, 12 March 2024

Image source, EPA-EFE/Jakub Szymczuk/KPRP

It was not about Europe achieving military autonomy from the US or creating “parallel structures to Nato”, he said. Poland now spent 4% of its economic output on defence and every other European country should spend 2% of GDP, with the European Union as a whole mentally prepared to fight for its security.

Since Russia launched its full-scale war in Ukraine, relations with the West have reached their lowest ebb since the worst days of the Cold War, although President Putin said this week that Moscow had “no aggressive intentions” towards Nato countries.

The idea that his country would attack Poland, the Baltic states and the Czech Republic was “complete nonsense”, he said. And yet he also warned that if Ukraine used Western F-16 warplanes from airfields in other countries, they would become “legitimate targets, wherever they might be located”.

This is not Mr Tusk’s first warning of a pre-war era. He gave centre-right European leaders a similar message earlier this month.

However, he revealed that Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, had asked fellow EU leaders to stop using the word “war” in their summit statements, because people did not want to feel threatened. Mr Tusk said he had replied that in his part of Europe, war was no longer an abstract idea.

Appealing for urgent military aid for Ukraine, he warned that the next two years of the war would decide everything: “We are living in the most critical moment since the end of the Second World War.”

Polish helicopters fly over soldiers in their tanks while crossing the Vistula River during the DRAGON-24 NATO military defense drills on March 04, 2024

Image source, Omar Marques/Anadolu

What was most worrying now, he told journalists from some of Europe’s biggest newspapers, was that “literally any scenario is possible”.

He remembered a photo on the wall of his family home in Poland that showed people laughing on a beach at Sopot, near Gdansk where he was born. on the southern Baltic coast.

The image was from 31 August 1939, he said, then a dozen hours later and 5km (three miles) away, World War Two began.

“I know it sounds devastating, especially to people of the younger generation, but we have to mentally get used to the arrival of a new era. The pre-war era,” he warned.

Despite his chilling remarks, Mr Tusk was more optimistic about what he called a real revolution in mentality across Europe.

When he was Polish prime minister for the first time, from 2007 to 2014, he said few other European leaders beyond Poland and the Baltic states realised Russia was a potential threat.

He praised several European leaders and highlighted the importance of security co-operation between Poland, France and Germany – an alliance known as the Weimar Triangle. And he pointed to Sweden and Finland, once paragons of pacifism and neutrality but now members of Nato.

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