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Ukraine needs more support even though Russia has fought poorly, Polish diplomat says


Allies of Ukraine are preparing for a second year of war. The anniversary of Russia's invasion is later this month. This means a second year of war for neighboring Poland, which has sent arms and aid to Ukraine. Poland's ambassador to the U.S. is Marek Magierowski.

MAREK MAGIEROWSKI: We had several discussions among EU ambassadors here in Washington whether we should start talking about a clash of civilizations, not the one described by Samuel Huntington in his famous book but another clash of cultures between Russia and Europe or between Russia and the West or between Russia and the free world.

INSKEEP: Poland was ruled by Russia in generations past. Faced now with Russian aggression, it has taken a larger role in urging Europe to resist. Poland last month pressured neighboring Germany to send advanced battle tanks to Ukraine, and Germany eventually did. Poland has sent some of its own military hardware across the border. Ambassador Magierowski says Ukraine needs more support to win this war, even though Russia has fought badly.

MAGIEROWSKI: We tended to overestimate Russia's military might...


MAGIEROWSKI: ...Before the war, but I'm afraid we are now underestimating it.

INSKEEP: What do you mean?

MAGIEROWSKI: I'm not terribly optimistic about the course of this war. I think it will be a protracted conflict, if not a frozen one. I believe Putin can still flood Ukraine with manpower or cannon fodder, if you will. The Russian society and especially the Russian ruling elites are much more resilient than us, than the West. It will take time, and it will take a very serious long-term effort also on our side.

INSKEEP: What does a protracted conflict mean for Poland, given that your country has already become a home for, I believe, millions of refugees?

MAGIEROWSKI: Since the beginning of the war, more than 9 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the border with Poland. Of course, not all of them stayed in our country. Some of them emigrated to other countries in Europe. Some of them returned to Ukraine. But roughly, 1.5 million refugees did remain in our country. They enjoy many benefits. Just a month after the war, the Polish Parliament passed a law which essentially facilitates their integration into Polish society. And they do integrate seamlessly, impeccably into the Polish labor market, for example. And I believe this is our - not only a political but also a personal obligation for many Poles to help our Ukrainian brethren.

INSKEEP: Poland has not always been as welcoming to refugees. There was much political frustration over refugees from the Middle East, for example. What makes it easier to contemplate millions of Ukrainians in your midst for a very long time?

MAGIEROWSKI: As I said, they integrate into the Polish society extraordinarily. They have a similar cultural background and a religious background, as well, which is of - I believe, of critical importance. They learn the language in a matter of a month. And about 95% of those refugees are women and children because we both know what the Ukrainian men are doing right now. And those women, upon arrival in Warsaw or in Krakow or in Gdansk - they never say, I want welfare. They never say, I want an allowance. I want the Polish authorities to take care of myself and of my family. They always say, I want a job - and get a job because fortunately, the Polish - the unemployment rate in Poland is now ridiculously low.

INSKEEP: The ambassador's remarks there reflect longstanding views of Poland's ruling party and also widespread European resistance to migrants in years past. More recently, Russia's allies took advantage of that sensitivity, sending Middle Eastern migrants to Poland's border. The reception for Ukrainians has been very different.

MAGIEROWSKI: It would be unfair to compare these two crises, if you will, and the Polish authorities' conduct in these two cases.

INSKEEP: If your side prevails, what does a post-war Europe look like?

MAGIEROWSKI: I - it is my firm belief that now the whole world and especially our European partners have understood how important the eastern flank is in terms of deterrence. Deterrence is key. And that's why, for example, we are trying - we have been trying for months to convince our American partners that we need a permanent presence on Polish soil. We need more American troops. And we do believe, unlike some other politicians in Western Europe, that we still need America as a military hegemon in this part of the world, in Europe. And I can only echo the words of the Finnish prime minister, who said just a few weeks ago that without America, we would be in a completely different situation now in Europe.

INSKEEP: As many people will know, in the Cold War, Germany was the front line against the Soviet Union, and the United States developed a whole network of bases in Germany, many of which are still operating and very important to the United States. I think I hear you saying that if the U.S. had more bases in Poland, closer to Russia, that would be fine with you.

MAGIEROWSKI: Absolutely. Yes, of course, we are a frontline state with or without American bases because it's about geography. Russia has always been our neighbor. It is our neighbor. And it will remain so. It will not vanish.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, thanks very much for your time.

MAGIEROWSKI: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: Marek Magierowski is Poland's ambassador to the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.