NATO member Poland staged its biggest military parade since the Cold War in an event marking victory over Soviet forces in 1920 and showcasing the country’s most advanced weaponry, while war rages in neighboring Ukraine and defense comes to the fore in parliament elections scheduled for October.
An Armed Forces Day parade on Tuesday marked the 103rd anniversary of Poland’s victory over the Soviet Union’s Red Army at the Battle of Warsaw in 1920, during which Polish troops defeated Bolshevik forces advancing across Europe.
In the wake of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine, strengthening the Polish armed forces has become a priority for the ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS). With the country’s election campaign in full swing, a huge display of military equipment on Tuesday gave the government a chance to assert its security credentials.
Polish President Andrzej Duda, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Force said “The defense of our eastern border, the border of the European Union and NATO is today a key element of the Polish national interest”.
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Crowds waving the national white and red flags gathered in scorching temperatures that reached 35C (95F) to see US Abrams tanks, HIMARS mobile artillery systems and Patriot missile systems parade through the streets of the capital.
F-16 fighter jets, South Korean FA-50 fighter jets and K9 howitzers were also on display. US Air Force F-35s roared overhead in a sign that Poland was also buying these advanced fighter jets. There was also Polish-made equipment, including Krab tracked howitzers and Rosomak armored personnel carriers.
Tanks roll through the streets with armed soldiers standing inside and saluting. Behind them are crowds and red and white Polish flags fly from the masts
Members of the Polish military take part in the annual Armed Forces Day military parade to commemorate Poland’s victory over the Red Army of the Soviet Union in 1920 in Warsaw, August 15, 2023 [Kacper Pempel/Reuters]
The parade was attended by about 2,000 soldiers from Poland and other NATO countries, as well as 200 military vehicles and other equipment and almost 100 aircraft.
“15. August is not only an opportunity to pay tribute to the heroes of the victorious battle for Warsaw and to thank the current soldiers for defending our homeland,” Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told soldiers and spectators gathered by the Vistula River.
Poland’s military has more than 175,000 soldiers, up from about 100,000 eight years ago, Duda said. He also said Poland’s defense budget would be a record 137 billion zlotys ($34 billion) this year, or about 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), the highest share in all of NATO.
“The goal of this huge modernization is to equip the Polish armed forces and create such a defense system that no one would ever dare to attack us, that Polish soldiers would never have to fight,” Duda said, expressing his respect for the military.
Responding to criticism that Poland, a nation of around 37 million people, is taking out huge loans for purchases, Duda said: “We cannot afford to be idle. That is why we are strengthening our armed forces here and now the safety of Poles is priceless,” he added.
More than 100 years after the war with Soviet forces, the “shadow of war” was once again looming over Poland’s borders and that is why the government continues to tell its people that it needs a strong and powerful military
Since February 2022, when Russia launched its large-scale invasion of Ukraine, Poland’s conservative government has focused on strengthening its armed forces, spending more than $16 billion on tanks, anti-missile systems and fighter jets, many of which it bought from the US and South Korea.
Poland shares a border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to the east; with Lithuania, which is a member of NATO; and with Russia’s key ally Belarus and Ukraine.