Fears of Russian expansionism have led to plans for the formation of a territorial defence force that would be an “integral” part of the army.
Poland plans to establish a 46,000-strong national guard to bolster the country’s defences in the face of war in eastern Ukraine and fears of Russian expansionism.
Although still under planning, it is expected the force will be based on the US National Guard with regions forming their own divisions. The Polish defence ministry said that it hopes the first units will be established this year near the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
The guard looks set to become a new branch of the Polish army and separate from Poland’s established national reserve force, which compliments regular army units.
“We already have the ‘green light’ and have started on the preliminary measures for forming a territorial defence force that will be an integral part of the army,” said Antoni Macierewicz, the Polish defence minister, adding that creating the guard was one of the ministry’s “most important” goals.
Alarmed by the Ukrainian conflict and Russia’s apparent willingness to use force in neighbouring countries, Poland has embarked on a massive spending spree on weapons and its armed forces.
Last year its defence budget increased by 18 per cent on 2014 to £6.6 billion, with the initial budget for the national guard put at £51-60 million.
“We’ll start with three brigades in 2016,” Bartlomiej Misiewicz, a defence ministry spokesman, told the TVN24 news network. “We are committed to placing them in the north-east of the country.”
Although the first guards will stand just a few miles from the Russian border the plan foresees divisions spread across the entire country, with units recruiting from the local population.
Polish soldiers march in formation in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, PolandPolish soldiers march in formation in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland Photo: Getty Images
The idea of using locals could also help a national guard protect Poland from the unusual military operations and the “little green men” — regular Russian troops in unmarked green uniforms used in Crimea and eastern Ukraine — that have become a hallmark of Russia’s use of hybrid warfare.
Mixing conventional and irregular warfare, hybrid aims to destabilise and undermine an opponent, so Poland hopes national guard units with local knowledge will be able to distinguish between any friend and foe they might encounter in time of crisis.
According to initial plans, other national guard units could receive more training and better weapons and so be capable of fighting on the front line with regular troops.