New Polish PM Donald Tusk vows “full mobilization” of West to help Ukraine

Poland’s newly appointed Prime Minister Donald Tusk has vowed to rally Western support for Ukraine as it continues to defend itself against Russia’s ongoing invasion. Addressing the Polish parliament on December 12 following his appointment, Tusk said he would “loudly and decisively demand the full mobilization of the free world, the Western world, to help Ukraine in this war.”

The incoming Polish leader slammed mounting talk of “Ukraine fatigue” in some Western capitals and confirmed that consolidating international support for Ukraine would one of his government’s priorities. “I can no longer listen to some European politicians from other Western countries who say something about being tired of the situation in Ukraine. They are tired. They say it to President Zelenskyy’s face that they no longer have the strength, that they are exhausted.” Tusk stated. “Poland’s task, the new government’s task, but also the task of all of us, is to loudly and firmly demand the full determination from the entire Western community to help Ukraine in this war. I will do this from day one.”

Tusk’s comments represent a timely morale boost for Ukraine amid growing concerns over the future of US and EU support for the fight against Russia. In recent weeks, the passage of a major new aid package through the US Congress has become hostage to domestic politics, while EU leaders are reportedly struggled to reach a consensus over a multi-year aid initiative amid opposition led by Russia’s closest EU ally, Hungary. These delays have been warmly welcomed in Moscow as an indication that the West has lost interest in Ukraine and is preparing to abandon the country to the Kremlin.

Poland’s new PM now appears determined to transform the optics around the war in Ukraine by reminding his fellow Western leaders of exactly what is at stake. He will be helped by a high international profile and strong personal credentials, having previously served as Polish Prime Minister from 2007-2014 before continuing his career in Brussels as president of the European Council from 2014-2019. In its latest annual rating published in early December, Politico named Tusk as “the most powerful person in Europe,” while noting his record as a Russia hawk and his calls for unwavering support for Ukraine.

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Ukrainians are hoping the new government in Warsaw will provide a boost to bilateral ties following some signs of increasingly strained relations in recent months. Since the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Poland has been among Ukraine’s most important allies. This Polish support has included welcoming millions of Ukrainian refugees and providing the Ukrainian military with everything from ammunition to tanks and fighter jets. Poland was also credited with helping convince Germany to supply Ukraine with modern Leopard tanks in early 2023.

Cracks first began to appear in the relationship between Kyiv and Warsaw in summer 2023, with Poland imposing restrictions on Ukrainian agricultural exports following protests from Polish farmers. Tensions rose further in November when Polish truckers began blockading the border with Ukraine over what they claimed was unfair competition from Ukrainian freight carriers. In an indication of improving ties, the border was partially unblocked on December 11.

The uncompromisingly pro-Ukrainian position voiced by the new Polish government was widely expected in Moscow, but Tusk’s commitment to rally international support for Ukraine will nevertheless be viewed by the Kremlin as particularly unwelcome news. While Russia has struggled to achieve its military goals in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin remains confident that he can ultimately secure victory by outlasting the West. The Kremlin dictator believes time is on his side and is actively preparing his country for a long war. He has already succeeded in shifting much of the Russian economy onto a wartime footing, and is prepared to wait until his opponents lose heart.

Putin has been visibly encouraged by recent signs of fatigue among Ukraine’s international partners, boasting in October that Ukraine would have “a week to live” if Western military deliveries ceased. He will be watching closely in the coming months for further signals of declining Western resolve, and will be hoping that the current stalemate along the front lines in southern and eastern Ukraine continues to undermine dwindling faith in a Ukrainian military victory.

The incoming Polish authorities are now aiming to reverse the recent trend of declining support for Ukraine by calling on Western colleagues to redouble their efforts. That may be easier said than done. With the Russian invasion now approaching the two-year mark with no end in sight, a degree of war weariness is inevitable. Viewed from Warsaw, it is clear to the new Polish PM that Europe’s future security is at stake in Ukraine, but he must also convince other Western leaders that committing to support a long war against Russia is in their national interests.

Peter Dickinson is editor of the Atlantic Council’s UkraineAlert service.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.

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Image: Newly appointed Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk presents his government's programme and asks for a vote of confidence in Parliament in Warsaw. December 12, 2023. (REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel)