Poland continues to draw EU, NATO ire over Turkish drone purchases

At a joint summit at the end of May in Ankara, Polish and Turkish defense ministers signed a $270 milliondeal that will see Warsaw buy Turkish-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for both reconnaissance and assault purposes.

Polish President Andrzej Duda stressed his government wanted to improve trade ties with Turkey, adding that he hoped bilateral trade would reach $10 billion, up from today’s $6.5 billion.

The move is likely to needle Moscow, as the two NATO members are well aware. For Poland, a pivot towards Ankara is also a snub to the Biden administration after what is seen in Warsaw as Washington’s renewed cozying up to Berlin over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Karol Wasilewski, a Turkey analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), finds the political aspects of the drone deal “interesting.”

“It seems that by this transaction Poland is trying not only to strengthen its relationship with Turkey, but also to make it more tied to the security of NATO’s eastern flank, as well as to drive a wedge between Turkey and Russia, at a time when that relationship is very complicated,” he told DW.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine was on the agenda when Duda and Erdogan met, along with other Russia-related subjects, such as security in the Black Sea and the conflict between Kyiv and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Polish geopolitics expert Witold Repetowicz thinks that the “Turkophile lobby” in Poland, which has a strong influence on the government, came up with the Polish-Turkish alliance as a counterweight to the US-German rapprochement. Similarly, some observers believe the Russian factor is used only as a cover, as Ankara is pursuing its own foreign policy. 

The Polish side
Stanislav Tarasov, editor-in-chief of the Eastern Editorial Office of the Russian news agency Regnum, says the supply of Bayraktar combat drones was an important, though not the first, signal of changes in Warsaw’s strategic course towards Ankara.

“A year ago, relations between the two countries were strained after Turkey stated that it intended to veto the adoption of a new NATO plan to protect Poland and the Baltic States, until support would be provided to Turkey in its operation against the Kurds. However, in September of 2020, Duda ordered the dispatch of a Polish military contingent to Turkey, which Warsaw had not done previously,” he told DW.

“The foreign policy ideologues of the ruling Polish party are motivated by a Polish pivot towards Turkey with the intention of confronting Russia,” he added.

The Turkish side
PISM’s Karol Wasilewski said that the drone deal with Poland was giving Turkey “a huge economic and political boost.” On the one hand, the acquisition by the first NATO country was an “image boost for the Turkish defense sector,” which may result in bigger deals to come.

“On the other hand, it gives a clear substance to Turkey’s narrative that it contributes to the alliance’s deterrence policy towards Russia — a message Turkey has been trying to underline on nearly every occasion since Joe Biden took office,” Wasilewski told DW.

At the same time, though, there is growing concern in the West that Warsaw could fall into China’s orbit via Turkey’s close investment ties and infrastructure cooperation under Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative. It is feared that a closer alliance between the governments in Ankara and Warsaw, with active support from China, could initiate the most serious shift in Poland’s international policy since joining the EU and NATO.


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