Poland revives ties with Berlin and Paris in push to help Ukraine

Poland revives ties with Berlin and Paris in push to help Ukraine
Macron, Scholz, and Tusk (left to right) met in Berlin to discuss Europe's defence and better help for Ukraine. / Prime Minister Tusk's office
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw. March 18, 2024

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk met French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on March 15 in a push to make the three EU’s heavyweights more unified in helping Ukraine.

The meeting revived the so-called Weimar Triangle, a format of cooperation between Warsaw, Berlin, and Paris that went dormant under Poland’s previous radical right-wing government of Law and Justice (PiS). 

Tusk called the meeting right after a visit to the US, where he and Polish President Andrzej Duda pushed the Republican Party to unblock a $60bn aid package for Ukraine. 

But while the package's fate in Congress remains uncertain, Tusk used the momentum of the US visit to call the summit in Berlin to underscore – he said – that “no one and nothing will relieve us Europeans of responsibility for our security, for our future".

The underlying premise of the summit was to acknowledge that stopping Russia in Ukraine now will come at a much smaller cost than having to stop it later at the EU's gates. 

Poland and the Baltic States are distraught that Russia President Vladimir Putin – who just consolidated his power in a rigged election this weekend, scooping 88% of the “vote” – could attack one of them after subjugating Ukraine.

“We have acknowledged that assistance for Ukraine must be immediate and as intensive as possible,” Tusk said in Berlin.

“We want to spend our money, we want to help in every possible way – here and now. So that Ukraine's situation improves in the coming weeks and months, rather than deteriorates,” Tusk also said.

The Polish PM also gave the renewed Weimar Triangle credit for “once again becoming a format that can set a positive pace for good causes in Europe”.

“Our meeting today … clearly [demonstrates] that some malicious rumours suggesting European capitals differ on several issues were greatly exaggerated,” Tusk said.

But differences do exist. Germany is the most sceptical of the three countries, not only about Nato’s sending troops to Ukraine – an idea floated by Macron to sympathetic noises from Warsaw, but flatly rejected by Berlin alongside the US and the UK – but also about stepping up military help for Kyiv.

Chancellor Scholz said several times that he would not agree to give Ukraine long-range Taurus missiles for fear of the conflict engulfing the EU and Nato once Ukraine becomes capable of striking targets deep inside Russia, notably the Kerch Bridge. Germany has, however, agreed to the setting up a new group to provide long-distance missiles for Ukraine.

Macron has also been criticised for his recent doubling down on war rhetoric but not delivering much in terms of actual assistance – unlike Poland and Germany, despite the latter’s qualms about Taurus missiles. Germany has provided the most aid of any European country.

“One thing is clear: we support Ukraine. [What] is also clear: we are not at war with Russia. Our common goal is … to ensure that Ukraine can effectively defend itself against Russian aggression,” Scholz said in Berlin.

In that vein, the Weimar Triangle summit agreed to procure more weapons for Ukraine on international markets, boost production of arms – such as through the German company Rheinmetall’s plant being prepared in Ukraine – and use the frozen Russian assets to support purchasing more weapons for Kyiv. 

“For as long as it is necessary, we will do everything to ensure that Russia does not win this war. We will continue to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people for as long as possible,” Macron said.

“We will never take any initiative to escalate,” the French president added. 

The three leaders agreed to meet again in “early summer" in Warsaw. 

By that time, some military experts say, the Ukrainian war might take a turn for the worse unless at least some of the pledged help materialises on the battlefield. 

The Kremlin is also expected to step up actions against the West, especially via hybrid attacks and disinformation campaigns. The time is rife for the latter, as there are the EU elections in June, likely followed by a UK vote and the US presidential contest. 

Poland has long said that Europe must not act out of fear of Putin but “make him afraid” instead,  Tusk said in the US. That will likely be the key topic of the summer meeting with Scholz and Macron.

For now, the most immediate plan to stop Russia in Ukraine is a Czechia-led initiative to deliver some 800,000 rounds of ammunition – an estimated four months’ worth of firepower. 

Ukraine is currently running short of ammunition and has begun to ration it.

Poland said last week that it will contribute “substantially” to the initiative. Portugal pledged €100mn for it.

European foreign ministers also reached agreement last week on a €5bn common fund to provide defence support to Ukraine, although the much-trumpeted value of the fund is not entirely new money.

The US also found $300mn in aid for Ukraine even though the amount is “not nearly enough,” US President Joe Biden said, pointing to the Republican obstruction in Congress.