Poland’s foreign minister says the presence of NATO troops in Ukraine is ‘not unthinkable’

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski speaks while meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not pictured, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski speaks while meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not pictured, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s foreign minister says the presence of NATO forces “is not unthinkable” and that he appreciates the French president for not ruling out that idea.

Radek Sikorski made the observation during a discussion marking the 25th anniversary of Poland’s accession to NATO in the Polish parliament Friday, and the Foreign Ministry tweeted the comments later in English.

They reflect a larger European debate over how to help Ukraine as Russia has gained some momentum on the battlefield and Kyiv is running low on ammunition. The U.S. Congress is withholding aid that Ukraine says it critically needs to hold off the Russians, putting more pressure on Europe to respond to the war that has shattered peace on the continent.

Last month French President Emmanuel Macron said the possibility of Western troops being sent to Ukraine could not be ruled out, a comment that broke a taboo among allies and prompted an outcry from other leaders. French officials later sought to clarify Macron’s remarks and tamp down the backlash, while insisting on the need to send a clear signal to Russia that it cannot win its war in Ukraine.

The Kremlin has warned that if NATO sends combat troops, a direct conflict between the alliance and Russia would be inevitable. Russian President Vladimir Putin said such a move would risk a global nuclear conflict.

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk was among those European leaders who initially ruled out sending troops to Ukraine after Macron’s remarks, saying: “Poland does not plan to send its troops to the territory of Ukraine.”

But less than two weeks later Sikorski struck a different tone.

“The presence of #NATO forces in Ukraine is not unthinkable,” he said, according to the Foreign Ministry’s tweet. He said he appreciated Macron’s initiative “because it is about Putin being afraid, not us being afraid of Putin.”

Sikorski’s remark is part of a broader shift to align with Macron’s position, wrote Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

“The issue of sending European forces to help Ukraine was never one to be dismissed — it was always a possibility,” O’Brien wrote in an email analysis sent to subscribers Saturday. “In fact it has become more of one as the USA has stepped back and withdrawn aid. Europe is now faced with a terrible dilemma — watching Ukraine potentially run out of ammunition, or stepping in and helping Ukraine more directly.”

Polish President Andrzej Duda and Tusk will travel to Washington for a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, a visit the Poles hope they can use to spur the United States to do more to help Ukraine.

Poland is a member of NATO along the alliance’s eastern flank, with Ukraine across its eastern border. The country has been under Russian control in the past, and fears run high that if Russia wins in Ukraine, it could next target other countries in a region that Moscow views as its sphere of interest.

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