NATO member Poland held its biggest military parade since the Cold War in an event that marked victory over Soviet forces in 1920 and showcased the country’s state-of-the-art weaponry as war rages in neighbouring Ukraine and defence takes centre-stage ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for October.
The Armed Forces Day parade on Tuesday marked the 103rd anniversary of Poland’s victory over the Soviet Union’s Red Army in the Battle of Warsaw in 1920, during which Polish troops defeated Bolshevik forces advancing on Europe.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has made boosting the Polish armed forces a priority for the country’s ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS). With the country’s election campaign in full swing, the immense display of military hardware on Tuesday provided a chance for the government to promote its security credentials.
“The defence of our eastern border, the border of the European Union and of NATO is today a key element of Poland’s state interest,” Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, the chief commander of the armed forces, said in his opening speech at the event.
Crowds, waving national white-and-red flags, gathered in scorching temperatures that reached 35C (95F) to see United States-made Abrams tanks, HIMARS mobile artillery systems and Patriot missile systems on parade through the streets of the capital.
Also on display were F-16 fighter planes, South Korean FA-50 fighters and K9 howitzers. A US Air Force F-35 roared overhead in a sign Poland was also buying these advanced fighter planes. Polish-made equipment including Krab tracked gun howitzers and Rosomak armoured transporters were also featured.
Some 2,000 troops from Poland and other NATO countries took part in the parade as well as 200 military vehicles and other equipment and almost 100 aircraft.
“August 15 is not only an opportunity to pay homage to the heroes of the victorious Battle of Warsaw and to thank contemporary soldiers for defending our homeland,” Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told troops and onlookers who had gathered near the Vistula River.
“It is also a perfect day to show our strength, to show that we have built powerful armed forces that will effectively defend our borders without hesitation,” he said.
— Mariusz Błaszczak (@mblaszczak) August 15, 2023
[Unofficial translation: Thank you for being with the soldiers of the Polish Army today!]
Poland’s army has more than 175,000 troops, an increase from approximately 100,000 eight years ago, Duda said.
He also said Poland’s defence budget this year will be a record 137 billion zlotys ($34bn) or some 4 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), the highest proportion in all of NATO.
“The goal of this huge modernisation is to equip Poland’s armed forces and create such a defence system that no one ever dares attack us, that Polish soldiers will never need to fight,” Duda said, while voicing his respect for the military.
Responding to criticism that Poland, a nation of some 37 million, was taking out huge loans to make the purchases, Duda said: “We cannot afford to be idle. This is why we are strengthening our armed forces here and now.”
“The security of Poles is priceless,” he added.
Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, reporting from Warsaw, said that more than 100 years since the war with Soviet forces, “a shadow of war” looms once again on Poland’s borders.
“And that is why the government continues to tell its people that it needs a strong, powerful army,” he said.
Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Poland’s conservative government has focused on strengthening the armed forces and spent more than $16bn on tanks, missile interceptor systems and fighter jets, many bought from the US and South Korea.
Poland has a border to the east with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad; with Lithuania, a fellow NATO member; and with Russia’s key ally Belarus as well as with Ukraine.
Military upgrades have bolstered Poland’s defence capabilities and some items replaced Soviet- and Russian-made equipment that Poland provided to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
Poland is building one of Europe’s strongest armies to beef up deterrence against potential aggressors and has increased the number of troops to some 10,000 along its border with Belarus, where it has also built a wall to stop migrants arriving from that direction.