Thousands of young Poles are flocking to join Poland’s famous militia organizations in response to the increasing Russian threat on their country’s border.
Poland is on the front line of the new Cold War between Russia and NATO, and Poland’s young people are well aware of it. The country shares a 120-mile-long border with Kaliningrad, a Russian territory located north of Poland and west of Lithuania. Polish leaders watched nervously as Russian troops marched into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula without firing a shot, knowing they were a likely next target. Poland’s militias, known as Rifleman’s Associations, are determined not to let Poland be the next Crimea.
“The situation is starting to resemble the situation during the Cold War,” Tomasz Szatkowski, the Polish undersecretary of state in the Ministry of National Defense, told CNN in an interview. “There are a number of fronts, a number of situations that could turn into proxy wars.”
Szatkowski and the Rifleman’s Associations are right to be concerned. Russia is drastically increasing its military posture in Kaliningrad in the last several months, including deployment of the nuclear-capable Iskander-M missile and the S-400 missile defense system.
The all-volunteer Rifleman’s Associations are responding to Russia’s build-up by providing military training to regular Polish citizens, not unlike the famous Minuteman militias did during the American Revolution. In effect, the associations are the Polish Minutemen.
Marta Adamczewska, a 20-year-old student joined one of the militias out of a shared sense of concern for her country. She is currently trying out for the elite Riflemen’s Special Forces group. Adamczewska and her fellow militia members spend their weekends engaging in full-scale military training, ranging from standard physical training to mock missions in dark underground tunnels.
“Three quarters of our society are worried about what Russia is doing in Crimea and Ukraine, it’s not just me,” Adamczewska told CNN.
Poland is all too familiar with life under the Russian boot; the Kremlin controlled the country as a Soviet satellite state from 1952 to 1989. The Rifleman’s Associations waged several guerrilla campaigns against the Soviets, and the Nazis before them; their collective history goes back over 100 years. Young militia members like Adamczewska are the children of parents who lived under Soviet rule, and they are determined not to let the new Russian threat infringe upon Poland’s short-lived sovereignty.
Lukas, a 21-year-old member of the JS-4018 Gdansk Rifle Units, is so committed to the defense of Poland that he has spent $2,000 of his own money to outfit himself.
“It costs a lot because we need to [buy] the military suit … for a kevlar helmet … for a real gun, like AK,” Lukas told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in September.
Polish leaders are well aware of the usefulness of the militia groups. The government is in the midst of a campaign to recruit 35,000 new militia members by 2021 in order to create a “territorial defense force.” Militia members like Lukas will be paid enough money to cover the costs of their military training.
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