By Stanisław Żaryn, for StopFake

We can neither be short-sighted nor foolish and naïve. The threat of Russian imperialism is looming on the Europe’s horizon.

“Russia will not stop in its liberation march on the territory of Crimea, nor on the Dnieper, nor even on the western borders of ex-Ukraine. Our goal is to liberate Europe from the Atlantean occupiers, the same ones who brought disaster to Kyiv and put a criminal junta in power there. Our goal is a multi-continental liberation struggle.” This statement, made by Alexander Dugin in March 2014 when the occupation of Crimea begun, reflects the foundations and goals of the Russian imperial ideology that is a driving force for the Kremlin’s aggressive policy of terror and expansion. Conquering Ukraine is one of the steps in the Russian imperialistic plan. Since February 2022, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion, nothing has changed as far as the Kremlin’s strategic goals are concerned. There are no signs foreshadowing that Moscow will be willing to give up its aggressive agenda. On the contrary, we see that Russia is preparing for long-term war efforts, and nothing indicates that it is running out of forces and means to prolong the war, counting on exhausting not only Ukraine but also the Western community.

From this perspective, Europe must look at its security situation and understand that we are all threatened by the spectre of the Russian imperial policy. The war waged on Ukrainian soil affects us in many dimensions and once Russia defeats Ukraine, it will have far-reaching consequences for Europe’s order – let’s only remember that if such a scenario completes, Poland – one of the NATO eastern border countries – will share almost 800 km of its frontier with the Russian Federation. Adding to that, over 400 km of the border with the Russia-controlled Belarusian regime gives 1 200 km of the border directly threatened by hybrid operations and hostile provocations. Russia knows very well that the time is on its side: the Kremlin assumes that – as time goes by – the West will become more and more tired of this war and will abandon Ukraine for the sake of short-sighted choices and vested interests.  Russia uses different means to exert pressure and to convince Western societies that continuing the war is not in their interest. We observe, for example, constant efforts to encourage pacifist movements in Europe, to undermine the image of Ukraine and countries strongly supporting it or to question the capabilities of the Ukrainian army and the sense of the ongoing counteroffensive in order to suggest that the Western help, arms and money are being wasted, so there’s no point in further support. Recently, we’ve also been observing Russian intense efforts to use the Hamas attack against Israel and the whole tense situation in the Middle East to redirect Western attention from Ukraine fighting for its independence. Moreover, Russia takes this opportunity to convince the West that transferring weapons to Ukraine is a problem for NATO – the Kremlin suggests that it is weaponry from Ukraine that Hamas used in its attack against Israel.

In Poland, we identify Russian imperialism as the main long-time threat to the security of the whole continent and NATO alliance; that is why – although it’s very challenging – it is crucial to remain vigilant and even more focused on ensuring Ukraine’s necessary support. Abandoning Ukraine now or letting Russia freeze the war under the guise of “peace” will be perceived by Russia only as a weakness of the West and will encourage Moscow to push even further. To prevent such a scenario, we must neutralize Russian interests and efforts. The situation becomes increasingly demanding because, more and more often in media, we hear resonating voices pressing Ukraine to agree to negotiations and stop war efforts. Such a turn of events will be for Russia only a proof of acceptance for its aggression. For many circles in the West, it will be a good reason to weaken sanctions and return to old political and economic relations with Russia.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Poland – a country that correctly identified the Russian threat, a close Ukrainian ally, and an important NATO partner advocating for supporting Kyiv –  has been a constant target of hostile efforts orchestrated by the Kremlin. First of all, Poland constantly faces the threat related to the hybrid operation conducted on our border with Belarus. The operation that was launched just before the full-scale war in Ukraine began, based on artificial migration pressure, is conducted by the Belarusian security apparatus with the full support and consent of the Kremlin and its security structures. The flow of migrants who want to illegally get into Poland’s territory and then reach Western Europe continues. Recently, there has been an increase in direct attacks on Polish border patrols or guards. We are fully aware that Russia will not give up this hybrid operation soon. Furthermore, an increase in online content addressed to Arab-speaking audiences that promotes setting off to Europe, mainly via Russia, is an indicator of a likely intensification of these hybrid warfare efforts.

One of the other prominent fields of the current Russian activity targeted against Poland is information space and cyberspace, where the Russian propaganda machine is constantly conducting disinformation and psychological operations, complemented by cyberattacks targeted at public institutions or networks crucial to the functioning of the state. Cyberattacks, part of broader psychological operations, aim to destabilize state structures and intimidate society.

Within the scope of narratives pushed by propagandists, media outlets, the Kremlin’s top politicians, or agents of influence, Poland is being portrayed as posing a threat to Russia, Western Ukraine, and Belarus. Russian and Belarusian propaganda makes repeated attempts to smear Poland in the eyes of its allies and to exploit the relations between Poland and Ukraine. Currently, the Polish Armed Forces are mainly targeted with information warfare efforts. The regime in Minsk and the Kremlin falsely suggest that the Polish army is weak, unable to defend Poland, and unreliable.

The current campaigns carried out by Russian propaganda are also focused on instilling into public opinion that Poland is a country steeped in Russo-phobia. These information operations aim to falsely portray Poles as Russophobes who have an anti-Russian sentiment “deeply ingrained” in their hearts, which is to the detriment of Europe and Poland itself. On the other hand, there are suggestions that the possible political shift of power in Poland is an opportunity for a breakthrough in the relations between Warsaw and Moscow. Likely, Russians will now try to pressure the upcoming government – regardless of who will form it – to change its attitude towards Ukraine and Russia.

Disinformation attacks against Poland are not a coincidence. Although Russia has conducted them for years, recently, they have intensified, which is meaningful. Currently, Russia is portraying itself as weakened (for example, by disseminating rumors about Putin’s death or the army that is bleeding out), is showing “readiness to negotiate with Ukraine,” or is arguing that the war in Ukraine should no longer be the focus of the West (because the Middle East is a more pressing concern) to convince the West that the matter of Ukraine can be “given up”. That’s why the Kremlin must attack and weaken the credibility of those countries that have been reminding about the Russian threat for years. In consequence, Poland is under attack, which recently has intensified – that’s how Russia wants to pave the way for pressing the NATO members. Therefore, information efforts against Poland shall be analyzed from a broader perspective.

Poland will be attacked with lies – this is part of Russia’s imperial efforts but also of the current tactics linked to the continuation of the war against Ukraine, as Russia is looking for new methods of destabilizing Poland. Apart from hybrid and disinformation operations, Poland faces intelligence-related threats. Poland’s counterintelligence agency is still investigating the case of the spy ring working for Russia. Till now, our officers have nabbed 16 suspects in this investigation. According to data gathered, the “spy ring” used secretly placed cameras to monitor the railway infrastructure in Poland, ensuring supplies of military equipment to Ukraine. Their task was also to prepare acts of subversion and conduct propaganda operations.

Threats identified and neutralized in Poland belong to the whole set of efforts carried out by the Russian Federation to destabilize NATO and the Western community that, according to the Russian doctrine, constitute Russia’s main adversary.  The range of measures Moscow applies against the West is very diverse: from sophisticated psychological operations and cyberattacks through building complex networks of influence to interfering with democratic processes – to name only a few.

Recently, we have been observing more and more disturbing signals regarding threats to underwater critical infrastructure. This infrastructure is increasingly essential in the global transmission of energy resources, electricity, and information. The signs of increasing Russian naval activity in the North and Baltic Sea prove that Russian hybrid attacks may also focus on critical maritime infrastructure, including pipelines, cables, or wind farms. Recent incidents regarding Baltic connector and telecommunications cables between Estonia, Finland, and Sweden demonstrate significant vulnerability as far as Europe’s security is concerned, which may be further exploited by Russia with a high probability. That is why critical underwater infrastructure must be better protected, and all stakeholders must undertake necessary measures to counter the possible threats.

Due to the very concerning and deteriorating situation in the Middle East, it may seem that the importance of the topic of the war in Ukraine has decreased on the European and international agenda. Nevertheless, the transatlantic community must be aware that the Russian Federation uses the Israel-Hamas war to distract Western attention from the situation in Ukraine, which poses a substantial threat to our security. It is in our vital interest that the Western support for Ukraine remain firm, as the Russian imperialism and aggressive policy will not stop. If Russia does not see our firm actions, bold decisions, and full determination, it will only go further and intensify the confrontation with the West as its ultimate goal is to change the existing world order and build the Russian sphere of influence even “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.

Stanisław Żaryn is Deputy Special Services Coordinator, Government Plenipotentiary for the Security of Information Space of the Republic of Poland