How Poland Just Lost to Russia in a Massive Wargame (And What It Means)

Originally published by The National Interest

Poland’s Ministry of Defense sought to see how its forces would fare in the event of an all-out Russian invasion. It didn’t go well. 

Last month, Polish forces suffered a crushing defeat in a wargame called “Winter-20.” It sought answers to what could happen were Russia to throw all of the military might it has in its Western Military District against Poland.

Poland’s Ministry of Defense sought to see how its forces, including the yet-to-be-delivered F-35, Patriot air-defense system, and M142 HIMARS mobile rocket artillery systems, would fare in the event of an all-out Russian invasion with this exercise. Several thousand Polish military officers participated; the scale was unprecedented in the history of post-Cold War Poland.

The wargame serves as a reminder that NATO’s Eastern flank is weak and vulnerable to Russian aggression.

Russia has reinforced and modernized its Western Military District in recent years. A 2020 report to Congress noted that Russia’s Western Military District contains some of its most competent units. They include modern T-90 tanksT-72B3M tanksBTR-82 armored personnel carriers, BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles along with sophisticated anti-air defenses, such as the TanguskaPantsir S, and S-400. They would presently easily overwhelm Polish and Baltic NATO units unless the United States and other allies beef up their troop commitments.

In addition to Russia’s military buildup on its own territory, it has worked with neighboring Belarus to enhance its capability of denying access to NATO aircraft both over its territory and in Poland with S-400 batteries.

Russian troops have held numerous military exercises in nearby Russian territory and in neighboring Belarus, such as the massive “Slavic Brotherhood” exercise in September. Russia and Belarus are joined in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), comprised of several former Soviet republics.

“Over and above the creeping normalization of Russian military activity in Belarus, which may morph into a semi-permanent presence, the clear message Russia is sending to NATO is that it can completely change the strategic position by delivering and inserting forces to those border regions with Belarus in a matter of hours,” Chatham House Russian defense expert Keir Giles told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in October.

Poland’s plains have made it susceptible to invasion throughout history, from the Mongols in the thirteenth century to the Nazi and Soviet invasion and partition of Poland in 1939.

By the fifth day of the mock conflict, Russian troops had reached the Polish defensive line along the Vistula River, while fighting to take Warsaw.

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About John Rossomando

John Rossomando is a Senior Analyst for Defense Policy and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award in 2008 for his reporting.