Ramzan Kadyrov, a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has begun rattling off threats about attacking Poland after Ukraine.
Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, suggested Monday that Russia should "denazify and demilitarize" Poland next.
"What if, after the successful completion of the NMD, Russia begins to denazify and demilitarize the next country? After all, after Ukraine, Poland is on the map! I will not hide that I personally have such an intention," Kadyrov said on Telegram. "I personally have such an intention, and I have repeatedly stated that the fight against Satanism should continue throughout Europe and, first of all, on the territory of Poland."
Kadyrov warned Tuesday that the time has come for the West to fall to its knees before Russia, predicting that the so-called "special military operation" in Ukraine, would be over by the end of 2023.
"The special [military] operation will be over before the end of this year. European countries will admit they have been wrong, the West will fall to its knees, and, as usual, European countries will have to cooperate with the Russian Federation in all spheres," Kadyrov said, according to TASS. "There should not and will never be an alternative to that."
It isn't clear that the war will indeed be over by the end of the year. Russia is preparing to mobilize between 300,000 to 500,000 troops for a new offensive in Ukraine, according to a new Ukrainian military intelligence bulletin. U.S. officials have warned that Russia is likely gearing up for a new onslaught as well.
It's not the first time that Russia or Putin's cronies have suggested that Poland is on their list of targets in Europe. Belarus, a close Russian ally, has threatened to go after Poland with a "cruel" response over what the country said were "provocations" from Poland. Kadyrov himself threatened Poland on multiple occasions last year.
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"After Ukraine, if we're given the command, in six seconds we'll show you what we're capable of," Kadyrov said of potentially attacking Poland in May of last year.
Tensions have already bubbled up over the prospect of Russia attacking Poland. In November, a stray missile fell into Polish territory near its border with Ukraine and killed two, raising questions about whether Russia had deliberately attacked Poland, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and whether wider war was about to break out. When one member of NATO is attacked, NATO can consider it an attack against all members.
An investigation into that incident revealed it was a Ukrainian air defense missile that had been fired to defend against a Russian attack. But if Russia follows through on threats to expand the war in Ukraine to include other territorial goals, including those in Poland, Moscow could end up ensnaring NATO members and and touch off a wider war.
Polish authorities are concerned that Russia is still eyeing Poland. Marek Magierowski, the Polish ambassador to the U.S., warned just this week that Russia might set its sights on Poland next.
"Russia has always been our neighbor. It is our neighbor and it will remain so. It will not vanish miraculously in the foreseeable future. So we have to prepare," Magierowski told NPR. "We have to be prepared for any eventuality. Poland might be the next target."
Warsaw is taking the threat seriously. On Tuesday, the Polish military is conducting anti-aircraft drills in an effort to demonstrate to would-be aggressors that Poland should be considered off-limits, according to Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak.
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"We all realize there is a war on our eastern border. But with these exercises, we will show-we will deliberately show-these exercises are to deter an aggressor," Błaszczak said. "And so we demonstrate the combat readiness of the Polish military."
Later this week, a group of soldiers from the 3rd Warsaw Air Defense Missile Brigade will leave for training in the United States as well, according to Błaszczak. The United States, in turn, leads the enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in Poland and deploys a rotational Armored Brigade Combat Team there, with approximately 10,000 troops stationed in Poland.
In a recognition that Poland will be dealing with Russian aggression for some time, Poland has also taken steps to build up its military long-term. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieck announced just weeks ago that Poland will increase defense spending to 4 percent of gross domestic product. And due to the public's anxiety about the conflict, Poland has been training civilians as soldiers.
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