Poland is preparing itself for a long war at its doorstep as the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine approaches.

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian forces launched air strikes and a ground invasion against Ukraine, escalating a conflict between the two nations that dates back to 2014. And since Russia is expected to launch a new offensive, there's no end in sight.

"I'm not terribly optimistic about the course of this war. I think it will be a protracted conflict, if not a frozen one," Marek Magierowski, the Polish ambassador to the U.S., told Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

Poland has become one of Ukraine's most vocal supporters over the past year, calling on its European and NATO allies to provide more military support to Ukrainian forces.

The Polish government is willing to help Ukraine for as long as it takes to resolve the conflict, but Magierowski made clear that the country will not enter into a direct military conflict with Russia.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

On Poland's increased leadership and support for Ukraine

I would have never expected the Polish government to push Germany to send tanks into Ukraine. Fortunately, though, those negotiations yielded a very positive result. I do believe that we have to do our utmost to help Ukrainians defend themselves and to help them win this war. And that's why I think the Ukrainians do need a long-term engagement. And I'm not only talking about weaponry, I'm not talking only about military assistance. I'm also talking about our endorsement for Ukraine's NATO and EU aspirations.

On Ukrainian refugees in Poland

More than 9 million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the border with Poland. Of course, not all of them stayed in our country. Some of them emigrated to other countries in Europe, some of them returned to Ukraine. But roughly 1.5 million refugees did remain in our country. They enjoy many benefits, [...] and they do integrate seamlessly.

On why there was more political pushback over refugees from Middle Eastern countries

Ukrainian refugees have a similar cultural background and a religious background as well, which is, I believe, of critical importance. They learn the language in about a month, and about 95% of those refugees are women and children, because we both know what the Ukrainian men are doing right now. And those women upon arrival in Warsaw or in Krakow or in Gdansk. They never say, I want welfare. They never say, I want an allowance. I want the Polish authorities to take care of myself and of my family. They always say, I want a job.

On America's role in European security

We have been trying for months to convince our American partners that we need a permanent presence on Polish soil. We need more American troops. This is a completely different role for Poland, which we are ready and willing to assume. And we do believe, unlike some other politicians in Western Europe, that we still need America as a military hegemon in this part of the world, in Europe.

On Poland's relationship with Russia

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. We have to be prepared for any eventuality. Poland might be the next target, not for the time being, but if you look at Russia's history and also at the history of the Soviet Union, this country is so unpredictably unpredictable, with unpredictable political leaders.

On Magierowski's personal experience of growing up in Poland

I was born under communism, and I experienced command economy and oppression. And then I lived under democracy and enjoyed freedom of expression. Capitalism, even savage capitalism at the beginning of the '90s. And I can now see the contrast between communist Poland and contemporary Poland. And I can also see the contrast between Soviet Russia and contemporary Russia. And believe me, that contrast is not that distinct as all as not much has changed, unfortunately, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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