NATO’s Proposed “Military Schengen” Is a Thinly Disguised German Power Play Over Poland

Yves here. Although I doubt the Ukraine end game is a major motivator for this German scheme, if it goes anywhere, it may have an effect. Medvedev has taunted the West with the idea of Western Ukraine being carved up by its neighbors: Poland, Hungary, Romania. The fact that Medvedev presented it means it would be seen as (and would be) advantageous to the Russians, so that alone makes it toxic. The one thing that could change that is if some version of that idea were proposed to Western states by Ukraine.

One reason this line of thinking might be revived in a new form is early in the war, Ukraine passed laws to increase political integration with Poland (see Ukraine adopts law granting special rights to Polish citizens). But Germany would likely be particularly unhappy with Polish territorial acquisition, which would presumably over time increase their influence. So this German scheme could act as an offset were this scenario to come to pass.

By Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based American political analyst who specializes in the global systemic transition to multipolarity in the New Cold War. He has a PhD from MGIMO, which is under the umbrella of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Originally published at his website

As has traditionally been the case throughout history, Polish sovereignty is once again in the process of being sacrificed as part of the Great Powers’ games, but this time its borders will remain intact even though the country is poised to functionally become a German vassal in the coming future.

NATO logistics chief Lieutenant-General Alexander Sollfrank suggested the creation of a so-called “military Schengen” for optimizing the movement of such equipment across the EU. At present, bureaucratic and logistical obstacles impede the free flow of arms throughout the bloc, which he believes could hamstring the West’s ability to respond to any unexpected conflict along its periphery. It’s not just this proposal’s substance that’s significant, however, but also its timing.

NATO’s Proxy War On Russia Through Ukraine Appears To Be Winding Down” for the reasons explained in the preceding hyperlinked analysis. Accordingly, Bloomberg’s report about the EU’s draft security guarantees to Ukraine conspicuously omits any mention of mutual defense obligations of the kind that Kiev has sought for years and which greatly contributed to the latest phase of this nearly decade-long conflict. Sollfrank’s suggestion therefore seems to contradict these emerging de-escalation trends.

Upon reflection, however, it’s actually revealed to be a thinly disguised Germany power play over Poland. The EU’s informal leader ramped up its regional competition with Poland in mid-August through its promised military patronage of Ukraine, which readers can learn more about in that hyperlinked analysis. In brief, Poland aspired to become the leader of Central & Eastern Europe (CEE) throughout the course of the NATO-Russian proxy war, but Germany rose to the occasion to challenge its ambitions.

The liberal-globalist opposition coalition’s victory in last month’s Polish elections, which its Foreign Minister earlier accused Germany of meddling in, will likely result in former Prime Minister and European Council President Donald Tusk’s return to the premiership. In that event, this German-aligned politician could voluntarily subordinate his country to Berlin, thus resulting in Poland ceding its envisaged regional sphere of influence to that country and becoming its largest-ever vassal indefinitely.

Tusk’s plans to improve ties with the de facto German-controlled EU are regarded by conservative-nationalists as a means to that end, particularly due to that body’s efforts to further erode Polish sovereignty. Although he claims to oppose changes to the EU Treaty, some doubt his sincerity and suspect that he slyly wants to prevent large-scale protests over this issue. If these two scenarios come to pass, then Poland’s sovereignty would be further reduced, including in the defense sphere.

Prior to last month’s elections, Germany and Poland were competing to build the EU’s largest military, but the aforesaid sequence of events could result in Warsaw throwing in the towel. Even though its next potential Defense Minister said that his country won’t cancel any of its military contracts, conservative-nationalists also suspect that he’s either being insincere or could be coerced by Berlin/Brussels into doing so. All things considered, these concerns are credible and should be taken seriously.

Germany’s national interests as its incumbent policymakers conceive them to be rest in becoming the EU’s hegemon, which necessitates neutralizing Poland’s ambitions to lead the CEE space, ergo its alleged support of Tusk and speculative efforts to erode Polish sovereignty via the EU. These moves importantly preceded NATO’s proposed “military Schengen”, and that’s not by coincidence either. Rather, they’re meant to facilitate Germany’s unprecedented post-WWII power play over Poland.

If Tusk improves ties with the EU like he promised, complies with any EU Treaty changes despite unconvincingly claiming to oppose them, and the “military Schengen” is imposed upon his country, then German forces could return to Poland en masse on the pretext of defending the EU from Russia. This doesn’t contradict the de-escalation trends pertaining to the NATO-Russian proxy war, but complements them since it could be spun as compensating for the lack of Article 5-like guarantees to Ukraine.

On the one hand, the EU would wisely avoid laying any tripwires that Kiev could maliciously exploit to provoke a larger conflict with Russia upon the inevitable freezing of the present one (whenever that happens), while at the same time reassuring the public that they can still adequately respond if need be. The “military Schengen” would serve the purpose of enabling the bloc’s de facto German leader to swiftly dispatch its forces, which are planned to be the EU’s largest, to the eastern frontier in that event.

It goes without saying that they’d have to transit through Poland and could easily end up deployed there indefinitely, whether as a so-called “deterrent to Russian aggression” or as part of a preplanned response to an artificially manufactured (i.e. false flag) border incident. After having voluntarily subordinated itself to Berlin under Tusk as is soon expected for the reasons that were explained, the restoration of German hegemony over Poland would therefore be completed without firing a shot.

In that scenario, which Polish conservative-nationalists are powerless to prevent and can only be offset by unlikely variables beyond their control, Germany would essentially be tasked by the US with “containing” Russia in Europe as part of Washington’s “Lead From Behind” stratagem. Once that country’s continental hegemony is fully secured through the means that were described in this analysis, America can then more confidently “Pivot (back) to Asia” to focus on containing China.

Those two superpowers are currently in the midst of an incipient thaw as proven by the positive outcome of their leaders’ latest face-to-face meeting earlier this month on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in San Francisco, but it can’t be taken for granted that this trend will continue. It therefore makes sense for the US to outsource its anti-Russian containment operations in Europe to Germany in order to free up the resources required for more muscularly containing China in Asia if this thaw fails.

As has traditionally been the case throughout history, Polish sovereignty is once again in the process of being sacrificed as part of the Great Powers’ games, but this time its borders will remain intact even though the country is poised to functionally become a German vassal in the coming future. There are indeed some variables beyond Poland’s control that could offset this scenario, but they’re very unlikely, so it’s probably a fait accompli by this point that Poland will play second fiddle to Germany indefinitely.

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  1. ilsm

    Could Russia see this “evolution” as a replay of March 1936. Re-militarize the Rhineland?

    Ceding the Kiev forward deployments…..

  2. The Rev Kev

    There may be an extra layer of complexity here. Sooner or later Project Ukraine will implode as will that country itself. And when that happens, there will be bitter recriminations between all the NATO states with accusations of who did not pull their weight and who caused that collapse. There are tensions already between Poland and Germany as Poland wants to stick Germany with a bill for all the damage caused to them in WW2 but consider this scenario. To make up for all their losses in this war, Poland seeks an Anschluss with Galicia as compensation. So does Germany agree to send their troops to this new border which is technically still a part of the Ukraine? What happens if the locals are unhappy with NATO for failing them and seek to take it out on NATO troops by killing some? Does Germany agree to stick around or leave it to the Polish troops to sort it all out. Will Germany prop up the Poles here? Does Germany really want to be in binocular range of Russian troops like they were in the First Cold War? And to sort out these important points Germany can only muster people like Scholz, Habeck and Baerbock.

    1. Michaelmas

      Rev Kev: Sooner or later Project Ukraine will implode as will that country itself.

      Yes to everything you suggest. Except sooner rather than later — like, within the next twenty-four months.

      1. The Rev Kev

        A White House prayer-

        ‘Please dear God. Don’t let the Ukraine blow up before November of next year. Your good buddy, Joe.’

        1. JonnyJames

          Yeah, but the depressing bit is that anyone who will replace JB will also be a representative of oligarchy, not the public, no matter if a D or R is after their names.

          To be half-silly: our “choice” will be between a modern-day Commodus or Nero. There will be no Octavians or Aurelius on the “ballot”.

    2. Matthew G. Saroff

      I do not think that there would be a formal Anschluss.

      Given that Polish citizens already have special rights in the Ukraine, I would expect to see intervention from Warsaw when civil unrest occurs, with a long term basing of Polish forces, both military and the security services which would give Poland de facto control of Galicia.

    1. Michaelmas

      ciroc: The Polish army is more powerful than the Germans

      The Greek army is more powerful than the Germans, I think.

      Back in 2015, it struck me that it would have been interesting if, when the Troika — the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — imposed their crushing austerity terms on Greece, that country had sent all its tanks and jets up to Berlin in response.

      Impossible for anybody to imagine such a thing then, of course. Now, as the American-led neoliberal ‘world order’ rapidly declines, we are increasingly entering an era where the question, ‘How many divisions does Deutsche Bank– or Goldman-Sachs or any of the Renter Lords — have?” becomes askable. Interesting times.

      ciroc: In the end, I think the winner will be the one who is more loyal to Washington.

      You’re probably right.

    2. Polar Socialist

      That list has UK as number 5, so it’s probably not based on any real understanding of military power (as Mr. Martyanov would likely say).

      Just read somewhere (Simplicius?) that Poland’s recent buying spree may actually be because they have send much more of their inventory to Ukraine that anyone knows. So currently Poland doesn’t have much of an army available and needs new weapons sooner rather than later.

      Which may explain why they bought the South-Korean K2, even if the Ukraine battlefield has shown that it’s likely very under-armored (same size than Leo 2, but 12 tons less armor) and has a way, way too complicated “smart” suspension. It was available now for purchase and for licensing, unlike Abrams.

      1. Greg

        I’ve also read, possibly in the same place, that the Polish “orders” are for a fraction of the reported total numbers they *planned* to order. Ie, they have ordered a few hundred Korean K2 mid-weight tanks, with plans to order another thousand or two some time in the future. Same goes for artillery, missile systems (they’ve talked about ordering more HIMARS than exist, for example, let alone where they plan to get the ammo for them).

        And with the change in government, budget problems, the later orders are unlikely to happen. Which change also neatly solves the problem of not having enough troops or funding to support the scale of orders they were bragging about last year.

        I think the short of it is that Poland has a huge army in the news, a significantly smaller one in reality, and maybe a medium sized army once their shopping starts getting delivered some time next decade.

  3. Mickey Hickey

    Prosperity destroys countries on a regular basis. Poland is closer to Russia along mental and physical strength lines. Germany has enjoyed three quarters of a century of living high on the hog and is not capable of engaging in a hard fought war on a WW2 scale. My German father in law fought on the Eastern front where the fatality rate was 30% and finished up as a POW for 10 years in Russia. He regarded Russians and Poles as being well educated, intelligent and civilised. He also knew that Lebensraum (living room) was the main goal of the Eastern campaign which meant widespread annihilation of swathes of Slavs. Hitler rescued Germany from its long post WW1 depression resulting from the Versailles Treaty he was the FDR of Germany and just as popular. Germans regard Hitler as going off the rails in the late thirties in response to Germany increasingly becoming the meat in a Russian-French sandwich. German prosperity for the last three hundred years has been a result of access to low cost raw materials from Russia. Biden ordering Chancellor Olaf Scholz to cut off imports from Russia and Scholz complying has put Germany in a recession which will likely progress into a depression. This will not finish up well for either the USA or Germany. By the way I am Irish and have been married to a German for over fifty years in Canada which is a prosperous and civilised country.

    1. Feral Finster

      “My German father in law fought on the Eastern front where the fatality rate was 30% and finished up as a POW for 10 years in Russia. He regarded Russians and Poles as being well educated, intelligent and civilised.”

      Very different from just about all the Germans I have ever known. Most look down on Poles but hate and fear Russians. And in my experience, FWIW, any praise of Hitler for any reason is seriously taboo in Germany, at least in polite circles.

      A funny story – A Pole of my acquaintance was working (illegally) in Germany for a German small business owner. This was in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The German refused to pay the Poles, since he was in Germany illegally and could be reported to the authorities. The Pole mentioned this to a Russian friend, also illegal.

      The Russian walked into the German’s shop, beat him up in front of his staff and customers, made the terrified German open his cash register and pay the Pole double what he owed, then asked the Pole how many kids he had, since this German was going to give them new bicycles, isn’t that right, fritz?

      So the Pole left with double his pay, three new bikes, a gift for his wife, and some other goods. The Pole asked his friend whether the German would call the cops. The Russian replied that he wouldn’t dare.

      Another funny story was when a Russian lady friend tried to enter Poland to visit me (this was in 2002) and the Polish border police tried to get a bribe. “Did you pay?” I asked. “I taught them some manners.” Olechka responded.

  4. JW

    This article does not mention France, they are the ones with the nukes. And they really don’t like Scholz.
    Also this is NATO not EU , which means the UK is fully involved.
    I think its a poor article from just about every perspective.

    1. ciroc

      Since NATO is merely a proxy for the U.S. in Europe, it seems to me that the U.K., with its limited influence on the continent, and the de Gaulleists, who do not eat freedom fries, have no problem with being marginalized.

  5. Tom67

    This is a rather ridiculous post. It presupposes a German leadership that thinks in terms of hegemonship. The leadership of Germany does what the US wants. And not even the US but Blackrock and the pentagon. Take the much vaunted expansion of the Bundeswehr. More than half the money goes to buy US equipment that is either an aknowledged lemon (the F35) or else completely useless in a European war like the Chinook helicopter. Furthermore the joint development of a fighter jet with france was put on ice. Or take Nordstream. It demonstrated to the whole world that Germany is not a souvereign country. In a way you might say it broke Germany´s back. Chemical giant BASF will not invest in Germany anymore. It´s over. The US is trying to entice BASF to set up a replica of their famous plant in Ludwigshafen in the US. BASF prefers China as it will be almost impossible to find the necessary qualitfied labour in the US.
    The same holds true for other energy intensive industries. The US is openly subsidising them to come over.The famed SME world market leaders are greedingly being eyed by Blackrock and as macro economic conditions deteriorate their day will come.
    Of course people in the adminstrative apparatus see the sell out and everybody knows (but nobody dares say) who is responsible for blowing up Nordstream. The governing politicians are aware of the deep dissatisfaction in the upper reaches of the bureaucracy and also the Bundeswehr. Their answer is a new law that allows the essentially arbitrary firing of anybody in the bureaucracy or in the army who is suspected of conspiring against the constitutional makeup of Germany. Before you could only suspend somebody like that and then had to prove it in a court. Now the one being fired loses all pay and has to prove his innocence in court.
    No, the people running Germany definately have no ambitions whatsoever that are not being agreed with from abroad.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Ahem, Germany does think in terms of German leadership, witness its role in the Greek bailout negotiations and trying to set a model in taking in lots of Syrian refugees (which backfired, another story). And we have Annelina Baerbock as defense minister, who is unduly impressed with her self importance and sticks her nose in all sorts of controversies where Germany does not have much of a natural nexus.

      1. Bert Luger

        You are much too kind. I think “totally deranged” fits a little better than, “unduly impressed with her self importance”.

      2. caucus99percenter

        Small correction: Annalena Baerbock is minister for foreign affairs. Boris Pistorius is Scholz’s defense minister.

  6. eg

    What German troops? I wasn’t under the impression that Germany’s current military capacity is terribly impressive.

  7. Aurelien

    I think the author is getting a little over-excited. NATO and the EU are not the same thing, and Britain is still very much a member of NATO, just as France is the only nuclear power now, in the EU.

    I can’t access the rt story, but the Reuter’s version is here and I think sets out the situation fairly. Back in the Cold War, distances were much shorter and in wartime, with European territory under attack or about to be so, moving men and material across Europe would not have been a problem. But Ukraine demonstrated the need to move men and equipment over far greater distances, through many more countries, while obeying peacetime legal restrictions on safety etc. Understandably, NATO would like to streamline these procedures. That said, Schengen may not be the best analogy: it’s a voluntary scheme in the first place, and there are still occasions (like boarding an aircraft) when you have to show a valid ID and proof that you are in the EU legally.

    None of which, as far as I can see, has anything to do with the rest of the article. For what it’s worth, the German military is a hopeless shambles that will take a decade to rebuild, it’s economy has been badly damaged, and it the government looks to be in a major financial crisis following the recent Constitutional Court decision. Not my nomination for coming European superpower.

    The paragraph beginning “If Tusk …” seems to completely muddle the EU and NATO. Nothing can be “imposed” on Poland by either organisation, and the idea of German troops just marching into Poland and staying there is a fantasy, or nightmare depending on your point of view.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I had to read the article three times as I thought I was not getting something – its horribly garbled and as you say, it keeps conflating the EU and Nato in a way that makes me suspect the writer doesn’t really know (or care) about the difference. The writer certainly doesn’t know anything about internal EU political dynamics.

      1. Polar Socialist

        To be frank, I’ve lived half my life in EU and I don’t know anything about internal EU political dynamics – except they rarely seem to be what people think they are.

        And for the last (almost) two years it’s been hard to tell the difference between EU and NATO – the first has been acting as if it was the political wing of the latter. NATO is very good at keeping Europe divided and insecure, but it can’t generate security crises. For that it needs the political wing to mislead, cheat, lie, threat and blackmail.

  8. JonnyJames

    Much ado about nothing? As Yves points out: IF this goes anywhere: It looks like Aurelien and others already stated many points I was going to make.

    Germany’s economy (at least for now) dwarfs Poland’s. But, Germany’s military, independent of NATO infrastructure, does not reflect “Great Power” status, far from it. Of course that could change in future, but would require huge expenditures that would be unlikely and very unpopular. For now, Germany, is a subservient vassal of their US overlords and can do very little without the approval from Warshiton.

    A pedantic quibble: a pet peeve of mine is the use of language and especially political and economic terms and labels. The author here uses the term “liberal-globalist”. I can only speculate what is meant by this.

    Both “liberal” and “globalist” have quite different meanings in the UK, and the US, for example and has different meanings to different people. In another thread recently, an anti-Semitic comment (I don’t use the term lightly) used the term “globalist” to refer to powerful Jews and/or Jewish bankers. Of course, I don’t think that is what Korybko means here but: I can only guess what he means: sycophantic, pro-EU/US/NATO types? Or he could mean advocates of international “free trade” and limited govt. “intervention” in the marketplace? Either way, just a quick sentence to clarify the terms would be quite helpful.

    (IMO, “globalist” is a garbage term, the US Empire and the West do not represent “the globe”, what about the Global Majority that resists the West?). We already have a perfectly good words in the English language to describe imperialist, warmongers.

    1. Jorge

      “globalist” is a garbage term

      Exactly! “Globalist” means “those other imperialists but not me” as spoken by people who refuse to understand how much they benefit from being imperialists.

  9. Not Qualified to Comment

    My reading of the article came off the rails at its bald assumption that the current conflict in the Ukraine will be ‘frozen’, with the implication that NATO and or the EU will still have a say in the eventual outcome.

    Russia, having broken the Ukraine military, could if it chose go all the way to the Polish border but I think Putin is clever enough not to overplay his hand and take on too much, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some quiet, backroom deal between the Poles, Hungarians, Romanians and Russians didn’t result in the Russians stopping at the Dnieper + Odessa, with the rump of Ukraine being split between the others for ‘humanitarian purposes’ following the collapse of the Ukrainian Government and militarily to ‘stop the dastardy Russian invasion’ there.

  10. VietnamVet

    This article is just as confused as the West’s response to no longer being a hegemon. It isn’t anymore, it is a multi-polar world. The Eurasian Axis ended it. But the oligarchs and financial families still think they control everything e.g. Elon Musk. They don’t. The vassal nation states that lost sovereignty to the rich and their supra-trade institutions have gone on a killing spree to aid the hoovering up of money by war profiteers. Soon tax receipts won’t pay interest on the debt. Europe has lost access to cheap energy. The Irish have rioted. Netherlands has gone hard right. The neo-colonial divide and conquer politics with minority politicians in charge and free emigration has gone off the rails with the two front WWIII in Gaza and Ukraine.

    Either the endless wars and the shortages/inflation end by next year with armistices, new DMZs, and the restoration of democracy or people revolts like 1917 will spontaneously combust across Europe. The exploitation is about to end. Perhaps, western civilization too.

  11. Anonymous

    The precedent of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth can’t be ruled out as a model for some kind of Commonwealth of Nations in Eastern Europe. It would bring together potentially all the peoples between Russia and Germany, an entity large enough to hold its own economically and politically. National identities could somehow be incorporated in a constitutional structure including the Baltic States, Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine. The failure of the old Commonwealth left a power vacuum in Eastern Europe which both Russia and Germany have sought to fill, at the expense of the local populations, their independence, prosperity, and cultures. The obstacles to anything like this are legion, but the idea may have merit in the long run.

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