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Why does Poland give away so much monetary aid to Ukraine even though it took two thirds of the Ukrainian refugees?

Do they have a budget surplus?

Is the Polish popular opinion pressing the government?

Is there any other reason?

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    Why would them taking refugees make them give less or no aid? Wouldn't helping Ukraine end the situation give reason for all those refugees to go home?
    – Joe W
    Sep 5 at 13:46
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    I know they are not a church or a charitable NGO but what does that have to do with my question? Just because they are taking in refugees doesn't mean they have to stop giving aid. Also there is the fact that if the trouble in Ukraine is solved and peace is restored all the refugees will be able to go home and leave Poland which I think is easy to say is something they want to happen.
    – Joe W
    Sep 5 at 14:16
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    We know that Poland sees Russia as a military threat and would like Ukraine to prevail in the current conflict. Sep 5 at 14:18
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    None of that has anything to do with Poland taking in the refugees.
    – Joe W
    Sep 5 at 14:30
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    The refugee figures are a bit dated (March). I suspect they moved around a bit in the meantime. TBH it's hard to get a good number. According to wikipedia, like 1M of them crossed into Germany in the meantime en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Fizz
    Sep 5 at 15:10

4 Answers 4

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Poland is on the front lines by bordering Belarus which made itself available as a staging area for a Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is an existential threat to Poland.

Ukrainian refugees in Poland (about 2 million refugees in a country with a pre-war population of about 38 million people according to the question, although this is a moving target), if anything, provide the Poles with a daily reminder of that the threat of Russian military action that once would have been unthinkable in light of treaties in place, etc. is very real.

But ultimately, there is very little direct connection between receiving refugees from Ukraine and providing economic support to Ukraine. One doesn't impact the ability to do the other, or vice versa. Accepting a refugee isn't necessary particularly draining on the government budget - not free, but not necessarily particularly expensive either and possibly a net gain for Poland economically in the medium to long run. The question's implied premise that refugees are such a drain on Poland's government funds that this seriously squeezes its ability to afford to provide financial aid to Ukraine is flawed.

In the short run, Poland is spending 1% of its GDP ($5.3 billion USD equivalent) on aid to Ukrainian refugees, which is significantly smaller than its defense budget (2.2% of GDP in 2022, 3% in 2023 and with a longer term target of 5%-6% of GDP in light of the heightened threat from Russia which is a sudden unexpected crisis.) As the question notes, Poland's foreign aid to Ukraine is 0.49% of Poland's GDP and if the war in Ukraine isn't too long, that expenditure may not last too long.

In 2022, Poland had an annual budget deficit of 1.9% of GDP, but deficit spending is normal in a national emergency or crisis. Essentially, its refugee spending and foreign aid and ramped up defense spending are being financed with government debt. Poland's annual deficits as a percentage of GDP each year for the last 25 years (according to Bloomberg) is shown below:

Graph of Poland's historic deficits. Most recently -1.9% (2021), -6.9% (2020) and -0.7% (2019)

But, Poland's government finance situation is actually pretty fiscally sound by historic, post-Cold War standards, at the moment.

Every Russian tank and artillery battery destroyed, and every Russian general killed, by a Ukrainian soldier with resources that Polish funds make possible is one that a Polish soldier doesn't have to shed blood to destroy or kill if Russia attacks it. This is because Russia doesn't have a sufficient industrial base to replace its military losses promptly and countries like China that are willing to buy its oil aren't willing to sell Russia more advanced weapons.

And, the more Russia's military capacity in Eastern Europe is depleted in the Ukraine War, the less likely it is that Russia will even attempt to take military action against Poland at all (avoiding the lost lives and damage to property that comes with having a war fought on your own territory). While Russia hasn't thrown all of its military capacity in Eastern Europe into the Ukraine War, it has devoted a very large share of that military capacity to the Ukraine War, so losses in Ukraine undermine its ability to attack Poland.

It is a smart national defense investment to use your money to allow someone else to fight your most likely military opponent on their territory with their soldiers before you must fight that opponent on your territory with your soldiers.

It doesn't even really matter what the aid is ear-marked for, since money is fungible, and non-military foreign aid frees up Ukraine's funds for military spending, and lots of countries are willing to sell advanced arms to Ukraine at the moment.

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    That does make sense, if Poland is afraid of being next making Ukraine take longer or become a complete loss seems like a cheap way to do it. Spending money is cheaper then the lives/property damage that they might face otherwise.
    – Joe W
    Sep 6 at 15:51
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    Also a good deal of donated military equipment, if it's counted in those aid numbers, is legacy Warsaw Pact stuff. That suits Ukraine just fine due to familiarity and Poland aims to replace it anyway. Sep 6 at 17:22
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    The Poles, who have been invaded by Russia several times over the centuries, expect that if Russia conquers Ukraine, they'll be next. Sep 7 at 12:58
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    @GeekestGeek No NATO general worth his or her salt believes that the outcome of a war with Russia can be predicted with any great degree of certainty. Russia has won many smaller post-Cold War conflicts.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 14 at 10:07
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    @GeekestGeek: Betting millions of lives on the premise that all those ICBM failures encompass 100% of launches would be exceedingly stupid. You're assuming 100% failure of the detonators. Sounds like an insane foundation for foreign policy.
    – Ben Voigt
    Sep 28 at 15:39
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So one of the main reasons would be to prevent a possible dissolution of Ukraine in this case Poland would have to deal with much more refugees from Ukraine as now. If you take a look at other countries giving so much and even more aid to Ukraine you see the Baltic states. The Baltic state and Poland are solidaric with Ukraine as fighting the common enemy. All these countries seeing themself next to be attacked by Russia should Ukraine fall.

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  • If you take a look at other countrie giving so much and even more aid to Ukraine you see the Baltic states. --- I mentioned Poland for a reason. Baltic states didn't take so many refugees.
    – user366312
    Sep 5 at 14:45
  • @user366312 I mentioned the Baltic state just to show what countries giving the mos aid to Ukraine have in common.
    – convert
    Sep 5 at 14:49
  • @Trilarion You tallking about "case"?
    – convert
    Sep 6 at 11:31
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    @Trilarion Yes that´s what I meaned, but my english is not good so something like this hapens.
    – convert
    Sep 6 at 19:37
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    @user366312 Please weight the number of refugees with the population of a certain country, before comparing Poland and Baltic States. Second, many of the people fled Ukraine by car or by train. Rather hard to reach Baltic states from Ukraine with these two means of transport ...
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 6 at 22:23
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Poland said before 2022 that regional powers should handle refugees.

Poland is providing quite a lot, per capita. During the 2015 refugee crisis, they refused to pitch in, citing their preparations for an Ukrainian contingency. Many who criticized them back then have since apologized. However:

  1. I believe your refugee numbers are outdated/incomplete. Schengen borders are open for Ukrainians, who can move on after the initial border crossing and only need to be registered if they want aid, health coverage, or to stay more than 90 days. Poland is still housing the largest number in the West, but not by the margin your graphic suggests. Here is what Wikipedia says, which puts Poland at 1.3 million in the second place after Russia.
  2. Your graphic for aid is explicitly listing bilateral aid in relation to GDP. It quotes the Kiel institute, yet if you scroll down the page of that institute you will see more numbers. In absolute terms, the US is by far the largest provider, followed by the EU, UK, Germany, Canada, Poland. Which still puts Poland into a highly respectable place, given their population and GDP. To really compare countries, one would have to break the massive EU contribution down by net payers.
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    That is a good point, looking at the map going through Poland appears to be the best path for moving further into Europe and the rest of the world.
    – Joe W
    Sep 5 at 15:54
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    Well, I'd take the Russia numbers with an even larger grain of salt. In any case, they are not linked to Poland by Schengen, so the numbers in Russia are least relevant to this Q, as opposed to those in (say) Germany.
    – Fizz
    Sep 5 at 17:14
  • This post doesn't address the question is the OP .
    – user366312
    Sep 5 at 19:21
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    @user366312, basically it answers the question by saying "it doesn't as much as you think."
    – o.m.
    Sep 6 at 4:55
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    @Fizz The West and Russia seem to agree that some 2 million people moved from the Ukraine to Russia and that this was an event organized by Russia and not started by the people themselves (although the reasons given for the move strongly differ). Both sides also agree that this includes a large number of children without their parents (again the given reasons are very different). So I would assume the claims both sides agree on are indeed true.
    – quarague
    Sep 6 at 8:57
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In short, the Poles historically have always been hating the Russians. This goes back as far as the war of 1605–1618, when union of Poland, Lithuania, and the Zaporozhian Cossacks first captured but then lost the city of Moscow. Warsaw also allied with the cruel, antisemitic Petliura in 1920 in his fight against the Bolshevik régime. In the 21st century, Warsaw wishes to take more influence than during the Soviet era. Naturally, Poland is interested in splitting the Russians and the Ukrainians and in fighting with the hands of the Ukrainians against the Russians. This is the best that can happen to the Poles regardless of the refugees. The enemy of your enemy is your friend, and finally Poland can spend a lot towards this goal rather than trying to solve domestic problems.

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    Poland also fought some wars against Ukrainians in the 20th century. Anyhow, I don't see what this answer adds compared to the accepted one, besides a smidgeon of "historic hatred" argument.
    – Fizz
    Sep 14 at 11:17
  • @Fizz These days, the Ukrainian antisemit Petliura is celebrated in the Ukraine. He was the one to make allies with the Poles on April 21, 1920.
    – user44356
    Sep 15 at 9:33
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    @Fizz Do not underestimate the historically driven anxiety that Poland feels for its neighbours. Though relations inside of Europe post-2002 have improved, slightly changings its outlook on Germany, their negative outlook on Russia has de facto never faltered, except in the minds of people who still love the good-old communist days. This deep-seated paranoia against Russia has been used extensively by populists after the 2011 government plane crash, leading to a government led by piss, and has now gone back into overdrive. It is this paranoia that fuels the certainty of "we're next". Sep 29 at 12:53

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