The European Parliament elections will be held in the European Union countries from June 6 to 9. In Poland, voters will go to the ballot boxes on Sunday, June 9. Voting will be preceded by an election silence starting at midnight on Friday, June 7. However, the ongoing election campaign is significantly different from previous ones.

European elections in Poland

Poles will be electing their representatives to the European Parliament just over a month after celebrating the 20th anniversary of Poland’s accession to the EU. Despite the political movements opposing the EU that have emerged in recent years, support for the European structures in Poland remains very high. According to various polls conducted in 2023, it ranges from 81 to 92 percent. However, the campaigns run by all electoral committees are accompanied by something that wasn’t experienced in previous European elections – a hybrid war waged against Poland by Russia and Belarus. We define it as irregular actions carried out below the threshold of kinetic war. Below are examples of such actions that have been observed in Poland recently.

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Hybrid warfare

Recently, there has been a series of arson attacks and attempted arson carried out in Poland. The targets included warehouses, factories, construction centers and even a restaurant. Polish authorities have detained Polish, Belarusian and Ukrainian citizens as well as a Russian national holding a Canadian passport. According to the findings, they were contracted by Russian GRU, which recruited them through a Russian-language Telegram channel and offered $10,900-$16,300. The involvement of Ukrainian citizens in these sabotage actions may also aim to play with anti-Ukrainian moods within society. Nevertheless, the primary goal of these actions is to cause chaos and foster an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

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In recent weeks the pressure on the Polish-Belarusian border has intensified significantly. The number of people attempting to illegally enter Poland from Belarus is the highest since the crisis in autumn 2021. These border crossing attempts are accompanied by numerous attacks on Polish officers. Knives, stones, floating branches and tree trunks are being used against Polish uniformed services and armed forces. According to media reports, 25 border guards and soldiers have been injured, with one in serious condition in the hospital.

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Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland, stated that 90 percent of the Syrian, Iraqi, Bangladeshi and other nationals involved hold Russian visas. In response, Polish authorities have announced the construction of the “East Shield,” which will reinforce existing border fortifications, increase the number of patrols. Polish services have also conducted a series of arrests of individuals involved in organizing illegal migrations.

The Polish Press Agency, which is part of Poland’s critical information infrastructure, was hit by a Russian hacking attack. A fake announcement about a mobilization declared by Donald Tusk was published on its website. The Polish Press Agency is a source of information for other media outlets. If this attack had succeeded, it could have caused significant social unrest related to mobilization.

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Russia’s goal for the upcoming elections is both to support anti-European moods and to weaken support for pro-European movements.

Another objective was to test Poland’s security systems. Both authorities and media passed this test excellently. None of the major media outlets in Poland reported the fake news, questioning its credibility and the ABW (the Internal Security Agency) and the Ministry of Digital Affairs responded immediately within minutes. On June 3 at a press conference, Krzysztof Gawkowski, Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Affairs, said: “For the past month, we have observed a dramatic increase in cyberattacks aimed at destabilizing the pre-election situation.”

Polish Deputy Prime Minister clearly identified Russia as the source of these attacks and announced the construction of a $575 million cybershield to protect critical infrastructure. More about Poland’s efforts against Russia can be read in an interview which Polish Deputy Prime Minister recently gave to the Kyiv Post.

A crucial tool of Russian hybrid operations is also disinformation. Many were alarmed by the plans of one of the most popular YouTube channels in Poland, Kanał Zero. Krzysztof Stanowski, the editor-in-chief, announced a debate between Jacek Bartosiak and Leszek Sykulski. Many experts claim that Jacek Bartosiak, through his narratives, undermines credibility of the EU and NATO.

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The second invited speaker, Leszek Sykulski, raises even greater concerns as he openly shares pro-Russian propaganda and repeats anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western disinformation. He is neither influential nor respected and his work has very limited popularity. However, giving him a popular platform, such as “Kanał Zero,” could increase his influence. The debate was scheduled to take place during the election silence the day before voting. It could have positively impacted anti-European movements, which are marginal in Poland, and negatively affected voter turnout. Due to immense public pressure, the debate was canceled.

Also, the offers received by Polish polling organizations aroused suspicion. Polish daily Rzeczpospolita reports that companies surveying public opinion are getting offers with very biased questions regarding Polish-Ukrainian relations, for which they are being offered 200-300 percent more than the market value. Russia’s goal for the upcoming elections is both to support anti-European moods and to weaken support for pro-European movements. Are Poles aware of it? According to a survey conducted by IBRIS for the radio station RMF FM and the daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, over 40 percent of Poles surveyed recognize Russia’s influence on Polish politics.

Modus operandi

Russian hybrid warfare actions aren’t limited to media propaganda, which has been banned in Poland. Russian operations mainly include sabotage, influencing social moods, spreading disinformation through internet troll farms, influence agents and cyberattacks aimed at paralyzing critical infrastructure. For obvious reasons, the election campaign is particularly attractive to Russian and Belarusian services. So far, Polish society, media and political parties are passing the resilience exam quite well, but unfortunately, such hostile actions will only intensify.

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None of the major mainstream political parties are making Ukraine a major issue in the current campaign. Security policy and assistance to Ukraine are not taken under political dispute and are not questioned. However, Russian hybrid actions are one of the most significant challenges, not only during the election campaign.

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