NATO member Poland has staged a massive military parade to showcase its state-of-the-art weapons and defence systems, as war rages in neighbouring Ukraine, and ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.
- Poland has spent billions on military hardware since Russia's invasion of Ukraine
- The country has the highest proportion of defence spending in all of NATO
- The government has received some criticism for taking out loans to purchase equipment
President Andrzej Duda, the chief commander of the armed forces, said in his opening speech that the protection of Poland's eastern border was a key element of state policy. He also noted that Poland was supporting Ukraine in its struggle against Russia's aggression of almost 18 months.
"The defence of our eastern border, the border of the European Union and of NATO is today a key element of Poland's state interest," Mr Duda said.
Crowds waving national white-and-red flags gathered in scorching temperatures to see US-made Abrams tanks, HIMARS mobile artillery systems, and Patriot missile systems.
Also on display were F-16 fighter planes, South Korean FA-50 fighters, and K9 howitzers. A US Air Force F-35 roared overhead, in a sign that Poland was also purchasing these advanced fighter planes.
Polish-made equipment including Krab tracked gun-howitzers and Rosomak armoured transporters were also featured.
Some 2,000 troops, 200 vehicles and almost 100 aircraft took part in the parade. Poland's armed forces have more than 175,000 troops, up from some 100,000 eight years ago, Mr Duda said.
Poland looks to military strength
Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Poland's conservative government has focused on strengthening the armed forces and has spent billions on tanks, missile interceptor systems, and fighter jets, many purchased from the US and South Korea.
Mr Duda said Poland's defence budget this year would be a record $51.6 billion, or some 4 per cent of GDP, the highest proportion in all of NATO.
"The goal of this huge modernisation is to equip Poland's armed forces and create such a defence system that no-one ever dares attack us, that Polish soldiers will never need to fight," Mr Duda said, while voicing his respect for the military.
Responding to criticism that Poland, a nation of some 37 million, was taking out huge loans to make the purchases, Mr Duda said: "We cannot afford to be idle. This is why we are strengthening our armed forces here and now."
"The security of Poles is priceless," he said.
Poland borders on the east with the Russian territory of Kaliningrad; with Lithuania, a fellow NATO member; with Russia's key ally Belarus; and with Ukraine.
The parade was held in Poland's capital, which was destroyed during World War II, on the anniversary of the 1920 Battle of Warsaw, in which Polish troops defeated Bolshevik forces advancing on Europe.
The military upgrades have bolstered Poland's defence capabilities and some items replaced Soviet and Russian-made equipment that Poland gave to Ukraine.
Poland is building one of Europe's strongest armies to beef up deterrence against potential aggressors and has increased the number of troops to some 10,000 along its border with Belarus, where it has also built a wall to stop migrants arriving from that direction.
Showing off its military might is also a way for Poland's government to attract voter support ahead of October elections, in which the populist ruling Law and Justice party will seek to win an unprecedented third term.