WARSAW - Polish anti-communist icon Lech Walesa said Poland should procure nuclear weapons as a safeguard against Russia, which it blames for stoking the crisis in neighbouring Ukraine.
"Poland needs to stand up to Russia," the Nobel Peace laureate, who spearheaded Poland's democracy movement and became its first post-communist president, said in an interview published Wednesday.
EU and NATO member Poland has been rattled by Russia's actions in Ukraine, including its March annexation of the Crimean peninsula and suspected backing of rebels in the east.
Russian President Vladimir "Putin has been trying to intimidate us with his nuclear weapons, so why shouldn't we have our own arsenal?" Walesa told the Rzeczpospolita daily.
"We should borrow, lease nuclear weapons and show Putin that if a Russian soldier poses one foot on our land uninvited, we will attack. Just to be clear," the 70-year-old said.
Several countries including Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey currently host shared nuclear weapons on their territory under NATO.
But there is no tradition at the moment of borrowing or leasing the weapons.
Poland should speak up and say: "Mister Putin, we won't let you make one step forward. Try it and you'll perish, and so will we," added Walesa, who as leader of the Solidarity trade union negotiated a peaceful end to Communism at home in 1989.
It is under his presidency in 1993 that the last Soviet troops left Poland. Six years later the country joined the NATO defence alliance.
On Wednesday, Poland began major military exercises involving 12,500 troops, including 750 from other NATO countries, which will continue through October 3.
Poland stages the Anakonda manoeuvres every two years but this time they "take on a special significance given the events in Ukraine," Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said at the opening ceremony.
"It is important for NATO to show that we stick together," added Torben Moller, a brigadier general from the alliance's command centre at Brunssum in the Netherlands.