Ukraine war: Poland saying ‘no’ to German Patriot air defence system causes a stir

Warsaw said the anti-missile system that Germany had offered to send to Poland should go to Ukraine instead, raising fears that such a move could mean an escalation of NATO’s involvement in the war in Eastern Europe.

Others believe that the Polish government’s refusal was a mistake.

Poland’s surprise response to Berlin’s offer was welcomed by Kyiv, which is scrambling to protect its airspace as the continuing barrage of Russian missiles has knocked out power across the country.

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But German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht stressed that the use of NATO defense systems outside its territory requires the approval of all member states.

“It is important for us that Poland counts on allies to stand by each other even in difficult times, especially Poland in its exposed position,” Lambrecht told reporters in Berlin.

“That is why we offered to support the air police and Patriot missiles, but these Patriot missiles are part of NATO’s integrated air defense, that is, they are intended for NATO territory,” the minister said.

“If it is used outside the NATO region, it must be agreed with NATO and the Allies in advance.”

In Poland, critics of the ruling populist party, Law and Justice, have accused him of sacrificing the country’s security with a neighboring war in Ukraine for the sake of an internal political struggle that exploits anti-German sentiment for short-term gain.

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The Rzeczpospolita daily called Poland’s leaders’ new proposal “shocking”, arguing that it would require German soldiers operating the system to be sent to Ukraine.

“This, in turn, would involve NATO in a direct confrontation with Russia, something the alliance has been trying to avoid from the start,” wrote deputy editor Michal Zolderzynski.

“This proposal affects Poland’s credibility and, worst of all, its security. The Germans are getting a clear signal that we do not want to help them, and therefore the defense potential of the Polish sky will be lower,” according to Solderzynski.

“In Europe’s worst war since 1945, this is an unforgivable mistake.”

Duda did not ask to weigh

An aide to Polish President Andrzej Duda said the president had not been consulted about the decision. The President is the Supreme Commander of the Polish Armed Forces and has a say in matters of national security.

Duda’s chief of staff, Pawel Szroth, said that Duda believed that if Germany provided the missiles, no matter where they were placed, it must first of all protect Polish territory and the Poles.

The Law and Justice party, which faces elections next fall with an 18% drop in its popularity, is stepping up its anti-German messaging, which has long been a staple of the party’s campaign rhetoric.

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Party leader Jaroslav Kaczynski is also trying to link his domestic opponents, notably Donald Tusk – the former leader of the European Union – to Germany, saying on Sunday that if Tusk’s party wins next year, Poland will find itself “under the German boot”.

When Germany recently offered Warsaw’s Eurofighters and Patriot air defense missile batteries, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak initially said it was an offer he would accept “graciously”.

The offer came after two men were killed when an apparently Ukrainian defensive shell landed in Poland near the border with Ukraine on November 15.

But the Polish tune changed after Kaczynski gave an interview to the state news agency on Wednesday, saying the offer was “interesting”, but “it would be better for Poland’s security if Germany handed over the equipment to the Ukrainians”.

Since then, both Plashczak and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki have reiterated the position of Kaczynski, the country’s most powerful leader.

Opposition leader says Kaczynski ‘went crazy’

Exploiting anti-German sentiment has long been a political strategy to win votes in Poland. Older Poles are still traumatized by the atrocities committed by Germany in Poland during World War II.

With the election campaign underway, Poland is demanding €1.25 trillion in wartime reparations from Germany – a bill Berlin says it will not pay.

Kaczynski also blames Germany for supporting EU efforts to defend the rule of law in Poland and to reverse changes in the judiciary by withholding funding.

Meanwhile, the Russian invasion of Ukraine created new tensions. Poland has long been critical of Germany’s gas deals with Russia, as has Berlin’s initial reluctance to arm Ukraine.

In Poland, some critics have pointed out that the government has not only rejected higher military protections, but has also turned its back on important EU funding, billions of euros held up by the government’s refusal to follow EU guidelines on protecting the independence of judges.

Marcin Kerwinski of the opposition Civic Platform party said Kaczynski had “gone mad” for his “rejection” of Patriot missiles and EU funding “during war and crises”.

After Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine on February 24, NATO strengthened its defenses along its eastern flank, including Poland, while Warsaw bolstered the nation’s military with massive arms purchases.

NATO deployed US Patriot batteries in Poland and German Patriot batteries in Slovakia, as well as a French equivalent system for Romania.

NATO’s policy is not to get directly involved in the war and to deploy batteries only to protect member states.

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