WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Polish government says an anti-missile system that Germany has offered to send to Poland should instead be sent to Ukraine, a proposal that is likely a no-start for Berlin because it would significantly increase the NATO’s involvement in Ukraine.
Poland’s surprising response to Berlin’s offer has been welcomed by Ukraine, which is desperate to protect its airspace as Russian missile barrages knocked out power across the country.
But in Poland, critics of the populist ruling party have accused him of sacrificing the country’s security with a war on the sidelines in Ukraine in the name of a domestic political struggle that exploits anti-German sentiment for short-term gain.
The Rzeczpospolita daily called the Polish leaders’ new proposal “shocking”, saying it would require sending German soldiers to operate the system in Ukraine, and “which, in turn, would involve NATO in a direct confrontation with Russia, which the alliance has been trying to avoid from the start.
“This proposal affects Poland’s credibility and, worst of all, its security. The Germans are getting a clear signal that we don’t want their help, so the defense potential of Polish skies will be weaker,” deputy editor Michal Szuldrzynski wrote. “In the worst war in Europe since 1945, this is an unforgivable mistake.”
Poland’s populist ruling party, facing re-election next year with popularity marred by 18% inflation, has reinforced its anti-German message, long a staple of the party’s campaign rhetoric. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has also tried to link his domestic opponents, particularly Donald Tusk, a former EU leader, to Germany, saying on Sunday that if Tusk’s party wins next year, the Poland would find itself “under the German boot”.
When Germany recently offered Warsaw Eurofighter planes and Patriot air defense missile batteries, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak first said it was an offer he would accept with “satisfaction”. The offer came after two men were killed when an apparently lost Ukrainian defensive projectile fell in Poland near the border with Ukraine on November 15.
But Poland’s tone changed after Kaczynski gave an interview to state news agency PAP on Wednesday, saying the offer was “interesting” but that “it would be better for Poland’s security that Germany hand over the equipment to the Ukrainians”.
Since then, Blaszczak and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki have repeated the position of Kaczynski, who leads the country’s government from behind the scenes.
After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, NATO strengthened its defenses along its eastern flank, while Poland scrambled to bolster its own army.
NATO has deployed American Patriot batteries in Poland and German Patriot batteries in Slovakia, as well as an equivalent French system in Romania.
NATO policy is not to get directly involved in warfare and to deploy batteries only to protect member nations.
Exploiting anti-German sentiments has long been a political strategy to win votes in Poland. Older Poles still carry the trauma of the atrocities inflicted on Poland by Germany during World War II. While the election campaign is underway, Poland has demanded $1.3 trillion in wartime reparations from Germany – which Berlin says it will not pay.
Kaczynski also criticizes Germany for supporting European Union efforts to uphold the rule of law in Poland by withholding funding.
Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created new strains. Poland has long criticized Germany’s gas deals with Russia and also criticized Germany’s initial reluctance to arm Ukraine.
In Poland, some critics have pointed out that the government is not only refusing higher military protection, but also turning its back on critical European funding, billions of euros which have been blocked by the government’s refusal to follow the directives of the EU on safeguarding the independence of judges.
Marcin Kierwinski, of the opposition Civic Platform party, said Kaczynski “went mad” for “rejecting” Patriot missiles and EU funding “during war and crisis”.
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