WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Polish government has said the anti-missile system that Germany has offered to send to Poland should instead be sent to Ukraine, a likely unlikely proposal for Berlin because it would dramatically increase German involvement. NATO in Ukraine.
Ukraine has welcomed Poland’s surprise response to Berlin’s offer, which is scrambling to protect its airspace as a salvo of Russian missiles cripples electricity across the country.
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 has allies who support 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 directed at NATO territory,” the minister said. If it is used outside the NATO area, it must be agreed in advance with NATO and Allies. »
In Poland, critics of the ruling Populist Party have accused him of sacrificing the country’s security with a neighboring war in Ukraine in the name of an internal political struggle that exploits anti-German sentiment for short-term gain.
The Rzeczpospolita newspaper described the Polish leaders’ new proposal as “shocking”, saying that it would require sending German soldiers to operate the system in Ukraine, and “this, in turn, would involve NATO in a direct confrontation with Russia, which the alliance has tried to avoid from the start.”
This proposal undermined Poland’s credibility, and even worse, its security. “The Germans are receiving a clear signal that we do not want to help them, so the defense potential of the Polish sky will be weaker,” wrote deputy editor-in-chief Michal Zolderzynski. In the worst war in Europe since 1945, this is an unforgivable mistake. »
An aide to Polish President Andrzej Duda said the president was not 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 supplied the missiles, no matter where they were placed, they would first have to protect the territory of Poland and the Poles.
“If his idea was different, Blaszczak would have to convince Duda to do so, but there were no discussions about that,” Szrot told news portal WP.pl.
Poland’s ruling populist party, which will face elections next fall with an 18% drop in popularity, has strengthened its anti-German message, which has long been a staple of the party’s election campaign rhetoric. Party leader Jaroslav Kaczynski is also trying to link his domestic opponents, including Donald Tusk, the former EU leader, 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 its Warsaw Eurofighter and Patriot air defense missile batteries, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak initially said it was an offer he would accept. 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 tone changed after Kaczynski gave an interview to the state news agency on Wednesday, saying the offer was “interesting” but that “it would be better for Poland’s security if Germany delivered equipment to the Ukrainians”.
Since then, Blaszczak and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki have reiterated the position of Kaczynski, the country’s most powerful leader.
After Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine on February 24, NATO strengthened its defenses along its eastern flank, including Poland, while Warsaw bolstered the country’s army with massive arms purchases.
NATO deployed US Patriot batteries in Poland, 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.
Harnessing 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. As the election campaign gets underway, Poland is demanding $1.3 trillion in war reparations from Germany – a bill Berlin says it will not pay.
Kaczynski also blamed Germany for supporting EU efforts to uphold the rule of law in Poland and to reverse changes to the justice system, by withholding funding.
Meanwhile, the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to new tensions. Poland has long been critical of Germany’s gas deals with Russia, as well as 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 significant EU funding, holding up billions of euros by the government’s refusal to follow EU directives on protecting judges’ independence.
Marcin Kerwinski of the opposition Civic Platform party said Kaczynski had “gone mad” for his “rejection” of Patriot missiles and EU funding “during wars and crises”.
Associated Press writers Kirsten Grechber in Berlin and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.
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