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Spat Over Patriot Missiles Reveals Deepening Rifts in Europe Over Ukraine


BRUSSELS — A sharp political and diplomatic rift between Germany and Poland, both important members of the European Union and NATO, worsened as Russia’s war in Ukraine began, making weakening cohesion and solidarity in both organizations.

The toxic nature of the relationship was highlighted recently by a Germany offers to provide two batteries of scarce and expensive Patriot anti-aircraft missiles arrive in Poland, after a Ukrainian missile astray and killed two Poles last month in the small town of Przewodow.

Poland initially accepted the Patriots’ offer, then declined, fearing they might intercept Russian missiles or warplanes in Ukraine, potentially drawing Poland into the conflict. They then insisted that the batteries be located in Ukraine, which is not a good thing for NATO, as the missile systems will be operated by NATO personnel, possibly German. After considerable allied concern and public criticism, the Poles appear to have embraced the missile once again.

“This whole story is like an X-ray of bad relations between Poland and Germany,” said Michal Baranowski, regional executive director of the German Marshall Fund in Warsaw. “It was worse than I thought, and I watched it a long time ago.”

Criticism of Germany in Poland dates back at least to Nazi Germany, and then to Germany’s Ostpolitik policy, the country’s Cold War effort to re-establish relations with Moscow and the nations of Eastern and Central Europe. occupied by the Soviet Union.

The Polish Democratic Party repeatedly criticized Germany’s dependence on Russian energy and two Nord Stream pipeline designed to bring cheap Russian gas directly to Germany and bypass Poland and Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine only added to the view in Poland that Germany’s close relationship with Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin is not only naive but selfish and may be just a pause rather than is permanently cut off.

Jana Puglierin, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said both sides made mistakes in the current dispute. She said: “The relationship has been deteriorating for years, but now it is peaking and causing real damage. “There is a gap emerging between east and west Europe, old Europe and new Europe, and that only benefits Vladimir Putin.”

Germany thought this gesture of military help would be “too good an offer to refuse” and would help convince the Poles that Germany was a reliable ally, a senior German diplomat, who only remained anonymous according to diplomatic practice, said. After all, he said, it is the Poles who are trying to buy Patriots, a surface-to-air missile defense system, “so we wanted to make this government caricature of Germany more hollow. .”

But after Poland’s defense minister and president quickly accepted the offer, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful 73-year-old leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, refuse it just two days later.

Not only did he emphasize that the Patriots would come to Ukraine, but he also suggested that Germany, which he frequently attacks on Russia’s side in the Poland issue, and its soldiers would run the Patriots, will not dare to confront Russia. “The German attitude so far leaves no reason to believe that they will decide to fire Russian missiles,” Kaczynski said.

Mr. Kaczynski has no official role in the Polish government, but defense minister Mariusz Blaszczak joined within hours. The President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, of the same party, and also the commander-in-chief of Poland, was embarrassed by the painfully obvious display of his impotence.

NATO allies were quietly angry, precisely because the Patriots would be operated by German troops, and the defense bloc made it clear that they would not deploy troops to Ukraine and risk a NATO-Russia war . Germany said any decision to send Patriots to Ukraine would have to be a NATO decision, not a bilateral one.

“Kaczynski knows this and is completely skeptical,” said Piotr Buras, Warsaw director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Everybody knows the Germans will not and cannot send Patriots to Ukraine. And, of course, there are no Polish soldiers in Ukraine either.”

The only explanation for Mr Kaczynski’s reaction is politics, said Baranowski of the German Marshall Fund, as Poland is in the middle of an election campaign and the party’s support is dwindling. With elections scheduled for next fall, Law and Justice is strengthening its base and “criticism of Germany is the regular party line,” he said.

Some analysts also spot a political motive on the German side. Berlin’s offer, shortly after the Polish death, “was clearly a German attempt to win the bitter and toxic diplomatic war between Poland and Germany,” said Wojciech Przybylski, editor-in-chief Visegrad Insight and the president of Warsaw said. -based Res Publica Foundation, a research organization. “And it also harms Kaczynski’s electoral strategy.”

Even so, “it is shocking for a leading Polish politician and head of the governing coalition to say that he does not trust Germany as an ally,” Mr. Baranowski said. “If mismanaged, this could damage the unity of the alliance, beyond the two countries — I have never seen security set up this way, in this toxic mix.”

But Germany has decided to leave the offer open, the German diplomat said, and opinion polls show a large percentage of Poles think it is a good idea to have German patriots in Poland. nice.

On Tuesday night, the Polish government changed its stance again. Sir Blaszczak, defense minister, announced that after further negotiations with Berlin, he was “disappointed” to accept that the missiles would not reach Ukraine, adding, “We are starting to work out agreements on the deployment of launchers in Poland and make them part of our command system.”

But the bitterness will linger, and few expect Mr Kaczynski and his party to stop questioning the sincerity of the Germans. Just in October, for example, Warsaw unexpectedly asked Germany for reparations for World War II, calculating wartime damage at $1.3 trillion, an issue Berlin said was resolved in October. 1990s.

But criticism of Germany’s reluctance to help Ukraine, and France’s early willingness to push for peace talks at Ukraine’s expense, were not limited to Poland but were widespread. central, eastern and northern Europe, although less often accused.

“There is a lot of talk about the unification and cooperation of the West and the EU on Ukraine, but at the same time this war has provoked a significant wave of criticism of the EU,” said Mr. Buras of the Council of Europe. with Western Europe in Poland and the Baltic region”. Foreign Affair. “It deepens skepticism and criticism, especially towards Germany and France, and fosters a sense of moral superiority for them, that we are on the right side and the right side,” he said. they are on the wrong side.” “And it has deepened the distrust of security cooperation with them, that we can’t rely on them but only on the US and the UK.”

The debate in Poland, he said, mixes two things. First, there is a “ruthless political instrumentation of Germany by Law and Justice — it is amazing how they portray Germany as an enemy and Berlin as dangerous to Poland as Moscow is.” , that Berlin wanted Russia to win and wasn’t really helping Ukraine at all.”

But beyond the crude propaganda, Mr. Buras said, Poland failed to realize that there was a perception after the Berlin invasion that war had returned to Europe, that Germany needed to rearm. and has become too dependent on Russia. energy and trade in China.

Poland may not be the only country criticizing Germany over Ukraine, Puglierin said, but on another level, “it’s the political class in Poland, toxic and bad.” Law and Justice “takes aim at this German hesitancy and uses it for domestic political reasons, and I think it will only get worse before the election, at a time when the unity is helpful.”

There is a brighter point of cooperation. Earlier this month, the two countries signed an agreement working to secure the future of refinery giant Schwedt, a German facility that processes Russian oil, is now under sanctions.

Sophia Besch, a German analyst for the Carnegie Endowment, notes that Germany has changed since the Russian invasion. She points to the dramatic shift in policy towards a stronger military and greater economic resilience, the “Zeitenwende,” or historic turning point, announced by Prime Minister Olaf Scholz. “Scholz is committed to listening to Central European countries more,” she said. “I believe our romance with Russia is over.”

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