Poland upsets some by rejecting the German air defense system

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Poland’s government says an anti-missile system that Germany offered to send to Poland should instead go to Ukraine, a proposal likely to be a no-start for Berlin because it would increase NATO involvement in Ukraine significantly.

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

But German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht stressed that the use of NATO defense systems outside its territory must be approved by all member states.

“It is important for us that Poland can count on allies standing by each other, even in difficult times, and especially Poland in its vulnerable position,” Lambrecht told reporters in Berlin.

“That is why we have offered to support air police and patriots, but these patriots are part of an integrated air defense of NATO, that is, they are intended for the territory of NATO,” the minister said. “If they are used outside the NATO area, then it must be agreed with NATO and with the allies in advance.”

In Poland, critics of the populist ruling party accused it of sacrificing the country’s security with a war on the side in Ukraine for the sake of a domestic political battle, exploiting anti-German sentiment for short-term gain.

The Rzeczpospolita daily called the new proposal from Poland’s leaders “shocking” and claimed it would require sending German soldiers operating the system to Ukraine and “it will again involve NATO in a direct clash with Russia, something the alliance has been. trying to avoid from the beginning.”

“This proposal affects Poland’s credibility and, worst of all, its security. The Germans get a clear signal that we do not want their help, so the defense potential in the Polish sky will be lower,” wrote deputy editor Michal Szuldrzynski. “In the worst war in Europe since 1945, this is an unforgivable mistake.”

An aide to Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said the president has not been consulted about the decision. The president is the supreme commander of Poland’s armed forces and has influence on matters of national security.

Duda believes that if the missiles are provided by Germany, regardless of where they are placed, they should first of all protect the territory of Poland and the Poles, Duda’s chief of staff Pawel Szrot said.

“If his idea is different” Blaszczak would have to convince Duda of that, but there have been no talks on the subject, Szrot told the WP.pl news portal.

Poland’s populist ruling party, which faces elections next autumn with its popularity sunk by 18% inflation, has stepped up its anti-German messaging, which has long been part of the party’s campaign rhetoric. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has also sought to link his domestic opponents, notably Donald Tusk, a former EU leader, to Germany, saying on Sunday that if Tusk’s party wins next year, Poland would be “under the German boot.”

When Germany recently offered Warsaw Eurofighter jets and Patriot air defense missile batteries, Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak initially said it was an offer he would accept with “satisfaction”. The offer came after two men were killed when an apparently errant Ukrainian defense projectile fell in Poland near the border with Ukraine on November 15.

But Poland’s tune changed after Kaczynski gave an interview to state news agency PAP on Wednesday, in which he said the offer is “interesting” but that “it would be best for Poland’s security if Germany handed over the equipment to the Ukrainians.”

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

After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, NATO bolstered its defenses along its eastern flank, including Poland, while Warsaw has worked to bolster the nation’s own military with massive arms purchases.

NATO deployed American Patriot batteries to Poland and German Patriot batteries to Slovakia, as well as a French equivalent system to Romania.

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

Exploiting anti-German sentiment has long been a political strategy to win votes in Poland. Older Poles still carry the trauma of the atrocities Germany inflicted on Poland during World War II. With the election campaign underway, Poland has demanded $1.3 trillion in war 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 reverse changes in the judiciary by withholding funding.

Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created new tribes. Poland has long been a critic of Germany’s gas deals with Russia and has also been critical of Berlin’s initial reluctance to arm Ukraine.

In Poland, some critics pointed out that the government not only refused higher military protection but also turned its back on critical EU funding, billions of euros that have been withheld by the government’s refusal to follow EU guidelines to ensure the independence of judges.

Marcin Kierwinski of the opposition Civic Platform party said Kaczynski “has gone mad” for “rejecting” the Patriot missiles and EU funding “during war and crisis.”

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Associated Press writers Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.

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Follow all AP stories about the impact of the war in Ukraine at

https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

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