BRUSSELS — A bitter political and diplomatic rift between Germany and Poland, two prominent members of the European Union and NATO, has deepened as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues, undermining cohesion and the solidarity of the two organisations.
The toxic nature of the relationship was recently underscored by a German offer to supply two batteries of rare and expensive Patriot air defense missiles to Poland, after a Ukrainian missile swerved off course and killed two Poles on last month in the small town of Przewodow.
Poland first accepted the Patriots’ offer, then rejected it, fearing they would intercept Russian missiles or warplanes in Ukraine, potentially dragging Poland into the conflict. They then insisted that the batteries be placed in Ukraine, a failure for NATO, since the missile systems would be operated by NATO personnel, probably Germans. After considerable allied concern and public criticism, the Poles now appear to have accepted the missiles again.
“This whole story is like an x-ray of the miserable relations between Poland and Germany,” said Michal Baranowski, regional managing director of the German Marshall Fund in Warsaw. “It’s worse than I thought, and I watched it for a long time.”
Criticism of Germany in Poland dates back at least to the Nazi era, and then to Germany’s policy of Ostpolitik, its Cold War effort to draw closer to Moscow and the Union-occupied countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Soviet.
Democratic Poland has consistently criticized Germany’s dependence on Russian energy and the two Nord Stream pipelines designed to deliver cheap Russian gas directly to Germany and bypass Poland and Ukraine. The Russian invasion of Ukraine only intensified the opinion in Poland that Germany’s close relationship with Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin was not just naïve but selfish and, perhaps -be, just pending rather than permanently broken.
Both sides have made mistakes in the current dispute, said Jana Puglierin, Berlin director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The relationship has deteriorated for years, but it’s now peaking and doing real damage,” she said. “There is a widening gap between Eastern and Western Europe, old Europe and new Europe, and that only benefits Vladimir Putin.”
Germany believed the gesture of military aid would be ‘too good an offer to refuse’ and would help convince Poles that Germany is a reliable ally, a senior German diplomat, who will speak only anonymously, said. in accordance with diplomatic practice. After all, he said, the Poles themselves are trying to buy Patriots, a surface-to-air anti-missile system, “so we wanted to make the Germany caricature of this government more hollow.”
But after Poland’s defense minister and president quickly accepted the offer, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful 73-year-old leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, rejected it two days later.
Not only did he insist that the Patriots go to Ukraine, but he suggested that Germany, which he regularly attacks because it sides with Russia over Poland, and whose soldiers would operate the Patriots, would not dare to confront Russia. “Germany’s attitude so far gives no reason to believe that it will decide to fire Russian missiles,” Kaczynski said.
Mr Kaczynski has no official role in the Polish government, but Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak fell into line within hours. Polish President Andrzej Duda, of the same party, and who is also Poland’s Commander-in-Chief, was embarrassed by the painfully obvious display of his impotence.
NATO allies were quietly furious precisely because the Patriots would be operated by German soldiers and the defense bloc made it clear that it would not deploy troops to Ukraine and risk a NATO-Russia war. Any decision to send patriots to Ukraine, Germany said, should be a NATO decision, not a bilateral one.
“Kaczynski knew this and was totally cynical,” said Piotr Buras, Warsaw director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Everyone knew that the Germans would not and could not send patriots to Ukraine. And, of course, there are no Polish soldiers in Ukraine either.
The only explanation for Mr. Kaczynski’s response is political, said Mr. Baranowski of the German Marshall Fund, since Poland is on the campaign trail and party support is waning. With elections slated for next fall, Law and Justice is strengthening its base, and “criticism of Germany is a constant party line,” he said.
Some analysts have also detected a political motive on the German side. Berlin’s offer, so soon after the Poles died, was ‘clearly a German effort to win in the bitter and toxic diplomatic war between Poland and Germany,’ said Visegrad editor Wojciech Przybylski. Insight and President of Warsaw. based at Res Publica Foundation, a research institution. “And it also harms Kaczynski’s electoral strategy.”
Even so, “for the main Polish politician and leader of the ruling coalition to say that he has no confidence in Germany as an ally was shocking,” Mr Baranowski said. “If mishandled, it can damage the unity of the alliance, beyond the two countries – I’ve never seen security instrumentalized in this way, in this toxic mix.”
But Germany decided to keep the offer open, the German diplomat said, and opinion polls showed a large percentage of Poles thought having German patriots in Poland was a good idea.
On Tuesday evening, the Polish government changed its position again. Mr. Blaszczak, Minister of Defence, announcement that after further discussions with Berlin, he accepted “with disappointment” that the missiles would not go to Ukraine, adding: “We are starting to work on deploying the launchers in Poland and integrating them into our command system” .
But the bitterness will linger, and few expect Mr. Kaczynski and his party to stop questioning German sincerity. It was only in October, for example, that Warsaw suddenly demanded that Germany pay reparations for World War II, calculating $1.3 trillion in wartime losses, an issue that, according to Berlin, had been settled in 1990.
But criticism of Germany’s reluctance to help Ukraine and France’s early willingness to push for peace talks at Ukraine’s expense is not limited to Poland but is also widespread in central Europe, eastern and northern, although less busy.
“There is a lot of talk of unity and cooperation between the West and the EU on Ukraine, but at the same time this war has triggered a major wave of criticism of Western Europe in Poland and the Baltic countries” said Mr. Buras of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It deepened skepticism and criticism, especially from Germany and France, and nurtured a sense of moral superiority towards them, that we are on the right side and they were on the wrong side,” he said. he declared. “And it has reinforced the distrust of security cooperation with them, that we cannot rely on them, only the United States and the United Kingdom”
The Polish debate mixes two things, he said. First, there is a “ruthless political instrumentalization of Germany by law and justice – it’s amazing how they paint Germany as an enemy and Berlin as dangerous for Poland as Moscow, Berlin wants Russia wins and does not help Ukraine at all”.
But beyond the crude propaganda, Mr Buras said, there is a failure in Poland to recognize that there is a realization after the invasion in Berlin that war has returned to Europe, that the Germany needs to rearm and has become far too dependent on Russia. Chinese energy and trade.
Poland may not be the only country to criticize Germany over Ukraine, Ms Puglierin said, but on another level, “it’s the political layer in Poland, toxic and nasty”. Law and Justice “are jumping on this German hesitation and using it for domestic political reasons, and I think it will only get worse before the election, just when unity is useful”.
There is a brighter point of cooperation. Earlier this month, the two countries signed an agreement to work to secure the future of the giant Schwedt refinery, a German facility that had processed Russian oil, now under sanctions.
Sophia Besch, a German analyst at the Carnegie Endowment, insisted that Germany had changed since the Russian invasion. She highlighted the radical shift in policy towards stronger and more cost-effective military resilience, the “Zeitenwende”, or historic turning point, announced by Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “Scholz is much more committed to listening to Central European countries,” she said. “I believe our romance with Russia is over.”