Poland/Germany – In an interview published on 21 November by the German daily Rheinische Post, while referring to the 15 November incident when a Ukrainian air defence missile fell on a grain warehouse in Poland killing two people, German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said that Germany had offered to help Poland secure its airspace with Eurofighters and Patriot air defence systems from the Bundeswehr.
Interviewed on the same day by the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita, the German ambassador to Poland, Thomas Bagger, elaborated on this statement:
“We have been having discussions with the Polish authorities for a long time about German participation in strengthening Poland’s security,
but the incident in Przewodów has made the issue even more important. So in the last few days we have made an offer for the participation of [German] Eurofighters to patrol the Polish sky and now [for] the deployment of Patriot batteries on Polish territory. This shows how much importance is attached in Berlin to the fact that Poland is not only our neighbour, but also our ally. (…)
We understand that Poland’s security is also our security.
(…) I am therefore very pleased that we can make such a serious contribution (…) to strengthening Polish security. This could be the first step towards greater German involvement in Poland’s defence. ”
Reacting to the German offer, Polish President Andrzej Duda echoed those words:
“Germany’s proposal to transfer Patriot systems to Poland is an important gesture from an ally.
We would want those missile defence systems to be close to the border with Ukraine and protect that area. (…) We support Ukraine, we have sent strong military support, today we receive support from Germany. ”
However, just two days later, on 23 November, Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak made a different proposal to Germany, suggesting that the Patriot batteries should be stationed not in Poland, but in Ukraine:
“I’ve asked the German side that the Patriot batteries offered to Poland be transferred to Ukraine and placed near its western border.
This will make it possible to protect Ukraine from further casualties and power outages and will strengthen the security of our eastern border. ”
In saying this, Błaszczak actually took up a proposal that had been made a little earlier, “in his own name”, by Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the Law and Justice party (PiS), the main party in the United Right (Zjednoczona Prawica) government coalition. For Kaczyński, putting Patriot batteries at the disposal of the Ukrainians
“would probably make it possible to shoot down enemy missiles more effectively than with S-300s”.
“Moreover, it would protect us from incidents like the one that happened in Przewodów”, said the PiS leader. “At the same time, if the Russians decided to attack us, it would be protection for us too.”
Germany’s Christine Lambrecht answered that suggestion just a day later, saying: “The Patriot systems are intended for NATO’s integrated air defence and that is why we were able to make this proposal to Poland. All other different proposals must be discussed with NATO and our allies.”
Because the German Patriot systems have to be serviced by German units, and their transfer to Ukraine would constitute a direct engagement in the country’s defensive war against Russia, the proposal to send those batteries to Ukraine has earned the Polish government sharp criticism. The Polish opposition sees it as a shocking about-face: after initially accepting the German proposal and thanking Berlin, the Morawiecki government has eventually decided to refuse anti-missile batteries that Poland cruelly needs.
This is perceived as a decision taken by Jarosław Kaczyński himself in line with the anti-German rhetoric he has been developing in recent times in meetings with voters throughout the country.
An example of such a view is seen in the words of Rafał Trzaskowski, Warsaw’s liberal mayor from Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO). According to Trzaskowski, the rejection of the German proposal in the name of what he calls the PiS leader’s personal “phobias” is a reaction “bordering on madness”.
The German ambassador to Poland also reacted to the change of tone in the Polish government regarding the Patriot batteries, affirming that the German proposal was made in good faith and that
“Poland could have a significant influence on the debate in Germany about the policy towards Russia”, but for this “a constructive approach from Warsaw is necessary”.
According to a statement by the Polish deputy defence minister, discussions between his chief and the German defence minister are still going on, and the matter is not closed, especially since Polish President Andrzej Duda has reportedly expressed a desire to join the discussions, as it seems the proposal to send the German Patriots to Ukraine took him by surprise.
However, voices have also been heard in Germany itself in support of the Polish government’s proposal, including within the coalition parties. Anton Hofreiter (Greens), who chairs the Bundestag’s European Affairs Committee, believes that the proposal is “absolutely right”. In his view,
no NATO agreement is necessary since Germany and Europe “have already provided much more modern air defence systems”.
On the same day that the German defence minister reacted to the Polish proposal, the mass-circulation tabloid Bild published an article in which the newspaper’s correspondent in Kyiv also called for the Patriot batteries to be sent to Ukraine, in the face of the systematic bombing of Ukrainian civilian energy infrastructure by Russia as winter approaches.