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BRUSSELS — A bitter political and diplomatic rift between Germany and Poland, both important members of the European Union and NATO, has worsened as Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on, undermining cohesion and solidarity in both organizations.

The toxic nature of the relationship was recently underscored by a German offer to provide two batteries of scarce and expensive Patriot air defense missiles to Poland, after a Ukrainian missile off course and killed two Poles last month in the small town of Przewodow.

Poland initially accepted the patriots’ offer, then rejected it. They then insisted that the batteries be placed in the Ukraine, an impossibility for NATO, since the missile systems would be operated by NATO personnel. 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 miserable Polish-German relations,” said Michal Baranowski, regional managing director of the German Marshall Fund in Warsaw. “It’s worse than I thought, and I’ve seen it for a long time.”

Poland has long mistrusted Germany; Hitler’s invasion in 1939 was the start of World War II. He also criticized Germany’s policy of Ostpolitik, the Cold War effort to reach out to Moscow and the Soviet-occupied Central and Eastern European countries.

Credit…Darek Delmanowicz/EPA, via Shutterstock

Democratic Poland consistently criticized Germany’s dependence on Russian energy and the two North Stream Pipes which were designed to bring cheap Russian gas directly to Germany and bypass Poland and the Ukraine. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has only intensified the view in Poland that Germany’s close relations with Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin were not only naive but self-serving and possibly only on hold 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 been deteriorating for years, but now it’s reaching its peak and doing real damage,” she said. “A gap is emerging between Eastern and Western Europe, old Europe and new Europe, and that is beneficial only to Vladimir Putin.”

Germany thought this gesture of military aid would be “too good an offer to turn down” and would help convince Poles that Germany is a reliable ally, said a senior German diplomat, who would speak only anonymously in accordance with practice. diplomat. 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 caricature of Germany 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 Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, I reject it just two days later.

Not only did he insist that the patriots go to the Ukraine, but he suggested that Germany, which he regularly attacks for siding with Russia over Poland, and whose soldiers the patriots would be operating, would not dare confront Russia. “Germany’s attitude so far does not give reason to believe that they will decide to fire at Russian missiles,” Kaczynski said.

Credit…Rafal Guz/EPA, via Shutterstock

Kaczynski has no formal role in the Polish government, but defense minister Mariusz Blaszczak was in line within hours. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, from the same party, and who is also Poland’s commander-in-chief, was embarrassed by his painfully obvious display of impotence.

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

“Kaczynski knew this and he was being 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 Kaczynski’s response is political, said Baranowski of the German Marshall fund, as Poland is on an election campaign and the party’s support has dwindled. With elections scheduled for next fall, Law and Justice is strengthening its base, and “criticism of Germany is a constant line of the party,” he said.

Some analysts also detected a political motive on the German side. Berlin’s offer, so soon after the death of the Poles, was “clearly a German effort to win the bitter and toxic Polish-German diplomatic war,” said Wojciech Przybylski, editor-in-chief of Visegrad Insight and president of Warsaw. -Res Publica Foundation, a research institution. “And it also hurts Kaczynski’s electoral strategy.”

Still, “for Poland’s top politician and leader of the ruling coalition to say he doesn’t trust Germany as an ally was shocking,” Baranowski said. “If mishandled, this can damage the unity of the alliance, beyond the two countries. I have never seen security instrumentalized in this way, in this toxic mix.”

Credit…Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

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 night, the Polish government changed its position again. Mr. Blaszczak, the defense minister, Announced that after further talks with Berlin, he accepted “disappointed” that the missiles would not go to Ukraine, adding: “We are starting to work on agreements to deploy the launchers in Poland and make them part of our command system.”

But the bitterness will linger and few expect Kaczynski and his party to stop questioning German sincerity. In October alone, for example, Warsaw suddenly demanded that Germany pay reparations for World War II, calculating $1.3 trillion in wartime losses, an issue Berlin says was resolved by 1990.

But criticism of Germany’s hesitancy to help Ukraine, and of France’s early willingness to push for peace talks at Ukraine’s expense, is not limited to Poland, but is also prevalent in central, eastern and northern Europe, though with less load.

“There is a lot of talk about the unity and cooperation of the West and the EU in Ukraine, but at the same time this war has unleashed a significant wave of criticism of Western Europe in Poland and the Baltics,” said Mr Buras of the Council. European on Ukraine. Foreign Relations. “It deepened skepticism and criticism, especially towards Germany and France, and fueled a sense of self-righteousness towards them, that we are on the right side and they are on the wrong side,” he said. “And it has deepened the mistrust about security cooperation with them, that we can’t trust them, but only the US and the UK.”

Credit…Artur Reszko/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Polish debate mixes two things, he said. First, there is a “ruthless political instrumentalization of Germany by law and justice: it is incredible how they portray Germany as an enemy and Berlin as dangerous for Poland as Moscow, that Berlin wants Russia to win and is not actually helping Ukraine at all.”

But beyond the crude propaganda, Buras said, there is a failure in Poland to recognize that there is a post-invasion realization in Berlin that war has returned to Europe, that Germany needs to rearm and has become too dependent on Russia. energy and Chinese trade.

Poland may not be the only country criticizing Germany over Ukraine, Puglierin said, but on another level, “it’s the political layer in Poland, toxic and nasty.” Law and Justice “jumps on this German vacillation and uses it for domestic policy reasons, and I think it will only get worse before the election, at a time 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 pointed to the sharp shift in policy towards greater military and economic resilience, the “Zeitenwende”, or historic turning point, announced by Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “Scholz is much more committed to listening to the countries of Central Europe,” she said. “I think our romance with Russia is over.”

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