Poland-Germany Tensions Lay Bare Crack in Unified Ukraine Front

Poland-Germany Tensions Lay Bare Crack in Unified Ukraine Front

As NATO allies make a show of unity in support of Ukraine, a rift between Germany and Poland risks undermining a joint effort to supply Kyiv’s forces.

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(Bloomberg) — As NATO allies make a show of unity in support of Ukraine, a rift between Germany and Poland risks undermining a joint effort to supply Kyiv’s forces. 

Quarreling in Warsaw and Berlin over missiles, tanks and spare parts has reached a new level, even as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy calls on western backers to “hurry up” in delivering armaments before any spring offensive gets underway. 

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Polish leaders are now losing no opportunity to take aim at Berlin, a familiar target. Recently the accusations have focused on foot-dragging on sending battle tanks to the front — which triggered a threat to send German-made armor without Berlin’s approval. 

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After Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave the green light to send state-of-the-art Leopard tanks — for which Poland took much of the credit — the Poles struggled to fulfil a commitment to send their own older-model Leopards, charging that Germany hadn’t sent spare parts. 

“The main responsibility rests with the Federal Republic of Germany, the main producer of those tanks,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said last week. “We’ve been urging the German side for so long to join the tank coalition and not only deliver the tanks, but also the spare parts.” 

The barbed exchanges come months ahead of an election, likely in October, that could cost the nationalist Law & Justice party its grip on power. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s most influential politician, began last year to elevate Germany as a prime target in the campaign, including a centerpiece demand that Germany pay $1.3 trillion in compensation for wartime damage. 

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Polish Grievances

Complaints in Warsaw are on the rise. The government often views Germany as more focused on competing with Poland for international kudos — responding in kind to training Ukrainian soldiers or making tanks available — than actually giving Kyiv what it needs, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

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Old grievances are resurfacing. Germany’s envoy responded to comments by Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak that Germany’s energy policy sent billions to Moscow with a sharp response on Twitter. 

“Does the minister know how many billions of zloty Poland transferred to Moscow every year in exchange for Russian energy?” Ambassador Thomas Bagger asked in the post. Duda’s top foreign policy adviser, Marcin Przydacz, said he had a “long conversation” with the envoy to protest the comments. 

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German officials have dismissed the sharpening tone as political theater ahead of the election — and Scholz’s government is convinced tensions will recede after the campaigning is over, according to an official familiar with the chancellor’s thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

Germany has struck back, pointing the finger at erstwhile critics now struggling to get aging hardware into shape for delivery. At a NATO meeting in Brussels, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius singled out Poland’s stock of decades-old Leopard 2A4 models as “nothing to write home about, to put it diplomatically.” 

At risk is the objective of assembling two full Leopard 2 battalions in time to respond to a Russian spring offensive, he said. 

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As if to shove back against Berlin, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki delivered the first four tanks during his visit to Kyiv on Feb. 24, the one-year mark of the Russian invasion — even as Polish authorities complain that deployment could be hampered by the lack of spare parts. 

Germany says such complaints should be directed to weapons makers. With no more A4s in their inventory, the German military has no such parts in its stocks, an official said. Duda said the issue stretches back to 2015. 

Signs of Easing

Still, officials in Berlin maintain that beyond the back-and-forth on tanks and weaponry, other bilateral spheres are working more smoothly. One senior official pointed to solid cooperation on the Patriot anti-missile system Germany donated to Poland to back up air defense. 

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On energy, Germany is preparing the groundwork to sell a refinery near Berlin that it seized from Russia’s state oil company. Poland’s state-controlled PKN Orlen SA is interested in buying a stake.

And on the spare-parts spat, Germans point to light at the end of the tunnel. Scholz advisors met with industry officials at the Feb. 17-19 Munich Security Conference, with both sides expressing a measure of relief that production can be scaled up in good time. 

The parts shortage has left officials collecting “every piece of ammunition all over the world” for the older-model tanks, while laboring to increase production capacity, Pistorius told Bloomberg in an interview in Munich. 

“But that takes time too, so we have to manage with the resources we have,” Pistorius said.

Scholz, who was lauded by President Joe Biden for his commitment to providing support during a trip to Washington Friday, last week said allies are liaising closely on ensuring reliable supply of parts — and that there is enough repair capacity for delivered weapons.

“That will remain an ongoing task, because we have said that we will continue to support Ukraine for as long as necessary,” Scholz said. 

—With assistance from Michael Nienaber and Arne Delfs.


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