WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's defense minister said Tuesday that his country will accept a Patriot missile defense system which Germany offered to deploy to Poland last month.
The German offer was made after an errant missile fell in Poland near the border with Ukraine, killing two Polish men. Poland and NATO have said they believe it was a Ukrainian missile that misfired as the country protecting itself from a missile barrage on Nov. 15.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak had initially said that he accepted the offer with “satisfaction." But the leader of Poland's powerful ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said he thought the Patriot system should be placed in Ukraine, and Blaszczak and other Polish leaders followed his line.
What appeared to be Poland cold-shouldering Germany's offer created strains in the relationship between the two neighboring countries, which have a difficult history but today are important trade partners and allies in NATO.
Blaszczak said Tuesday on Twitter he was sorry Germany did not want to place the Patriot system in Ukraine.
“I was disappointed to accept the decision to reject the support of Ukraine,” he wrote. “Placing the Patriots in western Ukraine would increase the security of Poles and Ukrainians.”
Nonetheless, he said the two side were proceeding “with arrangements regarding the placement of the launchers in Poland and connecting them to our command system.”
Germany has said the Patriot system offered to Poland was part of NATO’s integrated air defense and only to be deployed on NATO territory.
Poland's ruling party faced significant criticism from politicians and commentators when it said it wanted the system to go to Ukraine, suggesting Poland wouldn't take it. Critics accused the party of risking the nation's security at a time of war in neighboring Ukraine by seeking to tap into anti-German sentiment.
An opinion poll published this week showed significant support by regular Poles for having the German rocket launcher located in Poland, where it will beef up defenses already enhanced by Polish and U.S. equipment since Russia's full invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Pawel Kowal, an opposition lawmaker, said the government's back and forth didn't look serious.
“How is Poland to be taken seriously with such a government? We take Patriots — we don’t take — we take ..." he wrote on Twitter after Blaszczak's announcement. “But pressure makes sense. So do the polls on German patriots. Poland will be safer with them.”
As Poland prepares for a national election next year, Law and Justice party leader Kaczynski has railed against Germany during his encounters with voters. Last weekend, Kaczynski accused Berlin of seeking to use peaceful means to achieve aims that “it once wanted to implement using military methods.”
Follow AP's coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press