War­saw ac­cused over army shake-up

De­fence min­is­ter ac­cused of ‘de­mol­ish­ing the army’ amid claims of politi­ci­sa­tion


Poland’s con­ser­va­tive Law and Jus­tice govern­ment has been ac­cused of “de­mol­ish­ing the army” af­ter re­plac­ing the vast ma­jor­ity of top-level mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, ap­par­ently for politi­cal ends.

In less than two years in power Poland’s con­ser­va­tive Law and Jus­tice govern­ment has earned EU re­bukes for bring­ing the con­sti­tu­tional court and pub­lic me­dia un­der politi­cal con­trol. Now it is ac­cused of train­ing its sights on an­other tar­get: the mil­i­tary.

A shake-up of top-level of­fi­cers that has seen the vast ma­jor­ity re­placed, ap­par­ently for politi­cal ends, has dented mil­i­tary con­fi­dence. Civic Plat­form, the main op­po­si­tion party, has called a vote of no-con­fi­dence in An­toni Macierewicz, the de­fence min­is­ter, for next week, ac­cus­ing him of “de­mol­ish­ing the army” and caus­ing a “string of scan­dals” amid U-turns over multi­bil­lion-euro arms pro­cure­ment con­tracts.

Law and Jus­tice’s ef­forts to politi­cise key in­sti­tu­tions and fill them with loy­al­ists has been a big point of fric­tion with Brus­sels. EU min­is­ters de­manded again this week that War­saw re­open talks over re­forms to its jus­tice sys­tem.

The govern­ment’s par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity means Mr Macierewicz will al­most cer­tainly sur­vive next week’s vote. But amid a re­newed threat from Rus­sia, about which Law and Jus­tice has been par­tic­u­larly vo­cal, crit­ics say that could leave in place a man whose ac­tions risk weak­en­ing the coun­try’s se­cu­rity.

“The po­ten­tial of our army is be­ing weak­ened by civil dis­tor­tions: by at­tempts to ide­ol­o­gise it and make it party-de­pen­dent,” Gen­eral Stanis­law Koziej, who headed Poland’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Bu­reau from 2010 to 2015, told the Fi­nan­cial Times. “These prac­tices had been for­got­ten since com­mu­nist rule.”

The Pol­ish de­fence min­istry’s fig­ures speak to the scale of the changes. In 2016, 90 per cent of lead­ing po­si­tions were re­placed in the armed forces’ gen­eral staff, re­spon­si­ble for strate­gic plan­ning, and 82 per cent in the gen­eral com­mand, which has op­er­a­tional con­trol. Even Poland’s de­fence univer­sity was re­or­gan­ised, with 100 staff los­ing their jobs — in­clud­ing Gen Koziej, who was a lec­turer.

The min­istry ad­mits that many of those re­placed had been ap­pointed by the for­mer Civic Plat­form govern­ment.

Mr Macierewicz is some­thing of a mav­er­ick even within his own party, but is close to Jaroslaw Kaczyn­ski, its chair­man and the power be­hind the Law and Jus­tice govern­ment. Echo­ing the party leader’s views, Mr Macierewicz has led ef­forts to claim Rus­sia was be­hind the 2010 Smolensk air crash that killed Mr Kaczyn­ski’s twin Lech, then Poland’s pres­i­dent. A 2011 in­ves­ti­ga­tion said it was an ac­ci­dent caused by pi­lot er­ror.

His min­istry an­gered some of­fi­cers and vet­er­ans when it in­structed all army units to in­clude the 96 Smolensk vic­tims, in­clud­ing sev­eral gen­er­als, in long-es­tab­lished com­mem­o­ra­tion cer­e­monies hon­our­ing Poland’s fallen in his­toric bat­tles such as the 1944 War­saw up­ris­ing against the Nazis.

Mr Macierewicz notched up a suc­cess when he hosted last year’s Nato sum­mit in War­saw, where the al­liance’s west­ern mem­bers pledged to sta­tion ad­di­tional forces in eastern coun­tries un­set­tled by Rus­sia’s 2014 an­nex­a­tion of Crimea. But crit­ics say many of his other ac­tions risk un­der­min­ing both mo­rale and the mod­erni­sa­tion ef­fort within eastern Europe’s big­gest Nato mem­ber.

Marek Swier­czyn­ski at Poli­tyka In­sight, a re­search group, re­gards the scope of ro­ta­tion of top mil­i­tary staff as wor­ry­ing. “It’s un­prece­dented that in a few months, so many high-level mil­i­tary per­son­nel leave the army,” he said.

Since Mr Macierewicz came to of­fice, the heads of the gen­eral staff, the gen­eral com­mand, air force, navy, and the mil­i­tary pro­cure­ment in­spec­torate have all left. Grom, an elite coun­tert­er­ror­ism unit, is on its third com­man­der in a year.

The de­fence min­istry as­serts that “de­spite the staff changes, the con­ti­nu­ity of com­mand has been main­tained”.

But To­masz Smura, an an­a­lyst at the Casimir Pu­laski Foun­da­tion, a se­cu­rity think-tank, said many gen­er­als leav­ing the army blamed “mis­un­der­stand­ings with the de­fence min­istry”.

“[They say] they were not heard out by the min­is­ter, that de­ci­sions were taken with­out them,” he said. “In the se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment in which we’re op­er­at­ing, which is un­cer­tain and full of threats . . . Mr Macierewicz’s poli­cies might not be good for the army.”

Though Poland gen­er­ally meets Nato’s goal of spend­ing 2 per cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct on the mil­i­tary, a lack of mod­ern equip­ment — with much dat­ing from the Soviet era — re­mains a burn­ing prob­lem. In a 2013 mod­erni­sa­tion plan, War­saw pro­jected spend­ing 130bn zloty ($34bn) on equip­ment by 2022. De­fence com­pa­nies hoped Law and Jus­tice would ac­cel­er­ate the up­grade but have in­stead found Mr Macierewicz’s ap­proach to ten­ders chaotic and un­pre­dictable.

Gen Koziej ac­cused the govern­ment of bring­ing “di­vi­sions” to the army. “I only hope this weak­en­ing is not strong enough to in­flu­ence de­fence ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” he said, “but it may def­i­nitely af­fect army mo­rale.”

On the march: the mil­i­tary shake-up has sparked op­po­si­tion party anger

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