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