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Forfeit for Mistrals: Poland slaps Hollande in the face

Past week, France received a solid diplomatic slap in the face from Poland. Polish leadership has cancelled a planned military helicopter contract with France without a great deal of explanation. The contract was made with the previous government. France learned about the cancelled contract from the press and the response was furious. President Francois Hollande has cancelled his visit to Warsaw. Meantime, Warsaw took Paris’ anger as funny hysteric. Poland’s deputy minister of national defense put the French in their place saying French are the “people who learned to eat with a fork from us.” Who will take France’s place in that multi-billion contract? It will be U.S., of course.

Poland has been arming itself during the last decade under the slogans of “Russia’s military threat.” As part of that “deterring policy,” Poland has modernized its army with U.S.-produced F-16 Fighting Falcons spending on it an impressive amount from the pockets of taxpayers –$3.5bn.

Under the contract, Poland received 48 fighting Falcons. In addition, in 2014, Warsaw bought 40 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM – 1,000km range) for F-16 fighting falcons from U.S. for $250mn. Considering the range of the falcons, Poland can frighten with these missiles even Moscow.

At the NATO Summit, the Polish authorities together with representatives of the U.S. Administration regularly urged NATO member-countries to meet the military spending guideline of 2% of GDP. Poland met the guideline immediately and appeared among few countries with such high military budgets (only 5 out of 28 NATO countries – U.S., Poland, Estonia, Greece and Turkey – meet the alliance’s military spending guideline of 2% of GDP).

This May, Poland’s authorities headed by President Andrzej Duda attended a solemn groundbreaking ceremony for a U.S. ballistic missile defense site in Poland’s Redzikowo near Slupsk. With a similar site operating in Romania, it will become another element of the U.S. missile defense. “This is an important strategic element that will deter Russia,” the Polish leadership said then.

The contract on supply of 50 advanced combat helicopters was another step towards rearmament of the Polish army. The Polish government was ready to pay almost $4bn for it.

In April 2015, the previous government of Poland selected Caracal H225M (previously known as EC725) manufactured by Airbus Helicopters (previously known as Eurocopter). Since the super contract for fighting falcons was with U.S., the next multi-billion order should be made to European partners to keep certain political balance. Yet, the previous government of Poland thought of other political benefits and chose the French helicopters as a payment for the support of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s nomination for the President of European Council in Brussels.

The outspoken critics of that choice were leaders of the Law and Justice Party that was in the opposition then but its chances for victory in the upcoming elections grew rapidly. Representatives of the trade unions of the factories belonging to the American Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation (they offered their Black Hawks) and AgustaWestland the British-Italian firm – currently Leonardo Helicopters (they want to sell AW149 helicopter) were indignant too.

However, neither disputes at court nor attempts to involve the attorney’s office into the problem have brought any result. France was celebrating its victory. It remained to settle some formalities and move part of the production connected with helicopter supplies to the territory of Poland.

After the change of government in Poland, the new minister of national defense Antoni Macierewicz (we wrote about his evident Russophobia earlier) immediately ordered to analyze all the decisions of the previous government on purchase of military hardware, including helicopters. However, what happened next was a diplomatic storm. Poland refused from the French helicopters, while Paris learned about it from… mass media reports prior to the Polish-French high-level intergovernmental meetings scheduled for October 13. President of France Francois Hollande and Prime Minister of Poland Beata Szydło were to attend the meetings. Shocked with such turn of events, Hollande cancelled his visit to Warsaw. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian too cancelled his visit to Poland.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tried to comment the situation in a complicated manner saying Poland is a big country, but there are questions that must be asked to Poland, or more precisely its defense industry, after the choices that were made. Polish Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki responded from Washington (perhaps to anger France even more) saying the issue is over. It is not surprising that French politicians call behind-the-scenes for revision of the military cooperation with Poland.

The first signs of that revision are evident. For instance, France has withdrawn its invitation to the Polish governmental delegation to this year’s EURONAVAL 2016 prestigious international fair to be held in Paris October 17-21. This means that the Polish delegations will have to pay for the stay and all services from the state budget of their country. Furthermore, no one will take seriously such a private delegation.

Despite the delicate and not so much signals of discontent by France, Polish officials behave like an “elephant in a porcelain factory” as a Polish proverb says. Along with Poland’s deputy defense minister who said that the French learned to eat with fork from them a couple of centuries ago, defense minister Antoni Macierewicz said emotionally that Poland will never agree to be treated as a Third World country.

The minister did not conceal its plans concerning the supplier of the helicopters for the Polish army. At the height of the diplomatic scandal with France, the minister demonstratively travelled to Sikorsky Corporation in the southeast of Poland and openly announced his decision saying Polish special troops will receive helicopters produced by the U.S. corporation. The “helicopter pie” will go to U.S. instead of France.

Alexander Shtorm for EADaily from Warsaw

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