Exit by Polish Top Brass Guts Command on NATO Front Line

Updated on
  • Dozens of generals, hundreds of colonels depart armed forces
  • Overhaul takes place as Poland asks for help from U.S.

Poland’s conservative government has replaced almost all of its military leadership after hundreds of officers left, an exit that coincides with a call from Warsaw to its NATO allies to help boost its defense.

With the government moving to rid institutions of officials appointed by the former ruling Civic Platform party, which it defeated in 2015 elections, 90 percent of the General Staff leadership and more than 80 percent of the army’s top brass have gone, according to the Defense Ministry. They include Chief of Staff General Miroslaw Gocul, who stepped down last month, and Army Commander General Miroslaw Rozanski.

The ruling Law & Justice Party has pledged to purge government of what its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has called the “worst type of Poles” -- people with ties to Civic Platform or the communists who ruled the country last century. It’s also thinning out experienced soldiers who have served in wars alongside their allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Poland joined with other former eastern bloc states in 1999.

Antoni Macierewicz

Photographer: Krystian Dobuszynski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

“Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz has conducted a widespread change at top positions in operating units, each time replacing officers selected by the Civic Platform with experienced officers trained in Iraq and Afghanistan and trained by NATO,” the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

‘Bad Signal’

Among the departures are 26 generals and more than 250 colonels, about a quarter and a sixth of the army’s total, TVN24 television reported. While media say the departures are higher than compared with previous years, the Defense Ministry says the total size of the army increased to 106,000 in 2017 from 96,000 in 2015.

“Probably part of the departures is natural, but there’s also part that’s forced, for example by transfer orders sending officers into reserves,” retired Brigadier General Stanislaw Koziej, who was head of the National Security Bureau under the Civic Platform government from 2010 to 2015, said by phone. “The worrying element is that some departures are at the highest level where the military command links with the political leadership. This is a bad signal.”

As it reshuffles the military, the government is also creating a Territorial Defense Force, a network of regional units that will grow to as large as 50,000 servicemen by 2019 and report to Macierewicz. The plan has been criticized by the opposition for having insufficient funding and lacking safeguards to guarantee the units will be used for security and not political purposes.

The sweeping changes also follow criticism against measures enacted by Law & Justice from Poland’s allies in the U.S. and European Union who say the party is undermining the rule of law. The country set itself on a collision course with the EU’s executive commission this week when it brushed off concerns laid out in the 28-member bloc’s first ever probe into whether a member is failing to uphold its democratic values.

Read more on Poland’s populist turn

Polish 10-year bond yields were little changed at 3.83 percent Friday, having dipped 20 basis points this year. The zloty weakened 0.1 percent to 4.3065 against the euro at 1:23 p.m. in Warsaw, trimming its year-to-date gain to 2.2 percent.

The ministry’s statement insinuating that the replaced commanders were party appointees is false and unfair, Tomasz Siemoniak, defense minister in the former Civic Platform government, said in a text message Friday. General Rozanski, the former head of the Army Command, echoed the sentiment on Twitter.

“I received my first general’s star from President Aleksander Kwasniewski, the second from President Lech Kaczynski and the third from President Bronislaw Komorowski,” Rozanski tweeted. “Until today, I thought I was a general of the Republic of Poland.”

The government in Warsaw is also pushing to bring more U.S. troops to Poland as it warns against what it says is an increasing security threat from an expansionist Russia and the war in Ukraine.

“A soldier has no other means of protest besides taking off the uniform,” Koziej said.