Biden talks with Poland president to focus on troop deployments

White House says US president will discuss strengthening Nato’s eastern flank with Andrzej Duda today

Joe Biden is holding talks with his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, about the strengthening of Nato’s eastern flank in the face of Russia’s continuing war in Ukraine, the White House said.

Biden met Duda at lunchtime on Tuesday before a speech in the evening outside Warsaw’s Royal Castle, his second address there in less than a year, underlining the increasingly close relationship between the US and Poland as the Ukraine war grinds on.

“The United States needs Poland and Nato as much as Poland and Nato need the United States,” the US president said at the start of the meeting.

“Poland has been a critical player,” the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters on Tuesday morning after Biden and his team arrived back in Poland from their surprise rail trip to Kyiv. “It has been critical to hosting very large numbers of Ukrainian refugees. It has been a critical logistics hub for military assistance going into Ukraine, and it has been a strong voice as part of a unified western effort to try to ensure that there are no cracks, that the west and that the larger coalition of nations holds together strongly for as long as it takes.”

Last year, Biden gave Poland what it had long requested: a permanent US base on its territory, where US forces now number 10,000. Nato established four new battle groups in south-east Europe, doubling its overall force on the alliance’s eastern flank.

Sullivan said that military deployments would be at the top of the agenda in Biden’s talks with Duda, but he did not specify whether that would involve the announcements of further deployments.

“There is the larger question of Nato force posture and the continuing commitment of the US to play a critical role in the defence of the eastern flank allies, including Poland,” Sullivan said. “So the president will have the opportunity to reinforce his fundamental message from last year that he intends to defend every inch of Nato territory and that he will do so not just with rhetoric, but with the kinds of actions where we put in place the necessary capabilities.”

“We are grateful that this visit takes place in our country,” Duda said at the start of his meeting with Biden at Warsaw’s presidential palace. “It’s also an important message to the world that Poland is secure”.

Biden’s visit comes at a time of increasing Polish assertiveness stemming from the Ukraine crisis. The country has publicly vowed to increase its defence spending from 3% of GDP to 4% – the highest proportion in Nato – but government insiders say it will exceed that. Senior ministers believe years of raising the alarm about Russia have been vindicated.

Piotr Gliński, a deputy prime minister, said Warsaw had to pursue a policy of military buildup because “we have a very aggressive enemy” in Russia and “the only argument they understand is the strength of power”. Its key allies in that effort are the US and the UK, and to a lesser extent the Baltic states.

Biden’s visit, Gliński argued, was important because it vindicated “our new policy of being independent” within Nato. He said it showed that the US recognised the importance of the bilateral relationship, reflecting Warsaw’s effort in the war in Ukraine. “They are using us as a hub and respect our position as a partner.”

Polish officials are quick to point out that Biden has now made two significant bilateral visits to Warsaw as president, while his only trip to Germany so far was for the G7 summit in Bavaria last year.

Close relations with the US are, for Poland’s conservative ruling Law and Justice party, an essential alternative to close ties with Germany, criticised by Gliński as having, in effect, appeased Russia before the war. “One of the reasons that this war is now in Ukraine was the bankruptcy of German policy,” the deputy prime minister said.

Although Gliński stressed that Poland needed to have a strong partnership with Germany, Warsaw had to be “not on the level of being dependent” politically or economically – justifying increased defence spending, a government policy that the Polish MP Michał Jach, chair of parliament’s defence committee, said was of only a few that commanded support across the political spectrum.

Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago transformed the relationship between Washington and Warsaw, which had been tense in the first year of Biden’s presidency because of Poland’s democratic backsliding under the Law and Justice party, particularly on the independence of the judiciary and press freedom.

Sullivan said Biden would raise those issues in his talks with Duda, but added that the president raises them “everywhere he goes”, making clear that such considerations are no longer a major hindrance to the bilateral relationship.

With each passing month, the Ukraine war elevates Poland’s position in Washington’s view of Europe. For Biden, Warsaw has become an emotional touchstone, said Daniel Fried, a former US ambassador to Poland.

“You don’t go to Warsaw if you’re trying to back out,” Fried said. “He wants to rally the free world, and other than Ukraine itself, Poland is the right place to do it, because the Poles feel this on their skin. They know what’s at stake. They understand that if Ukraine falls to Russia, a lot of other countries are on the chopping block next, including themselves.”

In visiting Poland, Biden has come to one of the most welcoming places on Earth for him personally, a respite from his poor approval ratings at home. In the Pew Research Center poll last year, 91% of Poles expressed favourable view of the US, up from the 65-75% range over the previous years. In the same survey, 82% of Poles expressed confidence in Biden to do the right thing regarding world affairs. In another poll, conducted by the Polish group CBOS in July 2022, Biden was ranked the second most trusted world leader, with a score of 74%, behind only Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s 86%.

Western munitions stream across the Polish border to Ukraine as the fight heads towards its second year, while members of Kyiv’s military are being trained to use Leopard 2 tanks in the country. It remains a surprise that Russia has not sought to cut supply lines from the west, which some experts believe may be a focus for Moscow in the future.

But senior figures play down the idea of supplying Ukraine with Polish F-16 jets, amid private concern about the difficulty of training pilots and providing ground crews. “We should support Ukraine with everything that is possible, but together as Nato,” Gliński said, repeating a line used by Warsaw for some weeks.


Julian Borger and Dan Sabbagh in Warsaw

The GuardianTramp

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