The Cable

What Poland Wants From Trump

A commitment to NATO, yes. Interference in domestic politics, no.

polska

U.S. President Donald Trump will travel to Warsaw, Poland this week, just days before he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, Germany for the G-20. The Polish government will likely have a clear message for Trump about Russia.

“The threat that Russia poses cannot be overstated,” Ambassador Piotr Wilczek told reporters at a briefing ahead of Trump’s visit.

The U.S. president’s upcoming meeting with Putin comes in the midst of investigations into the Trump team’s potential ties to Kremlin-backed interference in the 2016 elections. It also comes not long after Trump was criticized for failing to mention Article 5, the alliance’s principle of collective self-defense, at the NATO summit in Brussels in May (but did later in response to a journalist’s question when Romanian President Klaus Iohannis was in Washington, D.C.),

“We would like to hear that every day from the president of the United States,” the ambassador said, when asked whether he wanted to hear Trump specifically commit to NATO’s Article 5.

Though Trump said throughout his campaign that it would be good for the United States to have improved relations with Russia, Warsaw continues to see Moscow as a threat and aggressor.

“What is important for us is NATO deterrence,” Wilczek reiterated, saying he did not know if Trump would mention Russia specifically, but “it’s important to emphasize the role of the NATO alliance, which is important as far as all dangers are concerned.”

Wilczek also underscored Poland’s longstanding cooperation with U.S. military forces.

“For two decades Polish and American armed forces have served shoulder to shoulder in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq,” Wilczek said. “This is because we Poles understand that solidarity is strength.”

Wilczek noted that U.S. and Polish forces are now training in Poland, which “hosts numerous American and other NATO military units on a rotational basis.”

Beyond NATO, Poland is also looking to the United States to help counter the threat of energy dependence on Russia. Poland is starting to import liquefied natural gas from the United States as a way to push back against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which would let northern Europe get its natural gas from Russia — a move championed by the Germans and feared by Poles. Wilczek described the pipeline as “a kind of geopolitical project, not only an economic project.”

Poland is not, however, seeking support from Trump on its domestic politics.

The EU has criticized Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party over the past year for its refusal to take in refugees and for instigating a constitutional court crisis. “Poland is a very important member of the European Union,” Wilczek said, disputing that Trump’s politics would be used by Warsaw to drive a further wedge between it and Brussels.

On the other hand, Warsaw also does not want to be lectured by Washington, or to hear, “a public statement of a big foreign power about our internal affairs,” he said.

On this last point, at least, Poland is almost sure to get what it wants.

Photo credit: Jim Prisching/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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