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Once a Pariah, Poland Becomes Indispensable

Poland has become a crucial conduit for weapons and aid to Ukraine and the primary destination for refugees.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Women and children pass through Medyka border crossing.
Women and children pass through Medyka border crossing.
People, mainly women and children, pass through Medyka border crossing on their journey from war-torn Ukraine in Medyka, Poland, on March 24. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Poland, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s coming no-confidence vote, and more news worth following from around the world.

Reader note: Morning Brief will not publish on Monday, March 28, and will return on Tuesday, March 29.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Poland, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s coming no-confidence vote, and more news worth following from around the world.

Reader note: Morning Brief will not publish on Monday, March 28, and will return on Tuesday, March 29.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Biden Heads to Poland

U.S. President Joe Biden visits Polish President Andrzej Duda on Saturday to pay tribute to a country that has become central to the West’s response to the war in Ukraine.

The war next door has transformed Poland from an EU pariah into an indispensable partner as its proximity enables humanitarian and military aid flows into Ukraine and as it accepts the lions share of Ukraine’s estimated 3.7 million refugees.

The scale of Poland’s refugee undertaking cannot be overstated. More than 2.1 million people have crossed into the country since Russia’s invasion, part of the fastest exodus of refugees in this century. Poland’s citizens have responded with kindness, taking the refugees into their homes and driving from all over the country to pick up fresh arrivals from the border. Poland’s government, usually hostile to migrants, has waived visa entry requirements for those fleeing the war.

The warm welcome has been met with charges of hypocrisy, contrasting it with the cold shoulder—and violent pushback—Poland gave Iraqis, Afghans, and Syrians after Belarus cynically trafficked them to the border last year. It has since begun the construction of a $388 million border fence—ostensibly to deter those it deems migrants rather than refugees.

Although accusations of double standards abound, Michal Baranowski, director of the Warsaw office at the German Marshall Fund, has a more generous interpretation, putting the difference down to a mixture of geography and history as well as the fact that the response has been led by ordinary Poles and civil society rather than the government alone. “It’s a war next door,” Baranowski said. “And on top of that, it’s the Russians who are causing this suffering. In the end, these people are being killed by our enemies.”

Poland’s problems with the European Union—its far-right tilt against LBGTQ and women’s rights as well as the politicization of its judiciary—have been forgotten for now as security concerns come to the fore. “No one wants to talk about it,” Baranowski said. “It’s not a subject that comes up, but it’s not being solved.”

So with Poland’s newfound status as the Western darling, how will Duda use his leverage when he meets with Biden on Saturday? Expect Duda to once again push Biden to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, Baranowski said, while also calling for Washington’s assistance in covering the costs of hosting 2.1 million people in need.

That more hawkish position would likely mean more NATO troops and equipment in Poland and nearby NATO countries. In considering Duda’s pleas, Biden will need to weigh the need to reassure those U.S. allies with the risks of antagonizing Russia.

More on the war in Ukraine:

•Andrzej Bobinski and Wojciech Szacki highlight the war’s impact on Poland’s domestic politics in this German Marshall Fund blog.

•FP’s Colum Lynch explores the legal challenges behind prosecuting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

•FP’s Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer report on Ukrainian counterattacks.

•Also in FP, Michal Kranz delivers a view from the ground in Lviv, Ukraine.


What We’re Following Today

Khan under pressure. Pakistani lawmakers will begin deciding the future of Prime Minister Imran Khan today as they consider a no-confidence motion put forward by an opposition alliance. The final vote is not expected for several days, and Khan is planning a mass rally in Islamabad on Sunday as he attempts to woo party defectors back to his side. FP’s Michael Kugelman explores Khan’s challenge in-depth in the latest FP South Asia Brief. 

Von der Leyen hosts Biden. Biden meets with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen today in Brussels. The two leaders are expected to continue discussions on European energy, including increasing deliveries of U.S. gas. On Thursday, von der Leyen rejected Russia’s move to demand energy payments in rubles, saying the new measure constituted a breach of contract.

Jaishankar meets Wang. Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar hosts his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in New Delhi today. Wang is currently on a tour of the region, visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan, and goes to Nepal next for a three-day visit.

Global climate strike. A worldwide climate strike organized by activist Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future initiative takes place today, with young people around the globe expected to stage school walkouts to protest inaction on climate change. More than 6 million people joined a similar strike in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic hampered mass gatherings.


Keep an Eye On

Malta’s elections. Malta holds parliamentary elections on Saturday, with the European Union’s least populous country expected to return the incumbent Labour Party to power in a landslide victory, according to recent polls. The election is in part a referendum on the leadership of Prime Minister Robert Abela, who replaced predecessor Joseph Muscat after the former prime minister’s associates were linked to the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Blinken goes east. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken begins a five-day Middle East and North Africa tour starting Saturday. Blinken is scheduled to visit Israel, the West Bank, Algeria, and Morocco. Blinken may meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan on his travels, as the two are expected to be in Ramallah, West Bank, on the same day.


FP Live

On Monday, March 28, at 12 p.m. join FP executive editor Amelia Lester, former Afghan ambassador to the United States Roya Rahmani, and Xanthe Scharff of the Fuller Project to explore the role of women in war, how women are disproportionately impacted by crises, and the main challenges ahead when it comes to gender equity. Register for the livestream here.


Odds and Ends

Russian diplomats stationed at Moscows embassy in Washington will be unable to take a break from the war in Ukraine and scroll through their phones without being urged to leak information, thanks to a new tactic employed by the FBI.

The agency has rolled out location-targeted ads for the area in and around Russia’s embassy that play off Putin’s exasperated demand for his foreign intelligence chief to “speak plainly” during a tense meeting before Russia’s invasion. “Speak plainly. … We are ready to listen,” the ad reads, along with a line encouraging a visit to the local field office.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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