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Biden’s visit to Poland shows its importance in the fight for Ukraine


BRUSSELS — President Biden is in the midst of his 10th foreign trip since taking office, making a surprise stop in Ukraine before a two-day visit to Poland.

This is a return visit to Warsaw for Biden — his second trip to Poland in just 11 months — while he has yet to pop up to Canada as president.

The timing and staging of Biden’s visit highlight how a year of war has transformed Poland’s place in the world, recasting its relationship with the United States and its role in Europe.

As a presidential candidate, Biden cited Poland as a country at risk of succumbing to “the rise of totalitarian regimes.” This week, he is touting the country’s role in a coalition backing Ukraine against authoritarian Russia.

Poland embraces West amid Ukraine crisis after years of drifting away

Before the war, Poland made headlines for its standoff with the European Union. Now, it is a go-to pit stop for foreign leaders and officials — not to mention weapons and ammunition — on route to Ukraine via train.

Though Poland’s conflict with Europe is certainly still simmering, the country’s role as a bridge between Ukraine, Europe and the rest of the world has largely shifted the conversation — at least for now.

“The last year has seen a tremendous change in the way Poland is viewed,” said Michal Baranowski, managing director of Warsaw-based GMF East, part of the German Marshall Fund. “In Europe, but especially in the transatlantic alliance.”

In Warsaw this week, the U.S. president is expected to thank Poland for what it has done so far, including welcoming a historic influx of Ukrainian refugees and hosting additional U.S. troops.

“President Biden will thank President Duda and … the Polish people for the $3.8 billion in military and humanitarian assistance that they have provided to Ukraine over the past year,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday.

Poland builds a border wall, even as it welcomes Ukrainian refugees

“The two leaders will discuss Poland’s important logistical role as well,” Kirby continued, “Helping the U.S. facilitate deliveries of military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, from not only the United States, from our allies and partners.”

Poland has become a major hub for the delivery of aid to Ukraine, while at the same time embarking on a spending spree for its own armed forces.

In doing so, it has to a large extent turned to the United States for its new arms deals. Earlier this month, Washington gave the green light for Poland to buy $10 billion more in military equipment, including High Mobility Artillery Rockets Systems, or HIMARS.

Biden on Wednesday is scheduled to gather with leaders of the Bucharest Nine, a group that includes Poland and eight other central and eastern European states, according to the White House.

Poland is pleased to play host. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called Biden’s second visit this year “a recognition of our efforts” and expressed gratitude for U.S. leadership on Ukraine.

Top E.U. court says bloc can withhold billions of euros from Hungary and Poland for violating rule of law

The chummy tone comes after several years of tension between Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party and both Washington and Brussels.

Poland’s leaders forged ties with former president Donald Trump, but Biden struck a cooler tone. In 2020, as a presidential candidate, he criticized the creation of “LGBT-free zones” in Poland, saying such policies have “no place in the European Union or anywhere in the world.” The same year, he cited Poland alongside Belarus as examples of places where democracy was under threat.

In 2021, Warsaw angered Washington with plans for a media law that seemed to target a major broadcaster, TVN, which is owned by a U.S. firm. Many U.S. and E.U. officials saw the law as a threat to press freedom. (In the end, Duda vetoed the legislation, allowing Discovery to keep its majority share.)

In the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, however, the tone changed and when Biden visited last March, he called Duda a “brother” and stressed common ground.

The relationship between Warsaw and Brussels is even more complicated. For years, Poland has been locked in an acrimonious dispute with the E.U. over human rights and the rule of law.

Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s Law and Justice party has remade the process of appointing, promoting and disciplining judges, drawing ire from the E.U. Poland’s leaders are still wrangling with Brussels over about 35 billion euros ($37 billion) in pandemic recovery funds withheld over rule of law concerns.

E.U. proposes cutting funds to Hungary for rule-of-law breaches

There have been signs of progress; Poland’s parliament has passed legislation aimed at unblocking the funds. But last week, the European Commission said it would refer Poland to the E.U. Court of Justice over rulings from the country’s Constitutional Tribunal it believes undermine E.U. law — a sign that conflict will continue, though perhaps at a slower boil.

Western leaders and officials now appear more focused on praising Polish leadership than calling the country out. Pain points endure, said Baranowski, but he would be “shocked if President Biden said, ‘Poland really needs to fix its relations with Brussels and get its act together with its judiciary.’”

With war raging, he added, leaders see “bigger fish to fry.”

Loveday Morris in Berlin and Beatriz Ríos in Brussels contributed to this report.

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.