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Thursday, May 26, 2022

A trip for the history books

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Poland is in America intoxication. The historical models by which the media measure the two-day visit of Joe Biden are, first of all, the appearance of John F. Kennedy in the closed western part of Berlin in 1963, two years after the construction of the Wall, with the phrase “I am a Berliner” understood as a promise of protection.

And, secondly, Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987 with the prophetic demand: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Two years later the wall fell.

On Saturday, Biden will deliver a historic speech in the inner courtyard of the Warsaw City Palace. Outdoors, like its famous predecessors, Poland’s newspapers and TV stations, citing the White House, put citizens in the right frame of mind.

Compared to the Cold War, the border between east and west has moved 600 kilometers to the east, “but the challenge is the same”, writes “Rzeczpospolita”.

Pathos, support, invocation of freedom and democracy.

There will be no lack of pathos, will for freedom and promises of support in Biden’s speech. It is said to be about the “united front that forms the free world in support of the Ukrainian people”, the determination to “hold Russia accountable for the brutal war” and “defend a future based on democratic principles”.

Poland awaits a moment for the history books from Biden’s speech in Warsaw on Saturday, similar to that of John F. Kennedy in 1963 in…Photo: picture alliance/Heinz-Jürgen Göttert/d

Poland sees itself as the center of active aid to Ukraine. No other country has taken in more refugees. More weapons for the Ukrainian resistance are smuggled through no other neighboring states, in ways that are not publicly known, so as not to provoke Russian attacks.

According to this reading, the visit to Poland represents the very essence of the American president’s trip to Europe. The first two days in Brussels at the overlapping NATO, G7 and EU summits were the institutionally inevitable but abstract part.

They discussed how to proceed and declared Russia’s use of nuclear weapons or chemical warfare agents a “red line,” followed by even tougher sanctions. And Biden promised to supply Europe with more liquefied natural gas to replace Russian natural gas and take in 100,000 war refugees.

In Poland, Biden comes close to touching the war

In Poland, Biden is close to touching on the war in Ukraine and its aftermath. On Friday afternoon, he and Polish President Andrzej Duda visited a reception center for war refugees in Rzeszow, a city of 183,000, a university and an airport for Air Force One aircraft, 90 kilometers from the border with Ukraine.

Poland has taken in 2.2 million refugees so far, nearly ten times more than Germany, which has more than twice the population and six times the economic power.

More about the Ukrainian war on Tagesspiegel Plus:

But before Biden and Duda can praise the aid, the program must be changed. The Polish presidential plane has technical problems, must make an emergency landing and return to Warsaw. Duda then flies back in the direction of Rzeszow with a replacement plane. This is how Biden’s visit to US troops is brought forward.

Only then do they turn to the Polish refugees and their helpers. Citizens hosting Ukrainians in their private homes and civil society initiatives bear the brunt of aid.

In praise of aid to refugees, with government and opposition representatives

On Saturday, Biden will once again highlight this generous support. Accompanied by Duda and the mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, who was the opposition presidential candidate against Duda, the US president wants to meet the refugees at the National Stadium.

They are queuing for a “Pesel”: the personal identification number common in Poland, which gives them the same access to health care, social services and places for their children in kindergartens and schools as Polish citizens.

[Alle aktuellen Nachrichten zum russischen Angriff auf die Ukraine bekommen Sie mit der Tagesspiegel-App live auf ihr Handy. Hier für Apple- und Android-Geräte herunterladen.]

A date between Biden’s arrival in Rzeszow and the speech in Warsaw is particularly important for the guest and the hosts. A visit to US troops in the host country is a must on any presidential trip.

Poland wants a sign to get out of this. The US 82nd Airborne Division in the Eastern Subcarpathians is one of a number of units with which NATO has increased protection of the eastern flank from the Baltic States in the north to Romania in the southeast in the weeks since the start of the war: for 40,000 men. A quarter of this comes from Poland.

Hope for two US divisions as a permanent military presence

In Warsaw, this reinforcement is expected to last and be further extended. At the Madrid summit in June, the alliance should lift the voluntary self-control that was imposed when the NATO-Russia Founding Act was signed in 1997, demands the head of the National Security Office, Pawel Soloch. He belongs to the presidential office of Duda.

At the time, NATO declared, in order to accommodate Russia in the spirit of the expected new partnership, that it did not plan to permanently station large contingents of troops in the eastern member states. Nor will they install any major infrastructure there, such as regional headquarters, provided, of course, the security situation does not change.

But that has now fundamentally changed, says Soloch. Russia had withdrawn the basis of the declaration of intent with the attack on Ukraine.

The opposition argues similarly. “This is a good time to increase the US contingent in Poland to 30,000 troops, expand air defenses and establish permanent military bases and warehouses for heavy weapons,” says Tomasz Siemoniak, defense minister until the national-populist PiS won the election. from 2015.

“That corresponds to the traditional Polish desire for two divisions.” They are the upper limit in the parking contract with the US.

The relationship between the presidents is tense, Duda courted Trump

The war has drastically changed the political lines of the conflict. This can be seen in the way Biden and Duda treat each other. Their relationship is strained. Duda maintained good relations with his predecessor Donald Trump.

Biden warned the PiS of serious consequences if it emulated Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and destroyed pillars of democracy, such as press freedom and the independence of the judiciary. And now, in a speech in Warsaw of all places, Biden wants to invoke a future that is rooted in the principles of democracy?

Suddenly Allies: Joe Biden has a strained relationship with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda. He used to court Donald…Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/REUTERS

The White House explains Biden’s close alliance with Duda with three factors. Poland’s hospitality to war refugees and support in arms aid to Ukraine are important.

And President Duda opposed PiS in two central conflicts. With his veto, he prevented the PiS from withdrawing the transmission license of the opposition station “tvn 24”. The majority shareholder is the American company Discovery. And Duda has promised the dissolution of the controversial disciplinary chamber of judges.

Limits of US solidarity with Poland

At the same time, Biden places limits on solidarity with Poland. He does not respond to Warsaw’s demand that NATO send peacekeeping troops to Ukraine if Russia uses chemical warfare agents.

He had previously refused to help Poland deliver MiG fighter jets to Ukraine. The Ukrainian Air Force is trained on these machines. Poland continually switches to US planes and may give up MiGs. But when Putin threatened to attack such arms aid, Warsaw did not want to take the risk and suggested transferring the machines to the US base in Ramstein, Germany. From there they could fly to Ukraine.

According to Polish calculations, Putin would not dare attack a US base in Germany. Biden refused. He does not want to risk direct conflict with Russian forces. Because it could turn into a world war.

The Polish yearning for pathos, the enchantment of freedom and brotherhood in arms with the US also reached their practical limits.

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