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 lion’s share of Ukraine’s estimated 3.6 million refugees.
The scale of Poland’s refugee undertaking cannot be overstated. More than 2.1 million have crossed into the country since Russia’s invasion, part of the fastest exodus of refugees this century. Poland’s citizens have responded with kindness, taking the refugees into 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.
Though accusations of double standards abound, Michal Baranowski, the 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. 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,” Baranowski told me.
Poland’s problems with the European Union—its far-right tilt against LBGT 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 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 says, 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.
Source: Foreign Policy
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