Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday became the first foreign leader to visit President Donald Trump since the coronavirus pandemic led to global lockdowns, and the two leaders said they looked forward to signing a defence cooperation agreement.
Duda’s visit appeared aimed at boosting his re-election campaign – Poland’s nationwide presidential vote is on Sunday. The nationalist Polish leader has emerged as one of Trump’s preferred foreign partners. The two have met one-on-one at least five times.
A defence agreement would send more US troops to Poland, bolstering defence cooperation between the two NATO allies and acting as a further counterweight against Russian aggression.
“I think it sends a strong message to Russia,” Trump told a news conference with Duda in the White House Rose Garden, where he criticised other European countries for buying Russian energy.
Duda said it was an honour to discuss next steps in relations at the White House. “Today, we are entering another stage, namely, there is a possibility of further increase in American troops in our country,” he said.
Trump said he might move US troops from Germany to Poland. The Republican president wants to take thousands of US forces out of Germany because he says the United States bears too much of a financial burden for the deployment and criticises the government in Berlin for buying Russian energy.
“We’re going to be reducing our forces in Germany. Some will be coming home, and some will be going to other places, but Poland would be one of those other places,” Trump said at the news conference.
Unhappy with Germany
“Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars to purchase energy from Russia. And through the pipeline. And I’m saying what’s that all about? You’re spending billions of dollars to Russia, then we’re supposed to defend you from Russia. So I think it’s … very bad,” Trump said.
Washington objects to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would double the amount of gas piped directly from Russia to Germany and reduce the amount piped in Ukraine.
Critics have accused Duda and Trump of calling the visit just before the Polish election in order to improve the right-leaning Duda’s chances of winning, as his lead in opinion polls has dropped in recent weeks.
Duda’s campaign has focused on rallying his conservative base with attacks on what he calls lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender “ideology”, while promising to protect popular social benefit programs for families and pensioners that have transformed life for many poorer Poles.
LGBTQ activists in the US were not happy about Duda’s appearance at the White House.
Among the critics of the meeting was the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ rights advocacy group in Washington, DC, which said the Polish leader’s use of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is “vile, manipulative and dangerous”, and that Trump was showing he is “no friend” to the gay rights community.
According to Polish media reports, the US could offer 2,000 soldiers to Poland, 1,000 more than initially agreed in June 2019. Those additional troops would include the US Army V Corps from Kentucky and F-16s from Germany.
Resistance at home
Trump has met with resistance at home, however, to his plan to remove troops from Germany. A number of Republicans in Congress have argued that the reduction will hamper NATO’s ability to deter Russian aggression.
Earlier this month, a group of more than 20 Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee, including the panel’s chairman, wrote a letter to the White House urging it to reconsider the move. The effort was followed by a second letter earlier this week from a group led by Congressmen Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Adam Kinzinger, an Air Force veteran, expressing the same sentiment.
“This is not the time to take any action that might cause the (Russian President Vladimir) Putin regime to question the credibility of the NATO deterrent or might lead our NATO allies and partners to doubt the US commitment to our collective security,” this week’s letter stated, adding that Russia “has yet to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and its malign activities across the continent have continued unabated”.