On Friday and Saturday US President Joe Biden will visit a Poland that was once sidelined on the international scene but which is now once again a key Nato ally after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden will kick off his visit not in Warsaw but in the southeastern city of Rzeszów, just 70 kilometres from the Ukrainian border, to meet US troops and attend a briefing on humanitarian help to refugees. On Saturday Biden will meet Polish President Andrzej Duda.
Biden’s visit – his first to Poland and also the first proper meeting with Duda – will focus on "Putin's war of choice" – as the White House press services put it – and is expected to show Nato ready as ever to deter Russia from escalating the conflict. For Poland, it will also underline the country’s newly gained clout in what appears to be a fast rebalancing global security and geopolitical order.
“You can see what the level of Polish-American relations is today, how Poland is an important place on the map for the United States today and how strong and strategic ties also connect us with the United States,” Duda said on March 24 in Brussels after the extraordinary Nato summit.
Duda repeated the message in a televised address to Poles later on the same day, saying that “the presence of the American leader in our country in these trying days is a very important sign corroborating the strategic nature of Polish-American relations.”
Bordering with Russia’s Kaliningrad region, Moscow’s client state Belarus, and war-torn Ukraine, the 38-million strong Poland is the most important country on Nato’s eastern flank.
Poland has the biggest army in the CEE region and is naturally hosting a large presence of Nato troops, a force to be strengthened now that the alliance is on high alert due to the war raging on its borders. A Russian airstrike on a Ukrainian training centre just 25 kilometres from the Polish border – where Nato trained Ukrainian troops – showed that the risk of a direct confrontation remains too close for comfort.
“Between now and the Nato summit in June, we will develop plans for additional forces and capabilities to strengthen Nato’s defences,” Biden said after the Nato summit concluded on March 24. Poland will almost certainly see much of that.
“We should hear from President Joe Biden about the durability of the Polish-American alliance, about the durability of the American presence in Poland, and about the durability of American guarantees for Poland,” Krzysztof Szczerski, Poland’s ambassador to the UN, told the state broadcaster TVP Info.
“[It will be] a clear signal that this is not only potential aid for Poland but real and lasting aid for Poland, a permanent readiness today,” Szczerski added.
Biden’s visit follows a trip to Warsaw by Vice President Kamala Harris two weeks ago and by Secretary of State Antony Blinken a week before that.
Poland’s relations with the US had long been rather thorny under Duda and the rightwing government of Law and Justice (PiS) that he supports.
The US has criticized Poland for targeting the US-owned broadcaster TVN, which is critical of the government, as well as for Warsaw’s feuds with the EU over the rule of law or discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community – tactics similar to ones used by Putin to cement his power in Russia.
But as Russia began concentrating troops along Ukraine’s borders, whatever problems the US had with Poland began moving to the background, as geopolitics took over.
What Biden will not talk about in Poland is also clear. Two of Warsaw’s initiatives to help Ukraine have been rebuffed by the US: an idea to send Kyiv MIG-29 fighter jets via the US military base in Ramstein, Germany, and a proposal to deploy a peacekeeping mission, possibly led by Nato, to give Ukraine on-the-ground support against Russia.