Trump in Poland: Five reasons why he is going there

By Kevin Ponniah
BBC News

image source, AFP
image captionThe White House expects a friendly reception in Warsaw

Donald Trump is travelling to the German city of Hamburg to attend a gathering of world leaders. But before he arrives, the US president is stopping in Poland, to the delight of its conservative, nationalist government.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who leads the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), has said others in Europe are envious of the visit, mentioning Britain in particular.

Later this month, Mr Trump will also make a presidential visit to France.

So, why Poland first?

1. A warm welcome

US presidents are almost guaranteed a friendly reception in Poland, and this aspect of the trip will appeal to President Trump and make for good pictures at home.

Authorities in Hamburg are expecting up to 100,000 protesters at the G20, and mass demonstrations are also expected in London when he finally makes a long-awaited state visit to the UK.

But in Poland, the White House will be able to breathe easy.

The ruling party will bus in 50 people per parliamentarian, according to the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, guaranteeing a friendly crowd of thousands for President Trump's speech in Warsaw's symbolic Krasinski Square on Thursday. The square is home to a monument commemorating the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis.

Some argue the bussed-in crowds are unnecessary.

"Unless they do something wrong, pretty much every American president is very popular and will get a warm welcome," says Professor Aleks Szczerbiak, an expert on Polish politics at the University of Sussex.

image source, AFP
image captionGeorge W Bush delivered a major foreign policy speech in Warsaw in 2001

2. On the same page

Both Poland's political leaders and Mr Trump see themselves as being at the vanguard of a populist movement against liberal elites who have dominated politics in the West in recent years.

They unashamedly put what they see as the national interest first, be it on climate change or migration, and receive the wrath of many for it.

"Both Kaczynski and Trump perceive themselves as those who can stop this liberal-left political correctness offensive in the world," says Michal Szuldrzynski, a columnist for Rzeczpospolita, an influential centre-right newspaper.

"Paradoxically, the more you criticise Mr Trump and the more you criticise Mr Kaczynski, the more they feel they are right."

Since the PiS came into power in 2015, Poland has taken a confrontational stance within the EU and refused to abide by mandatory refugee resettlement quotas.

Mr Kaczynski once said that migrants travelling to Europe were carrying dangerous diseases.

Reforms made by the government at home have also attracted criticism from human rights groups and led to further conflict with the European Commission, which says the rule of law is at risk.

image source, AFP
image captionPolish leaders, including Jaroslaw Kaczynski (centre), have been accused of putting rule of law in jeopardy

However, while there have been calls for Mr Trump to raise issues related to human rights and democracy on his visit, few expect him to do so.

His address at Krasinski Square will "celebrate Poland's emergence as a European power", US National Security Adviser HR McMaster says.

Essentially, analysts say, it's a win-win for both sides - Mr Trump will give Poland the prestige of a visit that will bolster the government against critics that say it has isolated itself, and he will get a warm reception in a major European country run by a government that shares some of his ideology.

3. Spend (on defence) and you shall receive

The visit also allows Mr Trump to demonstrate that those who meet the Nato military spending target of 2% of gross domestic product will be rewarded. He is expected to praise Poland for being one of a handful of Nato members that do so.

About 900 US troops are currently in Poland as part of wider efforts to soothe the anxieties of Nato members in Eastern Europe fearful of Russia.

image source, AFP
image captionMr Trump told Nato allies to spend more on defence at talks in Brussels in May

Indeed Mr Trump's election caused some worry in Poland given expectations at the time that he could strike a grand bargain with Russian President Vladimir Putin - anathema to the Polish right.

Those fears have been somewhat allayed since then but many in the region are hoping he will re-commit while he is in Warsaw to Nato's Article 5 - the principle that an attack on any ally is an attack on them all.

media captionUS troops are welcomed in Zagan by the Polish PM and locals

4. Snub to the EU?

During his Poland trip, Donald Trump will address the Three Seas Summit, a Polish and Croatian initiative bringing together 12 nations between the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black Sea.

The summit is part of efforts to portray Poland "as a kind of regional leader" outside the Franco-German-dominated EU power structure with which it has clashed, says Prof Szczerbiak.

And by dropping in, Mr Trump will be seen giving his blessing to a project that some EU diplomats eye with suspicion.

"The message is that the US continues to show it's not wedded simply to working with the existing European elites and that it's quite happy" to build ties with governments challenging Brussels on certain issues, Prof Szczerbiak says.

5. It's about the gas

The Polish government is trying to become less energy-dependent on Russia and last month the first ever US liquefied natural gas shipment arrived.

For dealmaker Donald Trump, this is another win-win. Poland and other eastern European countries have a strategic imperative to diversify their energy sources, and the White House wants to sell more US gas overseas.

He will be bringing that message to leaders at the Three Seas Summit.

More on this story