What can Poland expect from Trump?

What does President Donald Trump’s visit mean for Poland, perhaps also in the context of the Three Sea Initiative? Read few comments.

Piotr Buras, Head of European Council on Foreign Relations Warsaw Office

The shared interests of Donald Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda – the two main protagonists of this week’s meeting in Warsaw – are easy to define: both need foreign policy successes to help them out of their domestic quagmires.

But the importance of Trump’s visit in Warsaw goes far beyond the photo shooting session. For Poland’s government, it is a test of its rising aspirations as leader of the Three Seas Initiative. It will show to what extent the regional cooperation’s common interests prevail over its persisting political divisions.

Poland, together with Croatia, is the main driver of the initiative, and for good reasons. Energy plays a central role in Warsaw’s calculations. It not only strives for full gas independence from Russia, but wants to become an energy hub in Central and Eastern Europe itself, providing for real gas diversification in the region. Poland already has a fully operational LNG terminal in Swinoujscie, whose capacity it is planning to increase (now: 5 bcm), and wants to build the Baltic Pipe to connect Poland (through Denmark) with the Norwegian Gas fields. The expectations for the latter are high, with the Polish pipeline operator Gas System expecting Poland to be able to distribute up to 70 bcm in the region.

Yet, there are two main obstacles in its way. First, should Nord Stream II (capacity: 55 bcm) be realised, Central Europe would be flooded with Russian gas and Germany take up the role of the hub. Poland’s costly investments into energy diversification would be wasted. While it is still not clear whether Nord Stream II will actually happen, with crucial legal and political questions still open, ‘the Three Seas Initiative is a response to Nord Stream II’ in the eyes of a high-level Polish diplomat. Second, Poland’s plans need huge investments into pipelines and LNG terminals – and this is where Trump’s visit comes in.

The first shipment of American LNG to Poland in June was welcomed as a harbinger of future cooperation, with hopes about US-investments in support of the TSI running high. The nexus between energy, infrastructure and security is obvious and strong: having the U.S. as stakeholders of the region’s prosperity is as important to Warsaw as the American brigade that was deployed to the country this year. The question that remains open however is whether Trump is both willing and able to provide such support.

Wojciech Przybylski, Editor In Chief, Visegrad Insight, Chairman, Res Publica Nowa 

Trump’s visit is expected to strengthen the position of President Duda in Polish politics. It’s his major success and one of few political achievements of the last years. Three Seas Initiative is another name for energy and infrastructure north-south corridors in Central Europe. It compliments V4 governments’ plans but from a side of the office of the President and American visit at the TSI Summit puts the initiative in the spotlight.

However, that comes at a price. Trump’s visit is double edged sword. First, it’s an honor for Poland to host an American president along with leaders of the region, following such meetings in Warsaw with President Komorowski, Obama and CEE heads of state in previous years. Second, Trump comments on international affairs have been most divisive, offensive and chauvinist bringing more damage than good. No matter how well the US Administration prepares him he is a loose cannon and can bring more damage than good to European affairs. It’s also worth noticing that 73% of Poles have favorable views of the USA overall while only 23% show confidence in Trump’s foreign policy and 57% show no confidence (Pew June 2017).

Artur GruszczakNational Security Department, Jagiellonian University in Krakow

President Trump’s visit to Poland is an important event for both Poland and the EU as an international organisation Poland has belonged to and benefited greatly from its membership. This is a more European than domestic event, given that it coincides with the summit meeting of the Three Sea Initiative and the US president will meet in Warsaw with the leaders of 12 Central European countries.

As to US-Polish relations, Trump’s visit confirms ‘visibility’ of Poland in US foreign relations more as an independent actor than as a ‘useful ally’ as it was treated by the former administrations of Bush and Obama. Poland’s diplomatic and military contribution to the US-led interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq was remarkable but undervalued by US authorities. Moreover, potential benefits for Poland’s international position and national security  coming from unconditional support for the American global strategy, particularly war on terrorism, did not materialize. This was the case of missile defence, containment of Russia’s neo-imperialist resurgence or reinforcement of NATO’s presence. Or – in more practical / financial terms – the F-16 offset programme, pariticipation in Iraq rebuilding contracts or even visa waiver programme for Polish nationals.

Trump’s arrival has been hailed by the Polish government as well as pro-government conservative and nationalist media (one of the most servile outlets, a political weekly W Sieci, titled an article on Trump „Our Donald”). The current ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) and its followers  sympathised with Trump already during the electoral campaign. Following the election of the 45th president of the United States, the enthusiastic attitude was strengthened regardless of the new administration’s alleged connections with the Kremlin and reluctant approach to NATO.

This results from numerous similarities between the Trump administration and  Kaczyński-led Law and Justice party dominating in Poland’s politics and society. Both are nationalistic, anti-immigrant, anti-liberal (in European meaning of this word), Euro-skeptical and distrustful of Russia. However, Trump is the leader of the global power while Kaczyński is at the head of a middle European country, increasingly marginalised in the EU and aspiring to lead a resurgent ‘Intermarium’ geopolitical project in Europe.

Most probably, the talks will concentrate on political, security and economic issues. As to political aspects, Polish authorities are fond of lenient approach of the US administration towards the changes introduced following the 2015 elections and the tryumph of PiS. While Obama during his visit in 2016 slammed PiS for illiberal direction of political and legal reforms, the Trump administration has seen no problem with the Polish democracy. The voice of the opposition to the current rule will probably perish in the official propaganda of strategic Polish-US partnership. When it comes to security, Poland is one of the few NATO members spending the required 2 percent of its GDP on defence – avoiding thus a harsh critique from the Trump administration. The Polish government is satisfied with the US military presence as part of NATO ‘spearhead’ forces on the Eastern flank. Moreover, it also has presented itself as an attractive customer of US military industry, announcing a long-term modernization programme assuming massive purchase of military equipment. Previous decisions of purchasing Boeing aircrafts for the government or – more importantly – cancelling the multi-billion-euro contract with Aribus for the delivery of 50 Caracal helicopters and unanimously preferring in future contracts US products (Lockheed’s Black Hawks) show that US military equipment will get clear preference. Following economic aspects, Poland has been strongly interested in diversification of energy supplies, concluding expensive contracts with Qatar for LNG deliveries. US liquid gas is more attractive for Polish domestic distributors, likewise for US companies grappling with overproduction Poland seems to be a relatively large and prospective market.

The Polish authorities highlight the relevance of Trump’s bilateral talks but also see a strong  American support for the Three Seas Initiative (TSI) and Polish role in that. It seems that both  concur in seeing TSI as a sort of alternative to the EU going to be revamped under the restored German-French leadership. Certainly, TSI so far has taken a marginal role in the cooperation processes undergoing in the Old Continent, nevertheless both Poland and the US will underscore its allegiance to traditional values and classical geopolitical projects of a non-Western European space ‘between the seas’.

In conclusion, Trump’s visit is a part of his administration’s strategy of debilitating EU-led integration institutions and processes by enhancing support for Euro-skeptical anti-immigration governments, such as in Poland, and offering new economic and trade opportunities.​

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