WASHINGTON — As U.S. President Donald Trump heads to Poland for the first time, he will likely receive a warm welcome.
Trump is scheduled to deliver a speech Thursday in Warsaw before heading off to a meeting of the G20 nations in Germany. But while the expectation for Germany is another cold reception from Western powers, the Eastern countries have planned to embrace the U.S. leader.
Local reports claim the government plans to bus in supporters to cheer Trump along, but American presidents have largely received warm receptions in Warsaw, which is well aware that neighbor Russia is always lurking. And if there are any risks for Trump on this trip, it will likely lie in the questions of how vocally he will show support for Poland versus Russia.
Tomasz Szatkowski, Poland’s deputy minister of national defense, called the U.S. the "key partner" for Poland and said he sees no change in that relationship under Trump.
"When you look at the presence of allied forces in Poland, the U.S. is a key ally here. It leads the enhanced forward presence battle group. One armored brigade combat team is rotating through Poland and other countries of the eastern flank, and Poland is becoming the hub for the U.S. presence on the eastern flank," he told Defense News in a June 23 interview.
"We are now looking at how to make it a more long-term project, so that we have good cooperation on the command and control level, on the planning level, possibly even joint formations [with American forces]," Szatkowski added.
Julie Smith, a former European expert with the Pentagon who served as deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden from 2012 to 2013, notes that Trump will likely praise Poland for its commitment to meeting 2 percent GDP spending on defense, a NATO-suggested threshold that has become a flash point between Trump and other NATO nations.
"The big question is whether Trump will seize on the chance to signal transatlantic resolve to the Russians while in Poland or just speak to his base and boast about how he has gotten Poland to spend more on defense," said Smith, director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
Smith also warns that Trump needs to be careful when talking domestic politics. Poland’s ruling party has been accused of stacking the nation’s ruling tribunal, an issue serious enough that other European Union countries have formally lodged complaints.
Polish officials are already positioning themselves as being on the same page as the U.S. president, with Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz reportedly claiminghis government is under attack from the same "liberals, postcommunists, lefties and genderists" that Trump faces at home.
"Poland is not a bright spot in the European project," Smith said. "It's rolling back the democratic reforms we once heralded. In fact, while the U.K. has opted for a formal or hard exit from the EU, it appears Poland is opting for a soft exit. Will Trump acknowledge that? The rest of Europe will be watching."
Ultimately, Smith said, Poland wants one thing from the U.S., and that is more allied forces inside its borders.
Asked whether he thought there were enough allied troops in Poland to deter Russia, Szatkowski indicated he would welcome an increased U.S. presence.
"This is a sufficient presence if we are to send a signal that if something is going on, that would involve allied troops. But this is not sufficient in terms of numerical balance," he said. "There is still an imbalance, a disadvantage, of the NATO alliance on the eastern flank."