News / Europe

    Poland ‘Frontline’ in US Effort on Ukraine

    With an F-16 fighter in the background, U.S. President Barack Obama and Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski (R) shake hands upon Obama's arrival at Chopin Airport in Warsaw, June 3, 2014.
    With an F-16 fighter in the background, U.S. President Barack Obama and Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski (R) shake hands upon Obama's arrival at Chopin Airport in Warsaw, June 3, 2014.
    When U.S. President Barack Obama chose Poland to begin a four-day European trip, he sent a message about the country's importance in the attempt to stand down Russia over Ukraine.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin's threatening moves against Kyiv have cast a shadow over Obama’s visit, rekindling old fears among the new democracies of the former East Bloc.
     
    None of those nations, experts say, comes close to Poland in terms of size, symbolism and geo-political importance.
     
    “It’s a rising power in Europe,” said Nile Gardiner, who directs the Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

    “By its sheer size alone, as the largest post-communist nation in the European Union, Poland carries significant weight. [It's] really the frontline of the NATO alliance, and, together with the Baltic states, a bulwark against Russia,” he said.
     
    Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, and Moscow’s ongoing efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine, Poland’s relevance has only increased.
     
    “For Ukrainian reformers, Poland is the model they wish to emulate,” said Michael Mandelbaum, a scholar at John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
     
    “It’s a neighbor – with cultural affinities and a shared history for at least half of Ukraine’s population – that’s done far better,” he said.
     
    Poland’s influence
     
    The Polish experience of the last quarter century in emerging from communist rule and integrating into the West is blazing a path for its eastern neighbors.
     
    “If Ukraine could go the way of Poland politically and economically – in terms of rule of law and anti-corruption – [Kyiv] would be lucky indeed,” said Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security.
     
    “[It] remains an important country,” he said. “The question about eastern Europe is ‘are these countries net security providers or consumers?’ Poland has contributed significant forces in conflicts where Americans are involved.”
     
    Moreover, the views of Polish experts on regional issues involving Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are “taken very seriously in Washington and often provoke a vigorous exchange with policy makers here, he said.

    Polish and other regional leaders have argued repeatedly that Russia’s annexation of Crimea has upended international law and violated a NATO-Russia post-Cold War agreement in which the western alliance said it would not deploy large numbers of troops in its eastern areas.

    President Obama on Tuesday revealed a $1 billion plan to bolster security in central and eastern Europe in the face of Russian threats through additional U.S. troop deployments, training and equipment. He chose to stand in a military hanger in Warsaw to make that announcement.
     
    "I am starting the visit here because our commitment to Poland's security, as well as the security of our allies in central and eastern Europe, is a cornerstone of our own security.” he said. “It is sacrosanct.''
     
    In April, the United States sent the first of a few hundred troops to Poland as a symbol of that commitment, but it was far short of the 10,000 Poland wants permanently based.

    Mark Snowiss

    Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Popsiq from: Buganda
    June 04, 2014 9:18 PM
    Poland should be a frontline on the Ukraine. This might be their last best chance to get back the territory taken from them by Russia in 1939.

    But it IS part of the Ukraine now - they got it in 1939 and having 'removed' the Poles long ago, they don't feel like giving it back. It isn't at all like the Tatars - it was a 'gift' accepted in good faith, a 'sacred national trust' and not to be dishonored - even if it was the 'fiends of hell' who gave it.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    June 03, 2014 6:29 PM
    WHAT? --- If Poland had 50 divisions of front line troops, (and they're that close to Russia), they wouldn't have a chance in a nuclear war, and their country would be gone in a matter of minutes -- (AND?) -- if the US is training Polish troops, (remember the US with the greatest military force in the history of the world, hasn't won any of the conflicts or wars they fought in since WW2) .... IF Poland is neutral, Russia would point their nuclear missiles at other NATO countries, wouldn't they?

    IF Poland would stay neutral, they'd have nothing to fear from the Russians? -- A neutral Poland would be a security blanket on the Russian western front, that they wouldn't have to defend themselves from? -- "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu?
    In Response

    by: Slawek from: California
    June 04, 2014 12:11 PM
    It is naive to think that neutrality would ever stop Putin from invading neighboring countries. It may be also naive for Piland to hope that US or NATO would come to Poland's help if attacked by Russia. They prefer policy of appeasement - just like with Hitler.

    by: mohsen samii from: portugal
    June 03, 2014 5:59 PM
    No problem for Poland after all they towed the line in the First and Second world Wars and now are again seem to be prepared to lose out yet again the third time around.

    by: Paul
    June 03, 2014 5:37 PM
    Halfway through a 229 billion-euro ($317 billion) EU aid package, more than the entire Marshall Plan for postwar Europe in today’s dollars, the money kept the Polish economy growing when the rest of the continent went into recession. The new business parks, highways, soccer stadiums and airport terminals also mask how for many Poles the passage to prosperity is still to come, with 17 percent of families of four living on less than $400 a month.

    by: Voice-of-Reason from: PA
    June 03, 2014 5:24 PM
    And what will happen to Poland once the US which lives on borrowed money and borrowed time implodes economically and then politically? It is unwise in the extreme to tie your fate to a failed US state, while in Europe which is just as bankrupt as the US, all the "extreme" right parties which are all Russia friendly are rapidly rising in popularity.

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