Polish President Andrzej Duda and President Biden at a NATO summit in Brussels last June. (Photo by François Walschaerts/ Pool /AFP via Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – During his planned visit to Poland on Friday, President Joe Biden will get a firsthand look at the NATO ally most significantly impacted by President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
Poland is now the focus of Moscow’s fury as it presses for tougher action against Russia.
Both literally and figuratively on the frontline of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Poland is proposing a peacekeeping mission in the neighboring country, has called for a total E.U. ban on trade with Russia, and wants NATO to station troops permanently on its territory.
Poland has taken in more than 2.4 million of the total 3.6 million Ukrainians who have fled their country since the invasion began on February 24, according to U.N. figures.
Russian missiles on March 13 hit a Ukrainian training base less than 15 miles from the border with Poland, killing 35 Ukrainian soldiers.
Amid a deepening chill in relations with Russia, the Polish government on Wednesday ordered the expulsion from the Russian Embassy in Warsaw of what Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski called “45 Russian spies posing as diplomats.”
Russian Ambassador Sergey Andreyev, who is not himself among those ordered to leave, warned that relations were in danger of a complete breach. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov promised that Poland’s “actions will not be left unanswered,” and described relations between the two countries – Warsaw Pact allies during the Cold War – as being in “freefall.”
On Monday, former Russian president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev – deputy head of Russia’s Security Council – posted on social media a strong-worded commentary describing Poland as a “community of political imbeciles” and “vassals” of Washington.
Polish foreign ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina told reporters that tolerating the kind of “illegal activity” being carried out by the Russian embassy officials “would create a particular threat to the security of Poland, but also to our allies in NATO and the E.U.”
“Russia is our neighbor, and it will not disappear from the map of Europe, but its aggression against Ukraine shows that it is an unfriendly state, and even one that is hostile to Poland,” Jasina said.
There can be no return to “business as usual” with Putin’s Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said during a meeting with his Swedish counterpart Ann Linde on Tuesday.
Rau said he and Linde had agreed on the need for further sanctions against Russia, including against its energy sector, and on providing further military, financial, and political support to Ukraine.
Polish President Andrzej Duda. (Photo by Marty Melville/AFP via Getty Images)
Biden’s program for Friday’s visit includes a meeting with President Andrzej Duda and interactions with U.S. troops. Biden will also deliver a speech and meet with experts involved in a humanitarian response to the crisis.
“Poland is where the United States has surged a significant number of forces to be able to help defend and shore up the eastern flank,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters in a pre-trip briefing, when asked why Poland was added to the itinerary.
“Poland has to contend not just with the war in Ukraine but with Russia’s military deployments to Belarus, which have fundamentally changed the security equation there.”
As Air Force One headed to Europe, principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Biden would thank Duda “for everything the people of Poland are doing” and announce “further American contributions to respond to the growing flow of refugees.”
At an extraordinary NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday, Duda plans to put forward a proposal for a peacekeeping operation in Ukraine. Polish officials have suggested this could include NATO members but not necessarily be under the aegis of the alliance.
‘Defensive, permanent (NATO troop) presence’
Duda called this week for a new NATO strategic concept in the light of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, allowing for a “defensive, permanent presence” of NATO forces on Polish soil.
Russia frequently invokes the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act in arguing that the alliance pledged not to permanently station troops in the eastern flank countries that were on track to join. (Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were admitted two years later.)
But Duda said that Russia had effectively killed the Founding Act.
“The NATO-Russia Act no longer exists. Russia has shown that it does not feel bound by it,” he said during a visit to Romania. “NATO should also stop mentioning this 1997 act, its provisions and any obligations for NATO that resulted from it.”
“There are no such commitments,” Duda said. “Today there is a commitment of NATO to defend the free world against Russia.”
Specifically, the 1997 document states, “NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.”
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg last week implied that the provisions of the Founding Act no longer apply as NATO moves towards having “substantially more forces in the eastern part of the alliance.”
Pointing to its reference to “the current and foreseeable security environment,” Stoltenberg said that the security environment in 2022 is “totally different.”
In 1997, NATO anticipated Russia would be “a strategic partner,” he said. “Since then Russia has invaded Georgia, illegally annexed Crimea, and now also invaded Ukraine. So we will do what is necessary, and the NATO-Russia Founding Act is not something that will create problems or hindrance for NATO to make the necessary decisions.”
On the eve of Thursday’s summit, Stoltenberg reiterated the view that “Russia has walked away from the NATO-Russia Founding Act. They have violated it again and again.”
He also outlined plans for NATO to double the number of multinational battlegroups along the eastern flank, adding one each in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary. There are currently battlegroups in Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
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