Written by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront
While Donald Trump’s much-awaited visit to Poland in order to meet with Poland’s president Andrzej Duda has been cancelled on account of hurricanes and other domestic emergencies, the substantive aspect planned for that trip appears to have been the subject of an exceedingly brief, 30-45 minute meeting at the Trump Tower (!) in New York City. The meeting’s brevity suggests most of the points in the declaration were coordinated beforehand at working group level, then forwarded for signature to the respective heads of state. The declaration commits both countries to expanding military cooperation and enlarging US permanent military presence in Poland, but not to the point of stationing even a single combat-ready Brigade Combat Team (BCT) in the country, although the declaration does note the two sides will work toward the goal of eventual basing of one armored BCT in Poland.
In the meantime, the expanded US military presence in Poland will amount to a UAV squadron, most likely armed with Reaper drones, a forward-deployed divisional headquarters in Poznan, basing arrangements for a tactical fighter wing and associated support units, expanded joint training arrangements at the Drawsko-Pomorskie base, as well as a special operations facility in Lubliniec, the home to Poland’s special operations establishment. It is not clear whether there are any confidential aspects to the agreement, nevertheless, it is evident both United States and the current Polish government seek to turn Poland into a US “Trojan horse” in the midst of the European Union.
The cordon sanitaire aspect of the US efforts also consists of establishing a loose alliance of countries in Central Europe that would be closely bound to the United States and isolated from Russia and China. Hence the US support for the Three Seas Initiative and associated alternative network of gas pipelines into Central Europe that would compete with North Stream 2 and Turkish Stream.
“What have the Americans ever done for us?”
At the same, the heavy-handed US tactics should not obscure the Polish government’s willing participation in this project of subjugation to US interests. In descending order of importance, Poland’s current rulers are pursuing three objectives: preserve oneself in power during upcoming elections; elevate Poland’s status within the EU; help expand Poland’s power into Ukraine and Belarus. Dealing with the “Russian threat” is not a genuine Polish concern—if it were, one might actually see an effort to modernize Poland’s military and ensure its combat readiness, whereas the opposite had actually taken place in the last several years. All three of these objectives are facilitated by the appearance of US favor toward Poland.
Trump’s coddling of Duda is being used as part of the ruling Law and Justice Party election campaign in order to legitimize that party’s claim to being the main force in Poland’s politics, with the opposition parties being unable to muster much of an opposition. The most they can do is complain Duda is not doing enough to bring US troops to Poland, which is a weak claim considering the liberal parties have achieved far less. Deference to the United States is so deeply ingrained in Polands’ political culture that few politicians dare question US motives. Moreover, by embracing Trump and US bases the ruling party was able to very effectively counter the liberal opposition’s idiotic knee-jerk claim that somehow Duda and party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski are doing things “Putin would want”. The expanded US military presence in turn allows the ruling party to play the “Russia card” against the opposition, without the opposition being able to respond in kind.
Polexit by Stealth
Should an armored BCT be permanently moved from its cozy German base to a rather less cozy Polish one, it would also mean Warsaw has gained Washington’s favor while Berlin has lost it. It would give Poland a bit of extra clout in its dealings with Germany and France, particularly when it comes to the inevitably divisive negotiations on how to divide the post-Brexit EU financial pie. European Union has been signaling the era of massive subsidies for the post-Communist Eastern European countries is about to come to an end. Poland, being by far the biggest EU welfare sponge of them all, stands to lose the most. And if EU cannot be persuaded to continue the subsidies, perhaps Germany could be induced to throw money at Poland under the guise of World War 2 reparations (an issue which not coincidentally was revived in Poland just as the news of EU funding cuts broke), in order to preserve Poland as an EU member in good standing.
Unfortunately for Germany (and also Poland), de-facto Polexit is exactly what Washington has in mind for Poland and other countries of Eastern Europe, most notably Romania. The unstated aim is to build a new cordon sanitaire separating the European Union from the Eurasian great powers in order to prevent the EU from developing economic, political, and military independence from the United States, and to isolate Russia and China from its trading partners in Europe.
The Price Tag
The importance of Washington’s support for Duda, Kaczynski, and the ruling party is underscored by Poland’s willingness to completely fund the expanded US military presence in Poland, even at the expense of its own military modernization. Polish media outlets have quoted a wide range of figures between several hundred million dollars and even a few billion dollars, and that does not even include the US weaponry the Polish military is buying, such as the HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, Patriot surface to air missile batteries, and possibly even F-35 fighters. The latter move was a spur-of-the-moment decision made by the ruling party after two MiG-29 fighter crashes caused by the lack of proper maintenance due to the unwillingness to ask Russian firms for help. Panicked, lest the opposition exploit the neglect of the military for political purposes, the ruling party simply announced it will buy about two squadrons of F-35s, without a competition or even price negotiations. Should the sale of the F-35s proceed, it will all but drain Poland’s meager military procurement budget which is already insufficient to carry out a modernization.
But from the political perspective the F-35 buy and the bases are well worth the cost. The ruling party gets a de-facto “get out of jail free” card which will allow it to flaunt democratic norms in the future without so much as a furrowed brow in Washington. Had it not committed itself to costly arms purchases or the hosting of US forces, it is rather likely Poland’s government would have found itself under withering criticism from Washington which the opposition liberal parties would instantly embrace as proof of Law and Justice’s unfitness for power. Whether Poland will benefit from US political patronage in the internal EU power struggles remains to be seen, though the likelihood of that is rather low. United States is at the moment more interested in bending Germany to its will through the threats of sanctions on North Stream 2 and undermining its prestige by withdrawing or threatening to withdraw US forces than actually helping Poland. Tellingly, no progress was made on the one issue of interest to the average Polish citizen, namely the question of visa-free travel to the United States. Like his predecessors, Duda had to content himself with promises this issue remains a “priority.”
Prelude to Ukrainian Endgame?
The expansion of US military infrastructure and actual military presence in Poland may be a sign that the United States is nearing its endgame in Ukraine and is no longer considering that country as the easternmost member of its anti-Russia and anti-China cordon sanitaire. That does not mean the US economic warfare against Russia will suddenly come to an end, or that training missions to Yavorov will cease. But it does seem to suggest Ukraine is no longer considered the future lynchpin of US strategy in Central Europe in the way it was only a few years ago. Instead, Poland is occupying that niche, though at great cost to its treasury and political institutions.
Your Move, Brussels
It remains to be seen how the EU will react to this very overt driving of wedges into the already rickety union. The recent discussion in Germany and France on increasing military spending and even creating a European army should not necessarily be viewed as aimed solely or even mainly against Russia. They also have a role to play in preserving French and German influence in Central Europe which Washington seeks to squeeze out. While it is too early to predict how and whether EU will react, it would be ironic indeed if the final impetus toward the creation of the European super-state came not from Europe’s designated adversary, Russia, but from the supposedly friendly United States.