U.S. President Joe Biden decided to hold a brief meeting with Andrzej Duda on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Washington realized that the boycott of the Polish government had gone too far.
A few minutes before 2 p.m., Krzysztof Szczerski, head of the International Relations Bureau in the Presidential Chancellery, published a photo of the two leaders standing side by side on Twitter. The politicians were touching each other with their elbows in a pandemic-era greeting. It is hard to see their facial expressions because they wear masks. Szczerski stressed that the talk “was held at the invitation of Americans and concerned Polish-American cooperation concerning the broadly understood military and economic security of our region.”
The White House has also published a statement. It says, “President Biden spoke today on the margins of the NATO Summit with President Andrzej Duda of Poland. The President reiterated his support for NATO’s strengthened defense and deterrence agenda and his resolute commitment to the defense of Allies on NATO’s eastern flank, including Poland. He discussed his plans for the upcoming summit with President Putin.” However, there certainly was no time to go deeper into the matter. It was more of a symbol.
Biden’s initiative is not unrelated to a widely discussed interview with the chief of Polish diplomacy that was published in Rzeczpospolita last Friday. In it, Zbigniew Rau vented his frustration over the lack of consultations on the part of the U.S. with the countries that will be most affected by the construction of Nord Stream 2 and the possible provisions of Wednesday’s Biden-Putin summit in Geneva. He also emphasized that no meeting between Duda and Biden is planned.
Diplomatic sources in Washington explain to Rzeczpospolita, “We received signals that Poland wasn’t taking it well that there were no contacts with the U.S. at such an important moment.” This is why on Wednesday, Derek Chollet, adviser to the secretary of state, held talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz. However, it was the interview with Rau that culminated the Polish frustration. It was noticed by the Department of State, which decided that something needs to be done about it.
Michał Baranowski, chief of the bureau of American think-tank German Marshal Fund, explains that the interview with Rau reached at least the level of the U.S. deputy secretary of state. He adds, “The Americans understood that by neglecting consultations with Poland, they had made a mistake. This was the deepest crisis in relations between Poland and the U.S. since the fall of communism, apart from the ‘reset’ with Russia that Barack Obama also undertook without consulting Poland in 2009. Biden’s democratic agenda is understandable, but it should not be pursued at the cost of core security interests in Central Europe.” Nonetheless, Biden’s gesture cannot be compared to the formal, few minutes’ long sit-down meeting with the leaders of three Baltic states that was announced beforehand and followed by a report published on the White House’s official website.
“This is an initiative that goes far beyond the issue of Nord Stream 2. By meeting the leaders of three countries right before the summit with Putin, Biden had stressed that the security of Baltic States is not negotiable with Russia,” former chief of Ministry of Defense Tomasz Siemoniak told Rzeczpospolita.
Professor Šarunas Liekis, a political scientist from the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas confirms to our newspaper, “We are a small country, where the fears are alive that our interests will be sacrificed by bigger powers.” Especially since the Baltic states and Poland have failed when it comes to Nord Stream 2.
Last week, Rau met the head of Lithuanian diplomacy, Gabrielius Landsbergis. Is it possible that the Lithuanians already knew about the meeting with Biden, but didn’t want to share it with Rau? “Rau was meeting his counterpart, who has a strained relationship with President Gitanas Nauseda, and he may not have known about the plans of the head of state,” stressed Liekis.
A brief meeting between Biden and Duda will not be enough to bring about full normalization of Polish-American relations, let alone elevate them to the level they had during the previous administration.
“We are speaking of an existential clash. What contributed to such an opinion about Poland were past close relations between Warsaw and Washington, but also Duda’s delay in recognizing Biden’s election as well as doubts about respecting principles of law and rules democracy. To achieve a breakthrough in relations with the U.S., Polish authorities would need to implement fundamental reforms, including restoring the independence of the judicial system and the public media,”* explains American journalist Anne Applebaum.
In Brussels, Biden is to have a formal meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, even though he is building an authoritarian regime.
“This is a different category, which has closer relations with Russia. This is a country that can do a lot of damage and with which it is necessary to maintain good relations to prevent that,” explains Applebaum.
At NATO, no one expected a reset after Wednesday’s meeting with Putin. It was more about building relations on important matters, starting with ending the nuclear arms race.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quote could not be verified.