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Jun 14, 2017 | 18:43 GMT

3 mins read

Poland: Trump Visit Adds Heft to Three Seas Summit


Poland has achieved a significant diplomatic victory. U.S. President Donald Trump will visit the country July 6 to attend the Three Seas Initiative summit, a meeting of 12 EU members grouped along the Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas. Polish President Andrzej Duda said June 13 that he was moving the summit from Wroclaw in southwestern Poland to Warsaw to accommodate Trump's visit, which the White House announced June 9. Trump will visit Poland before going to the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

Trump's trip to Poland is highly symbolic. Poland is worried about the White House's commitment to security in Central and Eastern Europe, and Trump's ambiguity about Article 5, NATO's collective defense clause, has heightened Warsaw's concerns. The Polish government has worked for months to arrange high-level contacts with the Trump administration and to obtain reassurances about the U.S. commitment to its NATO allies in the region. Poland is one of the few NATO members that spends the alliance's required 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. Keeping strong ties with NATO, and with the United States in particular, is a pillar of Poland's foreign policy to deter potential Russian aggression.

It's also notable that Trump will be attending a summit that includes representatives from Croatia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovenia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia. Like Poland, most of these countries are worried about Russia, and they are interested in developing closer political, economic, military and energy ties to boost economic growth, reduce their dependence on Russian natural gas and strengthen their security cooperation. Poland sees countries such as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine as existing within its natural sphere of influence, and it sees a strong alliance between the Baltic and Black Sea areas (a region that has been called the "Intermarium") as both a barrier against Russian aggression and a counterweight to German influence in the region.

The Three Seas countries held their first summit in 2016, when they focused on potential infrastructure projects to diversify their energy sources. Poland, for example, started operating its own liquefied natural gas terminal last year (the terminal received its first LNG shipment from the United States earlier this month), and Croatia plans to build an LNG terminal as well. Both countries are interested in developing better pipeline connections between the Baltic and Adriatic regions to provide natural gas to their neighbors. However, the lack of funding remains an obstacle to realizing these projects, as does the lack of regasification capacity. While the United States is unlikely to offer Poland and Croatia money for their infrastructure projects, they and the region would welcome strong political backing from Washington.

Trump's visit is also a domestic victory for Poland's ruling party, Law and Justice, which has tense relations with the European Union. The European Commission has threatened to sanction Warsaw because of recent changes made to the Polish judiciary that the European Union says weaken the rule of law. And on the same day Duda announced Trump's visit, the commission said it had started an infringement procedure against Poland because of Warsaw's refusal to enforce a plan to distribute migrants among EU members. The Polish government will take advantage of the symbolism of Trump visiting Warsaw before he visits London, Berlin or Paris to show that it is not isolated and to highlight the strength of Polish-U.S. relations at a time when Law and Justice does not have many friends in Western Europe.

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