WashingtonBoth men got on very well. When US President Donald Trump entered the White House Rose Garden with Polish President Andrzej Duda, they smiled side by side. Trump praised the "very, very strong friendship" of the two countries, he spoke for a long time about the "warm feeling" that he associates with Poland. Duda thanked him and raved about Trump's visit to Warsaw two years ago. At that time, Trump called Poland "the heart of Europe" and was hailed by thousands of people. Now Duda praised the US president as "Poland's true ally," and also as "Europe's true ally."
But whether Trump is actually connected to the whole of the EU, the US President again raised considerable doubts on Tuesday. Rather, he took the visit of Duda as an opportunity to divide the EU into good and bad partners. Poland, whose government represents conservative values and adheres to NATO's so-called two-percent target, is clearly on the right side, Trump emphasized. Sharp criticism, however, he practiced Germany, Germany again and again. Trump spoke several times about the controversies that have been weighing on the relationship between Berlin and Washington for quite some time: Germany's contribution to NATO's defense budget and the construction of Nord Stream 2, which will be completed later this year. Trump renewed on Tuesday sanction threats against the German-Russian gas pipeline.
US troops from Germany to Poland?
In connection with the NATO dispute Trump promised a possible decision, which would be a clear affront to Germany if implemented. For example, the US government is considering relocating part of the US soldiers stationed in Germany to Poland. The fact that the US wants to increase their troop presence in Poland has been discussed for some time, but so far no concrete steps have followed.
A final decision had not yet been made, Trump said, but the possibility of laying up to 2,000 soldiers was conceivable – a number he mentioned during a question and answer session at the Oval Office, but later did not repeat in the rose garden when he was performing with Duda. These are not additional troops, stressed the US president. Instead, soldiers are to be deployed within Europe, "from Germany or other countries."
Poland vehemently campaigns for additional armed forces and hopes for a permanent US base, although it is disputed how this could be reconciled with the NATO rules. Many Poles in the US see the protective power against a Russian threat, which is particularly noticeable on the eastern flank of NATO since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis. Currently, 4,000 US soldiers are stationed in Poland. Trump now suggested that Germany could spare a few thousand US soldiers. There are currently 52,000 US soldiers stationed there, Trump said, but in fact there are about 35,000.
But the point in Trump's threats was not in numbers games. Because Trump linked the goal to increase troops in the east of the NATO alliance, directly and without detours with Germany's defense budget, which is too low in the view of Washington. "Germany stands at one percent, it should be at two percent, and it does not go there fast enough," said Trump disapprovingly, alluding to German military spending in terms of gross domestic product. "So we would transfer a certain number of troops to Poland." That means in plain English: If Berlin does not increase its contribution, it must count on concrete consequences.
"Germany makes a huge mistake"
Also in the highly controversial topic Nord Stream 2 Trump reminded that the US will not let up. "Germany is making a huge mistake in relying on the pipeline," said Trump, "Germany will face enormous drawbacks if 50, 60 or 70 percent of its energy comes from Russia." When and against whom exactly the US government wants to impose sanctions would, to Trump made no information. But he made it clear that the dispute would not get into the background: "Germany should not buy Russian gas."
Trump hit sore spots with his wrap-around, because both issues are controversial within Germany, and within the EU anyway. Thus, Poland is an opponent of Nord Stream 2, the Federal Government holds despite sanctions threats to the pipeline. And while some of the EU states already meet the NATO target of two percent, a drastic increase in the military budget is not in sight in Germany – even if CDU chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Tuesday in Berlin again for two-percent Goal known.
Trump seems to want to use this division within the EU increasingly for themselves in order to advance their own interests. The alliance with Poland was not a subtle signal to Germany, but a very clear warning that Washington will maintain the pressure.
While Poland pledged to buy American F35 fighter jets and campaign for more US troops, Trump opened a new round in the NATO dispute with Germany. And while Trump accused Germany of becoming a "hostage to Russia" in energy supply, he sealed with Poland the continuation of a liquefied gas cooperation: According to Trump, Poland intends to import additional LNG worth eight billion US dollars. The friendship of the USA with Poland, it unfolded on Tuesday only in the demarcation to Germany its full external effect.
More: Germany wants to improve its relationship with Russia. Some are already talking about lifting the Crimean sanctions. This is also due to Nord Stream 2.