Polish PM hopes for additional US military presence but not at Germany's expense - BNS INTERVIEW

  • 2020-06-15
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS - Negotiations on the deployment of American troops in Poland are progressing as planned but Warsaw has no goal of having more American troops at the expense of their reduced contingent in Germany, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says.

"Poland has long been consistently striving to increase the US military presence on its territory. It is not our intention to achieve this goal at the expense of reducing the American contingent in Germany," the Polish prime minister told BNS.

"Negotiations on increasing the number of American troops in Poland are proceeding as planned and I believe that the outcome will be impressive," he added.

A year ago, the American and Polish president agreed on the additional deployment of 1,000 troops in Poland. But Reuters has reported recently that the two countries have not managed to agree so far on the place of deployment of those troops, their legal status and what part of this project Poland would finance.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that US President Donald Trump had ordered the Pentagon to reduce the permanent American contingent in Germany by 9,500 troops to 34,5,000 troops. It gave rise to talks that part of these troops could be deployed in Poland.

Morawiecki provided his written answers to BNS questions after his Friday visit to the Lithuanian-Polish border where he and Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis announced that the two countries were lifting border controls.

Morawiecki's representatives said a live interview was not possible due to the coronavirus situation and a busy election campaign in Poland.

– MR. PRIME MINISTER, ON FRIDAY, YOU REOPENED THE LITHUANIAN-POLISH BORDER ALONGSIDE YOUR LITHUANIAN COUNTERPART SAULIUS SKVERNELIS. WHAT EFFECT DO YOU EXPECT IT WILL HAVE ON ECONOMIC COOPERATION AND HUMAN-TO-HUMAN CONTACTS?

- We are returning to our great every-day cooperation in many fields. Cooperation means trade, mutual visits, and also tourist traffic. We are going back to normal life. President Lech Kaczynski and President Valdas Adamkus set a good example how together Poland and Lithuania could achieve more. And it happens.

– IN MARCH, HUNDREDS OF LITHUANIANS TRYING TO RETURN HOME WERE LEFT STRANDED AT THE BORDER BETWEEN GERMANY AND POLAND AFTER YOUR GOVERNMENT REFUSED TO ALLOW THEM TO CROSS THE POLISH TERRITORY IN PASSENGER CARS. SPECIAL FERRIES WERE ARRANGED TO CARRY THOSE STRANDED HOME FROM GERMANY. SOME LITHUANIAN CRITICS CALLED IT A HUMILIATION. WOULD YOU DO ACT THE SAME WAY, SHOULD THE SECOND WAVE OF THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS OCCUR?

- We indeed closed borders for the coronavirus. We could not afford bringing more virus cases into Poland. The situation required very quick and decisive steps. I can imagine that it was difficult for some people to return home but cases in other European countries were going into the thousands.

Lithuanians who did not manage to cross the border on time were also formed into columns escorted by Polish police, so that they could avoid compulsory quarantine in Poland and come back to their homeland. Together with PM Skvernelis we have talked a dozen or so times in recent months, trying to solve the challenges in unison.

We hope that the second wave of the coronavirus - if it happens - will be much more flowing. Now our countries are sufficiently prepared to deal with it. A combination of good practices, public health measures, as well as European awareness of supply chains could help to keep the overall number of infections down.

 – EARLIER THIS WEEK, THE US AMBASSADOR SAID TALKS WERE "ON TRACK" TO BOOST US MILITARY PRESENCE IN POLAND. DOES THE POTENTIAL INCREASE INVOLVE HUNDREDS OR THOUSANDS MORE TROOPS? IS "FORT TRUMP" IS STILL ON THE TABLE?

– Poland has long been consistently striving to increase the US military presence on its territory. It is not our intention to achieve this goal at the expense of reducing the American contingent in Germany. Eastern Flank of the North Atlantic Alliance is a significant component of the transatlantic community. We are convinced that maintaining strong ties is in the interest not only for Poland, but for the whole of Europe, including Germany. Negotiations on increasing the number of American troops in Poland are proceeding as planned and I believe that the outcome will be impressive.

– WOULD YOU SEEK US TROOPS TO BE DEPLOYED CLOSE TO THE SUWALKI CORRIDOR?

– The safety of our region has always been a high priority for us. We can achieve this goal through cooperation within NATO. We are pleased that our actions contribute to strengthening the eastern flank of NATO, ensuring not only the security of our citizens, but also building regional solidarity. Solidarity which is a signpost for building future alliances and fair international relations.

– POLISH OIL REFINER PKN ORLEN PLANS TO PURCHASE A SMALLER RIVAL LOTOS, DRAWING OBJECTION FROM THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION. WHAT EFFECT CAN THIS SITUATION HAVE ON THE ORLEN-OWNED OIL REFINERY IN LITHUANIA?

– The Orlen-Lotos merger is a requisite driver for not just the combined companies' business future, but also for joint Polish and Lithuanian energy security. It will serve well the interests of both retail customers and local communities. We need now, like never before, growth-oriented investments and a consolidated player will be able to act more.

– WHAT ARE THE OTHER AREAS WHERE YOU SEE POTENTIAL TO BOOST BILATERAL COOPERATION?

– I deeply believe our cooperation has a great prospect in the European Union and for the development of economic, trade, cultural and other cooperation. That would not have been possible without such good cooperation with Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, President Gitanas Nauseda and the cooperation of our President Andrzej Duda.

– WHAT DOES POLAND WANT TO GAIN FROM THE EU RECOVERY PACKAGE? WHAT MEASURES WOULD YOU REGARD AS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE? DO YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A COALITION ON THE MATTER WITH THE V4 AND THE BALTIC STATES?

– Poland is in favor of ambitious measures and rapid implementation to rebuild the economies of member states, return to the fast growth path and build economic resilience. Timing is very crucial. In the history of European integration, never before has the need for European decisiveness been so urgent. The current crisis is a major turning point in the history of the Union. Today, we need a real stimulus for economic growth and I have tried to convince all my colleagues from the V4 and B3 that it may create a strong investment impulse in our region.

– THE LITHUANIAN PM SAID ON FRIDAY THAT HIS GOVERNMENT WOULD TURN TO THE EU COURT OVER THE NEW ROAD TRANSPORT RULES THAT WOULD FORCE ITS TRUCKS TO RETURN HOME EVERY EIGHT WEEKS AND HOPES POLAND WILL JOIN THE LAWSUIT. WILL YOU FILE A LAWSUIT WITH THE EU COURT IF THE MOBILITY PACKAGE IS APPROVED?

– Of course, I’m hoping that all CEE leaders are able to show our unity and interest in this matter. The regulations would lead to reduced competitiveness in the single market, legal uncertainty as well as increase the negative impact of the transport industry on the environment. Especially as a consequence of the pandemic situation, we should not be entitled to eliminate Polish and the Baltics transport companies from the community market. The solutions contained in that project are harmful for the market not only because of its protectionist measures.

– ON FRIDAY, YOU SAID THAT YOU "SUPPORT WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH" THE LITHUANIAN POSITION REGARDING THE ASTRAVYETS NUCLEAR POWER PLANT. THE BALTIC STATES HAVE YET FAILED TO FIND A JOINT POSITION REGARDING AN EMBARGO OF THE ELECTRICITY FROM THE PLANT. WHAT IS THE POLISH POSITION? WOULD YOU CONSIDER ABANDONING PLANS TO BUILD AN UNDERSEA POWER CABLE IF YOU SAW A RISK OF ASTRAVYETS ENERGY ENTERING THE JOINT MARKET?

Energy is a key issue for our countries, therefore, Poland and Lithuania have a similar approach to this matter. We understand and support the justified concerns of Lithuanians about the construction of the nuclear power plant in Astravyets. However, we must not forget about economic and political cooperation with Belarus which is crucial for both countries.

– THE EASTERN PARTNERSHIP VIDEO CONFERENCE IS PLANNED ON JUNE 18. WHAT OUTCOME DO YOU EXPECT FROM IT? HOW VIABLE IS THE PROGRAM ITSELF?

– Last year, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership. Poland, by means of government programs and the activities of non-governmental organizations, supports EP countries on their way to development. We will continue our efforts to strengthen democratic governance, civil society building, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and economic reforms to deepen their integration with the EU and its member states.

– IN RECENT YEARS, POLAND AND THE BALTIC STATES HAVE REPEATEDLY ACCUSED RUSSIA OF TRYING TO FALSIFY HISTORY AND WHITEWASH SOVIET CRIMES. DO YOU BELIEVE THAT RUSSIAN STATEMENTS ABOUT HISTORY MAY AFFECT ITS CURRENT POLICIES? HOW?

– We must not allow the situation where the executioner replaces the victim. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact intends a direct proof of the preparation for the joint aggression against Poland, the division of influence and the occupation of your Baltic states - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as well. As a result, millions of citizens were subjected to mass repressions. Nowadays, Russians are still testing our European solidarity, as evidenced by other actions of the Russian side, such as violations of airspace and sea areas.