In White House visit, Polish president pushes NATO to ramp up spending, calls on US to fund Ukraine

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Polish President Andrzej Duda used a joint White House visit with his political rival, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, on Tuesday to call on NATO allies to significantly increase defense spending and press a divided Washington to break its impasse over replenishing funds for Ukraine at a critical moment in the war in Europe.

Duda wants members of the NATO alliance to raise their spending on defense to 3% of their GDP as Russia puts its own economy on a war footing and pushes forward with its plans to conquer Ukraine. Poland already spends 4% of its own economic output on defense, double the current target of 2% for NATO nations.

POLISH PRESIDENT PUSHES NATO ALLIES TOWARD HIGHER DEFENSE SPENDING

The Polish leader made the call as he and Tusk visited Washington to mark their country’s 25th anniversary of joining the now 32-member transatlantic military alliance. It was a historic step into the West after breaking free from Moscow’s sphere of influence after decades of communist rule.

“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine really demonstrated that United States is and should remain the security leader,” Duda said. “But other allies must take more responsibility for the security of the alliance as a whole. Two percent was good 10 years ago. Now 3% is required in response for the full scale war launched by Russia right beyond NATO’s eastern border.”

Biden called the U.S. commitment to Poland ironclad and marveled at Poland’s current defense spending and thanked the leaders for taking in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees after Russia launched the February 2022 invasion. But he did not directly address Duda’s call for NATO members to ramp up spending.

“When we stand together, no force on earth is more powerful,” Biden said, recalling the words of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright upon Poland’s accession into the alliance. “I believed that then and I believe that now. And we see it with Polish and American troops serving side by side with NATO on the eastern flank, including in Poland.”

Biden administration officials, however, suggested ahead of the meeting that Duda’s call to raise the defense spending target for NATO countries may be, at least for the time being, overly ambitious.

“I think the first step is to get every country meeting the 2% threshold, and we’ve seen improvement of that,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “But I think that’s the first step before we start talking about an additional proposal.”

The visit also comes amid a standoff in Washington between Biden, a Democrat, and House Republicans on Ukraine funding. House Republicans have blocked a $118 billion bipartisan package that includes $60 billion in Ukraine funding, as well as funds for Israel, Taiwan and U.S. border security.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday it will rush about $300 million in weapons to Ukraine after finding some cost savings in its contracts. It’s the Biden administration’s first announced security package for Ukraine since December, when it acknowledged it was out of replenishment funds.

Biden said the funding is not nearly enough, and pointed to Poland’s own history to argue for further further funding.

“We must act before it literally is too late.” Biden said. “Because as Poland remembers, Russia won’t stop at Ukraine. Putin will keep going, putting Europe, the United States and the entire free world at risk.”

Duda met with U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the White House meeting. and offered a blunt warning: If the U.S. does not deliver military aid to halt Russia’s advance, Poland will be on the frontlines of a conflict that involves European and American troops.

“Financial support for Ukraine is cheap if you take into account what other forms of support would be needed if it comes to war and to an attack on NATO countries,” Duda said.

Tusk after the White House meeting called on Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to pass Ukraine funding, warning him that inaction could “cost thousands of human lives in Ukraine.”

“This is not some political skirmish that has significance only here, on the American political stage,” Tusk said.

Biden informed the leaders that the U.S. plans to move forward with a foreign military financing loan that will help Poland purchase 96 Apache helicopters. The State Department approved the sale last year.

The visit offered Biden another opportunity to showcase how his view of NATO contrasts with that of the likely 2024 Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

Trump has said that when he was president, he warned NATO allies that he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that are “delinquent” in meeting the alliance’s defense spending target. White House press secretary

Fear is deepening across Europe about Ukraine’s fate as its ammunition stocks run low and as Russia makes gains on the battlefield in Ukraine, reversing its weak military performance at the start of a war launched in February 2022.

Tusk said that despite political divisions in Poland the country is unified on the issues of security, Russia and Ukraine and wishes the same were true for other allies.

“When we Poles started on our road to the West, Pope John Paul II said there could be no just Europe without an independent Poland,” Tusk said “And today, I would say there can be no safe Europe without a strong Poland. And of course I would also say there could be no just Europe without a free and independent Ukraine.”

It is the first time in a quarter-century for a Polish president and prime minister to be in Washington at the same time and the first for both leaders to be welcomed at the White House at the same time, according to Polish media. The gesture by the bitter political rivals is widely seen as an acknowledgment of the seriousness of this historical moment, with Russian strength growing as that of Ukraine wanes.

Duda, aligned with a national conservative party that lost power last year, used his power to delay the transition to a new government under Tusk by weeks.

Tusk won power after promising to restore democratic norms that eroded under the last government and Poland has been hailed by many across Europe as one of the only places where growing authoritarianism has been reversed in recent times.

“No matter matter who wins the election in our country we treat our obligation seriously, more than anyone else in Europe,” Tusk said.

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