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Donald Trump well received in Poland, outside observers more critical

Donald Trump's speech went over well in Warsaw. The US president chided the Kremlin over Ukraine and pledged more gas to curb energy dependence on Russia. But what will it mean for Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin?

If Donald Trump chose Warsaw for his first major European visit because he presumed there wouldn't be protesters in the streets, Warsaw didn't disappoint him. While Hamburg erupted ahead of the president's arrival there for the G20 summit, the only major sign of unhappiness with the US president's appearance in the Polish capital was a Greenpeace message on a building lamenting the US pullout of the Paris climate accord.

Trump didn't let Warsaw down, either. In a speech praising Poland for everything from its "triumph of spirit" over years of oppression to its spending the mandated 2 percent of GDP on defense, Trump basked in and reflected the adoration of the crowd. "In the Polish people, we see the soul of Europe," he told them, some of whom had been brought to the city by government buses. 

Trump tapped into Poles' priorities

Professor Zbigniew Lewicki of the Polish Institute for International Relations was among the admirers not just of the speech but of what he saw as Trump's emotional delivery of anecdotes such as Warsaw residents' defense of their neighborhoods during Nazi occupation. "He mentioned specifics, he mentioned street names, he mentioned people," Lewicki said. "People related to it. An American president coming to Warsaw and presenting a detailed knowledge of what's so dear to us, what's so important for us." 

Some observers also focused on Trump's positive mention of Europe compared with some of his earlier remarks.  "A strong Europe is a blessing for the West and for the world," the US president said.

Watch video 02:53

Poland welcomes US president ahead of G20

Speaking at a conference alongside the Three Seas summit, which Trump attended, Slovakia's State Secretary for EU Affairs Ivan Korcok said that phrase alone made it a "good day for the trans-Atlantic community." 

"There's more clarity now," Korcok explained, which he said would serve to reinforce European security and defense.

Erik Brattberg, director of the Europe Program at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, believes the Warsaw speech will be most remembered for Trump's explicit mention of NATO's Article 5 commitment to collective defense. "This was the first time Trump said those words in a major speech," Brattberg pointed out. "Trump officials likely wanted to do damage control after his disastrous speech at NATO headquarters [where he didn't say it]. The speech suggests the President's national security advisors had a final say in the drafting."

Backhanded Brussels bashing

Other analysts felt the speech created more divisions than it bridged. Tyson Barker, program director of Berlin's Aspen Institute, pointed out that Trump never mentioned the European Union in his speech, while "his remarks on the 'steady creep of bureaucracy' were clearly an indictment of the EU," Barker said. "His condemnation of those who believe the West became great because of 'paperwork and regulations' was a shot at Brussels."

Polen Rede US-Präsident Donald Trump in Warschau (Reuters/C. Barria)

Trump rewarded the Polish crowd with warm praise.

Additionally, Barker told DW, Trump's defense of "Western civilization" and values that had crowds cheering means something very different to him - "family, God, national identity, national heroes" - than to Europeans, whom Barker believes would list qualities such as "pluralism, minority rights, clean governance, independent institutions, openness and international cooperation."

Hannah Thoburn, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute, agreed there were themes in the speech that sound fine to outside observers but contain underlying political pitfalls in Europe. "It was a speech that focused very much on the same 'alt-right-ish' themes that Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party has promoted" to the chagrin of the EU, Thoburn noted. "Though he did not say so, President Trump clearly agrees with Poland and Hungary's decision to not take in refugees from Syria, a choice that the European Union has sued them over."

Thoburn says if you take out the support for Article 5 and the criticism of Moscow for meddling in Ukraine and Syria, his words will "likely not be well received by Western European leaders like [French President Emmanuel] Macron and [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, with whom he will speak with at the G20."

It also remains to be seen how Russian President Vladimir Putin will react to Trump's moral support for Warsaw, his criticism of Kremlin meddling in Ukraine and his pledge to increase US liquefied natural gas exports.

Playing well in Poland is one thing; it will be a much harsher crowd in Hamburg.

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