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Biden lands in Poland near Ukraine border

March 25, 2022

The US president met American troops stationed in Poland, before being briefed on aid efforts for Ukrainian refugees. Warsaw is hoping for a bigger NATO commitment in the wake of Russia's invasion of its neighbor.

US President Joe Biden meets American soldiers near Rzeszow in Poland.
Biden's first stop in Poland was with members of the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division, where Americans are serving alongside Polish troopsImage: Evelyn Hockstein/REUTERS

US President Joe Biden arrived in Poland Friday to see firsthand how the country is coping with the large numbers of refugees fleeing Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Biden landed in the southeastern city of Rzeszow, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the Ukrainian border.

The president's first stop was to meet members of the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division, which is serving alongside Polish troops.

He was then briefed by aid agencies on the humanitarian response to the conflict in Ukraine.

Biden said he wanted to visit Poland to underscore that the assistance it is providing is of "enormous consequence" as Europe experiences the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

Biden: 'It's like something out of a science fiction movie'

"It's not stopping," Biden said of the devastation in Ukraine. "It's like something out of a science fiction movie."

Poland has accepted the lion's share of the more than 3.5 million Ukrainians who have fled the month-old war.

More than 2.2 million have entered Poland and many want to remain there.

Polish President Andrzej Duda joined Biden for the briefing with humanitarian experts.

Duda thanked Biden for his support and said of the people who have fled Ukraine: "We do not want to call them refugees. They are our guests, our brothers, our neighbors from Ukraine, who today are in a very difficult situation."

Biden renews Ukraine support

Ahead of his visit, the US leader said the trip would "reinforce my commitment to have the United States make sure we are a major piece of dealing with the relocation of all those folks, as well as humanitarian assistance needed both inside Ukraine and outside Ukraine."

After stopping in Rzeszow, Biden was due to head to Warsaw on Saturday, where he'll address the Polish people.

War boosted US-Polish ties 

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has helped to uplift relations between Washington and Warsaw.

Poland is a complicated ally whose populist leaders are accused by the European Union of riding roughshod over democratic norms.

Duda, who is allied with a right-wing political party, was a supporter of Donald Trump and even proposed naming a new US base after the former president. The idea was mocked and quickly dropped.

He was among a handful of leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who waited weeks before congratulating Biden on his 2020 election win, after Trump refused to accept his defeat.

Biden, in turn, has criticized Poland along with Belarus and Hungary, warning about the "rise of totalitarian regimes in the world,'' which caused offense in Warsaw.

Poles continue to want a permanent base and a greater US military presence as safeguards against Russia's aggression.

Duda is also likely to raise the idea of an international peacekeeping mission to Ukraine, which Biden has already ruled out.

Many Poles are hoping for a sign from Biden that Washington will make stronger military commitments and continue to urge Warsaw to adhere to democratic values.

NATO steps up plans in case conflict widens

En route to Poland on Air Force One, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said NATO countries were conducting "contingency planning for the possibility that Russia chooses to strike NATO territory in that context or in any other context."

"And the president has been about as clear as one can be about his absolute determination to respond decisively, alongside the other members of our alliance if Russia attacks NATO," Sullivan said.

Biden's visit to Poland follows his appearance at a trio of emergency war summits in Brussels on Thursday.

jsi, mm/wd (AFP, AP, Reuters)