Trump heading to Warsaw, 80 years after outbreak of World War II
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Trump heading to Warsaw, 80 years after outbreak of World War II

US president among few leaders planning to attend ceremony in sign of close ties between Warsaw’s right-wing government and his administration

US President Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument in Warsaw, Poland, July 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)
US President Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument in Warsaw, Poland, July 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

WARSAW, Poland (AFP) — US President Donald Trump, fresh from hobnobbing with his G7 partners at a glitzy French resort town, will on Sunday attend somber commemorations in Warsaw of the outbreak of World War II 80 years ago.

Trump will be the first US head of state to come to Poland for an anniversary of the start of history’s bloodiest conflict, which claimed 50 million lives, including those of six million Jews in the focused Nazi extermination effort known as the Holocaust.

Few other major leaders are expected in the Polish capital, as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are not coming, while Russian President Vladimir Putin was not invited.

According to the Polish presidency, around 40 foreign delegations are expected, half of them led by heads of state.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives at the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria, September 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

They include Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose partnership is important to Poland, which believes its security depends on Ukraine remaining outside of Russia’s sphere of influence.

Warsaw said Putin was snubbed this time — unlike 10 years ago — because of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

“It would be inappropriate to commemorate the anniversary of armed aggression against Poland with the participation of a leader who is today acting this way towards a neighbor,” Poland’s deputy prime minister Jacek Sasin said in July.

Russia’s foreign ministry responded with “bewilderment,” noting Moscow’s “unquestionably decisive contribution to the defeat of Hitler’s Reich.”

German troops parade through Warsaw, Poland, September 1939. (Public domain, US National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia commons)

First bombs at dawn

On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union secretly agreed to carve up eastern Europe between them by signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

World War II began a week later on September 1 when a Nazi German battleship opened fire on a Polish fort in Westerplatte in the Baltic Sea. That same morning the Nazis also bombed the central city of Wielun.

At dawn on Sunday, Polish President Andrzej Duda and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier will attend a commemoration in Wielun.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans will take part in a ceremony in Westerplatte, a peninsula of the port city of Gdansk.

Adolf Hitler, front, salutes parading troops of the German Wehrmacht in Warsaw, Poland, on October 5, 1939 after the German invasion. Behind Hitler are seen, from left to right: Army Commander in Chief, Colonel General Walther von Brauchitsch, new commandant of Warsaw, Lieutenant General Friedrich von Cochenhausen, Colonel General Gerd von Rundstedt, Colonel General Wilhelm Keitel. (AP Photo)

The presidents of Germany, Poland and the US will all speak in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square, the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Poland suffered some of the worst horrors of World War II: nearly six million Poles — half of them Jews — died in the conflict.

Hitler’s attack on Poland led Britain and France to declare war on Nazi Germany. On September 17, the Soviet Union in turn invaded Poland.

After the Nazis tore up the pact with Moscow, two alliances battled it out to the end: the Axis powers led by Germany, Italy and Japan and the ultimately victorious Allied forces led by Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States.

This 1944 photo shows a barricade with a Polish flag during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis. (AP Photo/PAP)

Friction with EU

Trump’s trip to Warsaw is a sign of warm ties between Washington and Warsaw at a time when both countries are at loggerheads with the European Union.

Trump, who is openly hostile to the EU, has sparred with Brussels on issues including trade and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

And Poland’s right-wing government has run afoul of the EU for logging in one of Europe’s last primeval forests and introducing judicial reforms that Brussels calls a threat to the rule of law.

“As the Polish government has been finding itself in difficulty with the EU, it’s been strengthening its efforts to be closer with the US. And that is in a sense being reciprocated,” said political analyst Marcin Zaborowski.

(L-R) Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, European Council President Donald Tusk, US President Donald Trump, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attend a working session on “International Economy and Trade, and International Security Agenda” in Biarritz, south-west France on August 25, 2019. (Philippe Wojazer/POOL/AFP)

“Trump likes people who like him, and the current Polish leadership adores him. By the same token the Polish government appreciates the impression that it is treated as a close partner by the most powerful country in the world… Chumming up with Trump dispels the impression of international isolation,” he told AFP.

Trump was originally set to travel on to Denmark after Poland, but he postponed the trip after Copenhagen rejected his idea of purchasing its autonomous territory Greenland.

Defense deals

Around 5,000 US soldiers are deployed along with NATO forces in Poland as a counter against possible Russian action.

Trump announced in June that he would send 1,000 more troops, a decision he is expected to affirm during his visit.

The first American troops arrive at the airport in Swidwin, Poland, on April 23, 2014, as part of an initial force of 600 soldiers the US sent to the Baltic states. (AFP/Janek Skarzynski)

In addition, “the US wants to seal deals on arms sales to Poland,” including F-35 fighter jets, Zaborowski said.

The Polish presidency said cooperation accords in defense and energy were also in the offing.

One point of contention that could come up is the restitution of Jewish properties seized during the Holocaust.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Poland to “resolve” the issue through legislation during a visit to Warsaw in February.

US Army vehicles cross the Polish border in Olszyna, Poland, January 12, 2017 heading for their new base in Zagan, Poland, part of the contingent of several thousand US troops stationed in the country. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

But Warsaw insists the matter is closed, saying a 2017 US law requiring State Department monitoring of Poland’s progress on the issue will have no impact at home.

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