President Trump on Wednesday said Poland has agreed to base about 1,000 U.S. troops on its soil, further solidifying the American-Polish relationship in the face of Russian mischief in Eastern Europe.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said the final number of U.S. troops in his country will be decided by Mr. Trump, who earlier suggested up to 2,000.
American taxpayers will not pay a dime for the infrastructure needed to house and support the soldiers, Mr. Trump said.
“The Polish government will pay for this,” he said in a joint press conference with Mr. Duda in the White House Rose Garden.
Mr. Trump suggested that the troops would be transferred from foreign bases such as those in Germany rather than from the U.S. The president said he was not trying to punish Germany, though he chided its leaders for purchasing natural gas from Poland’s neighbor, Russia.
“I just will tell you, very strongly, I think Germany is making a tremendous mistake by relying so heavily on the pipeline,” Mr. Trump said.
The troop transfer follows similar actions to beef up NATO defenses against Russia, which has alarmed the West with its forays into Ukraine and saber-rattling in Eastern Europe.
“Increasing U.S. forces in Poland is a strong deterrent against Russian aggression in Eastern Europe,” said Sen. John Boozman, Arkansas Republican.
Despite frictions, Mr. Trump said he is hopeful that Poland and the U.S. can develop a fruitful relationship with Russia.
Mr. Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting this month in Osaka, Japan. The meeting will unfold as House Democrats debate how to respond to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russia’s election meddling in 2016.
Some Democrats say Mr. Trump should be impeached over aspects of the report that alluded to obstruction of justice. They also say Mr. Trump hasn’t taken the Russian president to task over efforts to give his campaign a boost over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in secretive pull-asides with Mr. Putin at global summits.
“Do you want to be in the room?” Mr. Trump asked White House reporters in front of the Polish president. “Because you people don’t trust anything.”
Mr. Trump frequently says he has been tougher on Russia than any other U.S. president, especially on policy matters and sanctions, even as he holds out for better relations.
Likewise, Mr. Duda said Poland would like to be friends with its neighbor but said Russia is showing an “unkind, unpleasant, imperial face” to the world.
Against that backdrop, Mr. Trump rattled off a list of additional agreements with Poland on security, energy and trade, including a visa waiver program, the construction of a natural gas pipeline along the Baltic Sea and the pending purchase of F-35 fighter jets like the one the White House showed off Wednesday in a D.C. flyover.
Mr. Trump marveled over the jet’s maneuvers.
“It actually came pretty close to a halt over the White House,” Mr. Trump said. “I would say, ‘What’s wrong with that plane? It’s not going very fast.’”
Mr. Trump said the American bond with Poland is stronger “by far than ever before.”
“The U.S. and Poland are not only bound by a strategic partnership but by deep common values,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Duda agreed, saying Mr. Trump has followed up his promises with action and ushered in a new era of cooperation.
“Most important are the deeds,” said Mr. Duda, thanking Mr. Trump for sending troops to his country.
Mr. Duda was accompanied by his wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, for their first visit to Washington since September.
The Polish president said he hopes Mr. Trump can visit his country this September to mark the somber anniversary of the start of World War II in 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland and was promptly joined by the Soviet Union.
Responding to reporters, Mr. Duda recounted postwar struggles with the Soviets behind the Iron Curtain. “Russia was always looking out to take our territory,” he said, launching into a lengthy history.
Critics have accused Poland of backsliding on democracy.
“Unfortunately, I have growing concerns about the current government’s efforts to draw inward, curtailing critical democratic protections such as a free press, an independent judiciary and a nonpartisan military,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Ohio Democrat. “Right-wing, nationalistic extremism is on the rise in Poland, as evidenced by troubling anti-Semitic rallies, inflammatory rhetoric and anti-immigrant hate speech.
“I call on President Trump to urge and press President Duda to avoid democratic backsliding and strengthen resilience against the threats to freedom from Russia and other repressive regimes,” she said.
Mr. Duda said nothing is amiss in Poland. He said people are free to protest and that he has forced Supreme Court justices to retire early to turn the page from the country’s communist past. To move forward as part of the West, Mr. Duda said, “for God’s sake, those people have to retire.”