Should the U.S. military build “Fort Trump”—a permanent base in Poland—as Polish President Andrzej Duda has requested? The base, which has broad support in Poland, already faces pushback from other European nations.
During a visit to Warsaw last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that a Russian pipeline—dubbed Nord Stream 2—that would deliver natural gas from Russia’s reservoirs directly to Germany, is a threat to national security, a position that the government of Poland shares. Why are both the U.S. and Polish administrations so opposed to it?
The Epoch Times interviewed Anna Maria Anders, secretary of state for international dialogue for the government of Poland and representative of the Polish prime minister, who is also an elected senator for the Suwalki region of Poland, near the Russian border. We discussed the Polish–American alliance, “Fort Trump,” Nord Stream 2, the prospects of a Polish Brexit, and why the Polish–American alliance is valuable to both countries.
Jan Jekielek: You’re an American at the same time as representing the Polish prime minister?
Anna Maria Anders: Yes! In fact, I have three nationalities. I was born in the UK, I married an American, and I decided to get Polish citizenship in 2014. So, I have three nationalities, which is an advantage, I think, because I look at every international situation from three different points of view.
Mr. Jekielek: And the other distinction that I’ve noted is that you’re actually an elected senator, and that you’re the senator for this very strategic region in the north of Poland called Suwalki, which abuts the Russian border. And all this combination of items, I think, gives you a very unique perspective on U.S.–Poland relations.
Ms. Anders: Yes, I think so. I think it’s I who am so closely involved with the military, and have been all my life. My father was a general. My current husband was a colonel in the U.S. Army. And I have a son who’s 25, who’s also an officer in the U.S. Army. So, it seems almost my destiny that I should end up being a senator in a part of Poland that is really so involved in any kind of mutual defense issues.
Mr. Jekielek: I think many Poles see Poland as one of the, perhaps, biggest allies of the U.S. in Europe. Would you agree with that? And can you tell me why, and why is it important?
Ms. Anders: I would definitely agree with it. I think it’s important because I think the relationship between Poland and the United States has always been good. A lot of people left for the United States during hard economic times. They emigrated to the United States. There are, I would say, probably around 10 million people of Polish descent in the United States. So, that is huge. They are a huge support, I think, for the U.S. government; and the relationship between Poland and the United States is very important for them. Now, Poland relies on the United States a lot when it comes to security, which is really not surprising. Looking back at history in 1939, when Poland was attacked from both sides—Germany on one side and Russia on the other, nobody really rushed to save Poland. So, Poles will remain cynical on whether they could rely on Britain or France to save them. So, therefore, it’s natural that they would turn to the United States for their security. As we see the buildup of Russian forces in Kaliningrad Oblast—which is very, very close to Poland—we are basically afraid. It is a fear that I think has become more noticeable worldwide since Crimea. I think before Crimea, everybody thought that Poland was exaggerating when they talked about Putin, and they talked about the dangers of Russia. Suddenly, we have the annexation of Crimea, we have the question of Georgia, and it’s, “Oh, hey, maybe this is, in fact, a threat.” So, for us, it’s a great comfort zone. For the United States, it’s also useful to have a friend in Europe. There is no secret, I think, at the moment the relationship between the present administration and the European Union has been a little strained; we have had differences on both sides. So, I think the fact that the United States has such a staunch ally in Poland is very, very strategically important.
Mr. Jekielek: So, Georgette Mosbacher, the U.S. ambassador to Poland, recently said that they’re going to deploy more troops to Poland.
Ms. Anders: I saw that, today or yesterday, in the news. I’m a little surprised to hear that at this point, because we are hoping for a permanent base.
Mr. Jekielek: Fort Trump.
Ms. Anders: The decision on Fort Trump, from what I understand, was supposed to come from Congress, I think, towards the end of this month or next month. And the fact that she’s now talking about a buildup of military makes me wonder whether maybe this is not an announcement that it will not be Fort Trump, but it will be just a buildup of forces. I think opinions are varied. I think Poland got fixated on the idea of a permanent base—of Fort Trump—but talking to my military friends—of which I have many—the opinions were varied. There were certain people who would say that maybe more rotational forces or just more forces would be more advantageous than an actual base.
Mr. Jekielek: Some people have argued that the establishment of a permanent Fort Trump military base in Poland would actually be divisive. What would you say to that?
Mr. Anders: I think it’s divisive in the sense that, first of all, I think a permanent base means we’re afraid of Putin thinking that it’s too aggressive. Germany is not too keen on the idea. Other countries of NATO also have to give their approval, and the military itself, I think, is not entirely sure whether that is the best idea. All in all, and within the European Union, I think, as I was in Brussels a couple of weeks ago, they feel that Poland is relying too much on the United States. I hear more and more about the prospects of a European army, which personally I feel very skeptical about. But there is talk about that. And so it’s divisive in that sense. People who think that the Europeans should do their own thing, well, obviously they think that American interference in Europe—in Poland—is not such a good idea.
Mr. Jekielek: But the president, obviously, who asked for this military base and presumably the prime minister, are backing it, and probably see it as a very valuable thing.
Ms. Anders: Yes. Let me say that this idea came up, I believe, the first time through the CEPA report—the Center of European Policy Analysis. Ironically, I was actually here in Washington when it was in The Washington Post, which is not normally a paper that would cover that so much. But there was a long article about that, and it talks about the infrastructure in that area, which I could totally agree with. My office is in Warsaw because I have two jobs. And for me to get to Suwalki, because of the roads being so bad, it takes me over four hours. So, as we look at the Suwalki corridor, which is [about] 127 kilometers long and 65 or so wide; it’s a very narrow line. And the danger is that if there were going to be any kind of aggression from Putin and a tank even broke down from our side, the road we blocked we wouldn’t have, and NATO forces would never get there in time. I think that’s where the idea [started] that perhaps we should get something more permanent, closer, and not rotational forces that perhaps would be hindered in their approach.
Mr. Jekielek: Tell me about the importance of this region to Polish security, to European security, and perhaps as you’re alluding, maybe even U.S. security.
Ms. Anders: Well, because it’s Poland’s security—any Russian forces could invade Poland very quickly through this corridor, if there’s nobody to deter them.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s as straight as that?
Ms. Anders: It’s as simple as that. They’re in Poland. And you know that Europe is around the corner. For the United States, it gives them a base in Europe for protection, so I think it’s a win-win all around.
Mr. Jekielek: I wanted to talk about Nord Stream 2, this proposed pipeline that will bring a lot more Russian natural gas into Europe. And actually, as we speak, Secretary Pompeo and the vice president are in Poland. Pompeo has been speaking about how the U.S. is against Nord Stream 2. I know the Polish government is very much against it. Can you explain this scenario to us? What is Nord Stream 2 and why is it important to both Poland and America?
Ms. Anders: Well, I think it’s another one of the security issues. One is the military; the other one is energy security. We don’t want to be dependent on Russia for gas because actually they could just turn it off anytime, not perhaps so much to Poland, but to Ukraine. Ukraine was the most affected. Also, Ukraine, so far, has benefited from the pipeline that goes now through Russia, and they have been able to economically benefit from it. What happens if you have the direct line between Russia and Germany is that it cuts out Ukraine, it cuts out Poland, it goes directly to Germany. So, look at it this way: Looking back at the Second World War—the alliance between the Soviets and the Germans—that, in itself, would make both Polish people think, “Oh dear, this is another form of security threat.”
Basically, also, I think it’s a way of looking at other forms of energy. We have signed contracts with energy companies in the United States. There’s Swinoujscie, which is the base in Poland. The liquefied natural gas comes to Poland directly by ship, and they are hoping to expand the terminal in Swinoujscie. So, Poland would be able to benefit from that and also be able to supply it to the rest of Europe as one-fourth, sort of, energy source for Europe.
Mr. Jekielek: So, you feel that the main reason for the U.S. opposition is more an economic reason or security?
Ms. Anders: Well, to a certain extent. But I think the main reason is it’s all part of their concern for Poland, their concern for European security, and their concern about Russian aggression. That is just another factor that could create a difficult situation.
Mr. Jekielek: So, one of the things I’ve heard said about the Nord Stream, and I think you alluded to this—because basically, it goes directly to Germany, bypassing some other countries—is that it could basically change how the alliances work in Poland, and kind of break up the European Union to some extent?
Ms. Anders: Definitely, I think, for those who believe that Putin has his hand everywhere, they will say that is just another example of his interference in the European Union. It has been divisive because you have countries like Germany, obviously, who are for it, Austria who is for it, and a couple of other countries that I can’t recall now. Then [there are] countries obviously like all of the Balkan states, and even the UK, who are against it. So, it has very cleverly divided Europe. In the last couple of days, there have been talks about Merkel and Macron talking about Nord Stream 2 and leaving it, I think, more or less up to Germany and the European Union to decide on a certain part of this gas line. So, again, you have this point of contention between, I guess, Poland and the European Union. And as we talk about Russian interference, Russian interference in U.S. elections, Russian interference in Brexit, Russian interference in Europe, a lot of people believe that it’s just yet another clever way of being able to put a spoke in European relations. Certain people believe that Putin is [pushing] for the Soviet empire to return, and is slowly making his way into Europe.
Mr. Jekielek: So, speaking of Brexit, you just made me think that Poland has been kind of asserting itself as a nation to some extent, and which has some people thinking, “Hey, wait a second, is this the beginnings of a Polish Brexit?” What are your thoughts on that?
Ms. Anders: No, I think the opposition has favored that opinion in order to criticize the government. Eighty-two percent of Poles want to remain in Europe.
The situation is different. Britain has always been a little bit on the outside. It hasn’t accepted the euro. It never considered itself totally European. And it’s in a more secure financial situation than Poland. Poland has benefited an awful lot from the European Union, and continues to benefit—we cannot cut ourselves off. At the moment, the whole situation seems a little uncertain, you know, Brexit—will it happen? It will almost definitely happen. Will it happen by the 29th of March? We’re not really terribly sure. So Poland doesn’t want to be part of that. The concern of a Brexit, of course, is, with a hard Brexit, Poland is a little worried about its citizens in the UK. I think other European countries are worried about their citizens, what exactly will happen. So no, Poland right now is firmly in the EU, and I think we are basically quite irritated when it is suggested to us that we feel more American than European, that we really don’t care about Europe, and we just want everything to do with the United States. That cannot be so. We have a wonderful relationship with the United States, but we are firmly in Europe, and we have to have a good relationship with the European Union.
Mr. Jekielek: So maybe a way to describe it would be, you’re hoping that the whole European Union have a more positive relationship with the U.S.?
Ms. Anders: I think that the European Union should have a more positive relationship with each other. I recently attended a conference here in Washington, where we talked about trans-Atlantic alliances and so on. I stood up and I said, “You know, I’m a little bit worried about the European alliance, because it is so unbelievably divided.” That’s another reason why I think Poland feels more secure with the U.S. Army. It’s because the EU right now doesn’t seem to be able to agree on very much. We have the whole uncertainty of Merkel leaving and not quite really sure how her successor will be, [with] the dire situation in France with the gilets jaunes (yellow vests), [and] with Macron’s approval rating of 20 percent, [and] Merkel and Macron sitting down and forming a treaty—you know—it’s not exactly inspiring, I think.
So, no, I think right now we’re happy in the European Union. We want that to work better. I think the feeling is, though, that was one of the reasons for Brexit, that the EU has become too bureaucratic. And I think Poland also feels that, but I think it is not alone. So I think perhaps the European Union should do a little bit to get itself together. We have the European parliamentary elections coming up very soon—in May. We’ll see how that goes. I know that the Law and Justice Party is hoping that we will have some more conservative people in the European Parliament to swing it a little bit the other way.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, that’s actually quite interesting. Poland is a lot less secular than a lot of other European nations. Does that create some kind of tension?
Ms. Anders: I think you can’t look at Poland without thinking about the number of years it was under communist rule. I think it really affects the views of any Pole. It affects our views on migration, definitely, because we’re afraid of being run over by another group of people. We are, on the whole, staunchly Catholic. The Catholic Church was what held the Polish people together during communist rule; it really was the only thing that gave them hope. I don’t think Poland is totally alone; I think all the countries that were under communist rule will probably have the same fears as Poland does. But Poland is the most Catholic of the lot, and it’s also the largest. So yes, it does stand out as being just a little bit different.
With the number of its citizens scattered all over the world, to me, it’s incredible. It has been incredible in the last three years, when I’ve been traveling so much, and people would ask me why there are so many Polish people all over the world. See, during the communist times, so much was said about the Holocaust, so much was said about Germany, so much was said about holding out Nazis. But it was inconvenient to talk about Russia; it was inconvenient to talk about deportations. You mention “deportations” to people who are in the United States, most people don’t have a clue what it’s all about, and yet, 1.3 million people were deported from Poland to Siberia.
Mr. Jekielek: Under Soviet occupation …
Ms. Anders: Yes. My father, Gen. [Wladyslaw] Anders, was able to save over 120,000 people by taking them out of there, when amnesty came about. But some people remained. Some people came to England and then to other other areas, and then emigrated. Then, people left and managed to escape during communist rule and were received in other countries, and other people left when Poland joined the European Union. That is the main reason for so many Polish people in the UK today. So they are scattered all over the world, and pull this unbelievable force outside of Poland, with its interest in what is going on in Poland.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s actually very interesting that you’re talking about this Polish diaspora. You’re actually from that Polish diaspora. I think you were born in the UK, you’re married to a U.S. military man, you’ve lived in the U.S., and now you’re representing Poland for international dialogue. What inspired you to do this?
Ms. Anders: I guess I just sort of fell into it, I think. There is no doubt that I did so well in the elections because of my name. My father, Gen. Anders, is considered one of the greatest heroes of the Second World War. So I think the name even today, and even in the opposition, there are people in the opposition who admire my father and, therefore, look at me in a perhaps slightly different way. So I was accepted in Poland as my father’s daughter.
I don’t know, I think I was just probably just talked into running for the Senate. I thought to myself, why not? And then when I lost [my first election] I thought, well, it’s obviously not meant to be. But as I said before, the number of votes made people wonder. People would say, well, she got all these votes and got nothing [to show for it]. So I had to have something. Then, I won in the district in the northeastern flank, again because of my father—because it is so close to Russia, because the deportations started there, because most of the people [deported] from Poland were actually deported from my district.
So, there are people in my district who escaped from Russia. There are people from my district who were in the Anders Army. They’re very old now and were in Monte Cassino and returned. In fact, when I ran for the Senate —and I was running for the second time around—the same thing, they had to talk me into it. But the first conference I had, or first meeting with my constituency, was in a little town called Podgorze, which is not too far from [the regional capital of] Lomza. It was, I think, one of the first places where the deportations took place. And, at the meeting, this elderly man came up to me, after I’d spoken, and he took my hand. He said that it really must be your father’s spirit that sent [you] to us.
And I thought to myself, OK, well this is maybe—sort of my destiny. Maybe it was my father’s spirit that led me this way. And there are certain people who will still continue to say that. Now, after three years, it’s different—the situation.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.