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Poland's new prime minister vows to press the West to continue helping neighboring Ukraine

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Poland's new prime minister vows to press the West to continue helping neighboring Ukraine
AP
VANESSA GERA and MONIKA SCISLOWSKA
December 12, 2023

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's newly elected prime minister, Donald Tusk, vowed Tuesday that his government will demand that the West keep helping neighboring Ukraine, and pledged that Warsaw would be a stable ally of NATO and a leader in Europe.

Tusk’s government later won a vote of confidence in parliament 248-201, but the vote was delayed when a far-right lawmaker, Grzegorz Braun, grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out candles on a menorah during a Hanukkah celebration. Tusk and others denounced the incident as a disgrace.

In his inaugural speech to parliament, Tusk called on Poland's fractious political class to unite, saying it cannot afford divisions while Russia is waging a war of aggression across the border, a conflict many fear could spread if Moscow prevails.

“Poland’s task, the new government’s task, but also the task of all of us, is to loudly and firmly demand the full determination from the entire Western community to help Ukraine in this war. I will do this from day one,” Tusk said in a session attended by Ukraine’s ambassador and former Polish presidents, including the anti-communist freedom fighter Lech Walesa.

Tusk expressed his exasperation that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy must keep urging world leaders to continue supporting Kyiv’s struggle in a war that has killed or maimed tens of thousands of Ukrainians. As another winter sets in, allies are growing tired. Even funds from the United States are in doubt.

“I can no longer listen to some European politicians and those from other Western countries who say they are tired of the situation in Ukraine,” Tusk said. “They say to President Zelenskyy’s face that they no longer have the strength, that they are exhausted.”

Tusk's challenges include restoring democratic standards in Poland, working for the release of European Union funding that was frozen due to democratic backsliding by his predecessors, and seeking to manage the migration that is causing political upheaval in Europe.

A centrist leader who was prime minister from 2007-2014, Tusk is the head of a broad coalition of parties that won election in October and has promised to work together under his leadership to restore democratic standards and improve ties with allies.

Tusk’s speech came a day after lawmakers chose him as the prime minister after rejecting the former premier, Mateusz Morawiecki of the Law and Justice party. Tusk also introduced the ministers in his government.

Duda, an ally of the former government, had delayed the power transition as long as he could. He was on a visit to Switzerland and did not attend Tusk's speech. He is due to swear in Tusk and his Cabinet on Wednesday morning.

The 67-year-old Tusk has vowed to restore foreign ties strained by the Law and Justice-led government, which bickered even with allies such as Germany and Ukraine and was at odds with the EU over legal changes that eroded the independence of the nation's judicial branch.

Tusk's Cabinet includes a former foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, taking up that role again. Adam Bodnar, a respected human rights lawyer and former ombudsman, was tapped as justice minister.

In his speech, Tusk stressed that his country on NATO's eastern flank would honor its obligations as a Western ally.

“Poland is and will be a key, strong, sovereign link in NATO, and Poland will be a loyal, stable ally of the United States, confident of its strength and importance,” Tusk said.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan congratulated Tusk in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

President Joe Biden “looks forward to continuing our work together as close allies. We value Poland’s partnership on so many issues — support for Ukraine, shared democratic values, energy — to name a few,” Sullivan wrote.

Tusk also said Poland would be stronger by being a constructive leader in the EU, countering an argument by his predecessors that the 27-country bloc threatened Poland’s national sovereignty. Tusk served as European Council president from 2014-2019 and has strong connections in Brussels, the bloc’s capital. He will travel there for an EU summit this week, his first trip abroad as prime minister.

Tusk also described migration as an issue requiring international cooperation, noting that even the U.S. has trouble managing its border situation on its own.

“You can really respect another person, you can respect other religions, you can respect other races, and at the same time be aware of what a great threat this turbulence is to Europe and the whole world,” he said. “There is a great threat of uncontrolled migration of peoples caused by conflicts, war, poverty, hunger and climate change.”

On domestic matters, Tusk vowed to continue popular social policies introduced by Law and Justice, including cash payments to families with children, to pursue wise financial policies and to protect the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community.

He said his government will end the practice of mass logging in the national forests and woodlands, which he called “our sacred national resource, not a timber factory.”

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