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Poland's president has made a political U-turn in light of the crisis in Ukraine

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden is in Poland, where his schedule includes a meeting with the Polish leader who comes from a Trump-loving nationalist party that has spent years at odds with the European Union, of which Poland is a member. Well, Russia's invasion of Ukraine is prompting the Polish government to reconsider its allies. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Krakow, Poland.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: A couple of years ago, Polish president Andrzej Duda was regularly making headlines for lashing out at anything associated with liberal democracy, including independent courts, a free press, LGBTQ rights, and especially the European Union.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ANDRZEJ DUDA: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: This is some imaginary community that we don't get anything from, he said, referring to the EU. We need something focused on our own causes, Polish causes. And while Duda never criticized Joe Biden, he made it clear that he preferred Donald Trump, an isolationist who ridiculed NATO. Duda even suggested naming a proposed U.S. military base in Poland after Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DUDA: And I hope that we will build Fort Trump in Poland together with their president.

KAKISSIS: But Russia's invasion of Poland's next door neighbor, Ukraine, changed Duda's tune. He and the Polish government are now working closely with their old nemesis, the EU. And in a speech just before Biden's visit, Duda praised the administration's commitment to European security.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DUDA: (Through interpreter) In times of real danger, we see clearly that the world needs strong American leadership. We see how important it is that the U.S. is present in Europe and involved in European affairs.

KAKISSIS: Jakub Majmurek (ph) is a political analyst in Warsaw. He says Duda is telling the public and his critics that he's above politics.

JAKUB MAJMUREK: Look, Biden is coming to me. President Trump was my best friend. Now President Biden is my best friend and who was a good diplomat here.

KAKISSIS: Majmurek (ph) says the Polish government has dropped a longtime ally, Hungary's populist leader Viktor Orban, because Orban remains close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

MAJMUREK: Because it is absolutely undefensible (ph) what Orban is doing regarding sanctions, regarding European Union politics towards Moscow and Putin. So I think that this alliance is now finished.

KAKISSIS: Piotr Lukasiewicz (ph), a former Polish military officer and diplomat, says the Polish government's new alliances also acknowledge Poland's own history with Russian aggression.

PIOTR LUKASIEWICZ: It's a long-standing Polish fear that Russia is trying to kind of restore its former Soviet glories. And there is a political transformation of Poland going on because of the war in Ukraine.

KAKISSIS: At a park in Krakow, mathematician Domenica Sosnowski (ph) sips coffee and says Duda rising above politics is important at a time when her country is hosting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees.

DOMENICA SOSNOWSKI: I don't agree with everything what our government does, but in terms of the war and the situation in Ukraine, they make right decisions because it's not a situation for a week or two. We have to have long time, and we have to put our energy into it.

KAKISSIS: A few blocks away, outside the law school Duda once attended, I meet law student Matteo Storovsky (ph).

MATTEO STOROVSKY: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: He says he hopes the West does not forget that Duda undermined democracy in Poland, even as they work together to stop Russia's war on Ukraine. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Krakow, Poland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.