President finds ‘common ground’ with Eastern European leaders

U.S. President Donald Trump has bolstered relationships with Eastern European nations which analysts say had felt ignored by the Obama White House.

Meanwhile, in Western Europe, Trump’s stances on climate change, multinational agreements and defense spending “have struck a discordant note” with powers like France and Germany, according to a Nov. 25 analysis.

President Donald Trump welcomes Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to the White House on Nov. 25. / YouTube

The U.S. president is “singing in tune with leaders from Central and Eastern Europe, many of whose nations were under Russian-sponsored communist dictatorships within living memory,” Tom Howell Jr. wrote for The Washington Times.

This year alone, Trump has hosted at the White House the leaders of Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

“Once tucked behind the Iron Curtain, the people in these nations have fresh memories of the Cold War and relish their alliance with America. They view the U.S. as a protector, especially against Russia, in a way that bigger European powers might not,” Howell wrote.

The Eastern European leaders have “found common ground with an unconventional American president looking to tap business opportunities and one-up his predecessor,” Howell wrote. There is “a natural kinship between these leaders’ styles and Trump’s own.”

While President Barack Obama did little, Trump is strengthening the bonds with these leaders whose countries risk “falling under the influence of Russia or China,” Howell wrote.

On Monday, Trump hosted Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. The two leaders discussed Bulgaria’s purchase of eight F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. and efforts to ease travel between the nations through visa reform.

“We’re gonna work on that problem,” Trump told Borissov.

Pavel Baev, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said: “These leaders see the chance of entering the White House and having a photo-op with the U.S. president as a lifetime opportunity and a huge boost for domestic popularity, and so they are eager to play along [with Trump‘s] pretenses for grandeur.”

Trump, meanwhile, gets a chance to perform the role of a world leader and command respect, without “giveaways or expenses” from the U.S. treasury, Baev said.

“The relationship we have with Bulgaria has been very strong — great people,” Trump told Borissov.

“Bulgaria commits to provide due consideration to proposals from U.S. defense companies who wish to compete in the Bulgarian market,” Trump and Borissov said in a joint statement.

Peter Rough, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in D.C., noted that the Eastern European nations “are nationalist — relative to Western Europe — and religious, and have a certain esprit de corps that springs from that.”

In June, Trump welcomed Polish President Andrzej Duda and his wife to the White House, treating them to a flyover of F-35 jets after Poland agreed to a deal to purchase 32 of the planes. The leaders also agreed to move 1,000 U.S. troops to Poland as a deterrent to Russia.

Eric Stewart, president of the American-Central European Business Association (ACEBA), said central European nations, like the U.S., have an entrepreneurial spirit and are thriving areas for the tech industry and defense projects, as Trump pushes nations to spend at least 2 percent on defense as part of their commitment to NATO.

Trump is diverting from his predecessor by seeking closer political and economic ties with central and eastern Europe. The Obama administration pivoted away from business with central Europe and toward Asia, Stewart said.

“That was their plan and they were very open about that,” Stewart said. “In that strategy, they went too far — with some of the countries, [they] even put sanctions on them. You didn’t have to leave them and treat them badly.”

Earlier this year, Trump hyped trade with Romanian President Klaus Ioannis and pushed American energy investments in place of natural gas from Russia.

The White House on Monday highlighted Bulgaria’s efforts to produce natural gas with Greece and U.S. plans to license the use of American nuclear fuel for the Kozloduy nuclear power plant.

“Bulgaria is traditionally one of the poorer countries in the region, but there’s tremendous potential for economic growth in partnership with the United States,” a senior administration official told reporters before Borissov’s visit. “We are particularly enthusiastic about working in the energy sector. Bulgaria has tremendous potential here and tremendous investment potential for U.S. companies as it seeks to decrease its reliance on Russian energy and to diversify its energy sources.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s divisions with Western Europe were on display earlier this year.

Trump was scheduled to visit Denmark on the way home from Poland, though he canceled after the Danish prime minister called his interest in buying Greenland “absurd.” Trump then slammed Copenhagen for failing to meet its NATO obligation of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. Poland is among eight of the 28 NATO countries that have met the standard.

Critics say Trump risks sending a mixed message — touting U.S. manpower and energy investments to resist Moscow, even as he criticizes NATO allies, develops closer ties to Vladimir Putin and calls for restoring Russia’s position in the G7 group of developed nations.

Rough of the Hudson Institute said that’s just part of Trump’s negotiating style.

“He wants to pull all the levers of power and then enter negotiations with all the chips,” Rough said.