When U.S. President Barack Obama chose Poland to begin a four-day European trip, he sent a message about the country's importance in the attempt to stand down Russia over Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's threatening moves against Kyiv have cast a shadow over Obama’s visit, rekindling old fears among the new democracies of the former East Bloc.
None of those nations, experts say, comes close to Poland in terms of size, symbolism and geo-political importance.
“It’s a rising power in Europe,” said Nile Gardiner, who directs the Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.
“By its sheer size alone, as the largest post-communist nation in the European Union, Poland carries significant weight. [It's] really the frontline of the NATO alliance, and, together with the Baltic states, a bulwark against Russia,” he said.
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, and Moscow’s ongoing efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine, Poland’s relevance has only increased.