* Republican in Poland on final leg of foreign tour

* Romney says Poland a beacon of free market, democracy

* He dodges questions about gaffe-strewn tour

By Steve Holland

WARSAW, July 31 (Reuters) - U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney held up Poland's transition from Communism to democracy as an example for the rest of the world while saying on Tuesday that Russia had faltered on the path to freedom.

Romney was speaking in the Polish capital at the end of a three-country foreign tour that also took him to Britain and Israel. The trip was supposed to show voters back home that the Republican could serve on the world stage just as well as President Barack Obama, but it has been marked by gaffes and missteps.

In a speech in the library of Warsaw University, Romney evoked Poland's struggles two decades ago to bring down the Iron Curtain and praised its efforts s i nce then to embrace small government and a market economy - the same model he says is needed to revive spluttering U.S. growth.

"In the 1980s, when other nations doubted that political tyranny could ever be faced down or overcome, the answer was, 'Look to Poland'," Romney said. "And today, as some wonder about the way forward out of economic recession and fiscal crisis, the answer is to 'Look to Poland' once again."

Romney's comments on Russia will resonate in Poland, which has a history of occupation by its eastern neighbour and has looked to the United States as a friendly counterweight to the Kremlin's influence.

"Unfortunately, there are parts of the world today where the desire to be free is met with brutal oppression," Romney said, listing the Moscow-allied state of Belarus, the Syrian leadership, and Venezuela's leader Hugo Chavez.

"And in Russia, once-promising advances toward a free and open society have faltered," he said.

Romney has previously said that Russia is "without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe".


STANDING BY ALLIES

Romney has pledged not to criticise his Democratic rival for the presidency from foreign soil, but his comments in Poland - as during the Israel leg of his tour - appeared designed to highlight differences in the candidates' approach to foreign policy.

Obama has put emphasis on a "re-set" in the previously fraught relations with the Kremlin. Some in Poland felt Washington was overlooking its long-standing alliance with Warsaw for the sake of a better relationship with Russia.

Alluding to the trade union movement Solidarity, which helped topple Communist rule, Romney said: "I believe it is critical to stand by those who have stood by America. Solidarity was a great movement that freed a nation. And it is with solidarity that America and Poland face the future."

Solidarity on Monday distanced itself from Romney's visit to Poland, saying he had supported attacks on unions in his own country.

Romney has run a fairly smooth campaign in the United States by sticking closely to a message that the U.S. economy under Obama has faltered with 8.2 percent unemployment.

Abroad, however, he has suffered a series of problems that drew criticism from the Obama camp that he was not ready to be U.S. commander in chief.

On the first leg of his trip, in London, the former governor of the U.S. state of Massachusetts drew howls of derision from the British press after questioning whether the city was ready to host the Olympics.

On the next stopover in Israel, he angered Palestinian leaders by calling Jerusalem the Israeli capital and saying cultural differences made Israel more successful economically than the Palestinians.

In Poland on Tuesday, he studiously avoided making any off-the-cuff comments to the media. Romney stuck closely to his message, going from meeting to meeting with Polish officials and thanking them for Polish contributions to the U.S.-led war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, reporters frustrated at a lack of access to him during this trip shouted questions about his missteps.

"Governor Romney, are you concerned about some of the mishaps on your trip?" shouted one.

"Governor Romney do you have a statement for the Palestinians?" shouted another.

Romney ignored the questions and strode back to his motorcade vehicle as an aide admonished members of the press. "Shove it," the aide, Rick Gorka, told reporters.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

Related on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • With A Little Help From My Friends (Joe Cocker)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/mitt-romney-will-not-repu_n_1551540.html" target="_hplink">(May 28, 2012) --</a></strong> Despite a resurgence of <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/25/mitt-romney-s-new-bff-donald-trump.html" target="_hplink">Donald Trump's birther claims</a>, Romney refused to repudiate the billionaire, who has been helping with his 2012 campaign efforts. "You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me ... I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people," Romney said. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • Who Let The Dogs Out (Baha Men)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/mitt-romney-seamus_n_1429925.html" target="_hplink">(April 16, 2012) -- </a></strong> In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Romney discussed the political fallout over strapping his dog Seamus to a car roof. He admits that he probably would not do it again. (Handout)

  • It's The End Of The World As We Know It (R.E.M.)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/mitt-romney-medicare-president-obama_n_1403267.html" target="_hplink">WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 4, 2012) --</a></strong> Speaking before the Newspaper Association of America, Romney attacked Barack Obama on his health record, claiming the president "has taken a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

  • For The Love Of Money (The O'Jays)

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/mitt-romney-i-made-a-lot-of-money_n_1345516.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NEW YORK, N.Y. (March 14, 2012) -- </strong></a> Romney became testy on Fox News while discussing his appeal to lower-income voters. On the same day, Occupy Wall Street protesters staged a demonstration outside Mitt's Waldorf Astoria hotel fundraiser. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

  • People Are Strange (The Doors)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/mitt-romney-south_n_1334478.html" target="_hplink">PASCAGOULA, Miss. (March 9, 2012) --</a></strong> While on the trail in Alabama and Mississippi, Romney got in touch with his Southern side, learning how to say "y'all" and liking his grits. With those new experiences in hand, he admitted that "strange things are happening to me." (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)

  • Pink Cadillac (Bruce Springsteen)

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-cadillac_n_1299740.html" target="_hplink"><strong>DETROIT, Mich. (Feb. 24, 2012) -- </strong></a> While speaking before the Detroit Economic Club at Ford Field, Romney listed not two, not three, but four American-made cars that he and his wife, Ann, owned. Among the vehicles: "a couple of Cadillacs." (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • It's The Hard-Knock Life (Annie & The Orphans)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/mitt-romney-very-poor_n_1246557.html" target="_hplink">TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2012) --</a></strong> In an interview with CNN, Romney noted that he is "not concerned about the very poor," citing the social safety net for that segment of the populace. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • America The Beautiful

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/31/mitt-romney-america-the-beautiful-_n_1243908.html" target="_hplink"><strong>THE VILLAGES, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2012) --</strong></a> On the eve of Florida's primary, Romney led his supporters in a singing of the patriotic song. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Successful (Drake, Lil Wayne)

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/mitt-romney-tax-returns_n_1217708.html" target="_hplink"> <strong>CHARLESTON, S.C. (Jan. 19, 2012) -- </strong></a> During CNN's GOP debate, Romney refused to commit to disclosing his tax returns, offering no apologies for his success. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Bye Bye Bye ('N Sync)

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/mitt-romney-i-like-being-able-to-fire-people_n_1194115.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NASHUA, N.H. (Jan. 9, 2012) -- </strong></a> In a speech about insurance options, Romney tells audience members, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." (Photo:AP/Charles Dharapak)

  • Don't Know Why (Norah Jones)

    <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/28/mitt-romney-embraces-climate-change-denial_n_1063905.html" target="_hplink">PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Oct. 27, 2011) --</a></strong> Back in June 2011, Romney said humans are somewhat tied to climate change. By October, he had reversed course, saying "We don't know what causes climate change." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)