April 19, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Poland President Andrzej Duda criticized Ukraine for its handling of a dispute over imported grain, adding to strains between two countries whose alliance has been central to the push to repel Russia’s invasion.

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“We cannot allow that Ukrainian grain is sold on the Polish market without any control,” Duda said in an interview Tuesday on Bloomberg Television with Annmarie Hordern. “We also have our own citizens, we have to care for their interest.”

“It’s a pity our Ukrainian neighbors don’t want to understand that,” he said.

The grain disagreement has grown in intensity and significance after Warsaw extended a ban on crops from its eastern neighbor in a push to placate its farmers, whose support will be crucial in parliamentary elections next month. In response to such moves, Ukraine filed a World Trade Organization complaint against Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

Duda’s remarks were prompted in part by comments President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made earlier Tuesday on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter. He accused “some in Europe” of “turning grain into a thriller.”

“They may seem to play their own roles,” Zelenskiy wrote. “In fact they’re helping set the stage for a Moscow actor.”

Events at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday also suggested the strains were growing. Duda had said he had planned to meet Zelenskiy on the sidelines of the UN gathering in New York, only to say later that scheduling conflicts made a meeting impossible.

That stood in contrast to the unity that had defined the two leaders’ relationship before the grain dispute. They had regular phone conversations in the first months of the war. In April, Duda stood alongside Zelenskiy in Warsaw and vowed that Russia would never drive the neighbors apart.

Read more: Ukraine Files Complaint With WTO on EU Neighbors’ Grain Ban

While Poland has closed its own market to grain imports from Ukraine, the country still allows for transit through its territory, which Duda said has doubled in volume this year.

“Personally, I regret there is a discussion going on in the media,” Duda said. “I’ll try to cut it off for sure because someone needs to be wiser here, and the situation isn’t easy.”

The back-and-forth signaled that what seemed to be a relatively minor disagreement has ballooned into something larger. If it gets any worse, it could have direct implications for the war given Poland’s place as a key transit point for weapons and aid flowing to Ukraine.

For Poland, the issue is a political one. The ruling Law & Justice party, seeking a third term in office in an election slated for Oct. 15, is reluctant to alienate its rural voting base, while growing discontent over the cost of supporting Ukraine has boosted the party’s opponents on the far right.

In addition to serving as a major source of military assistance to Ukraine, Poland has accepted about two million refugees from Russia’s invasion. In a further ominous sign, Poland’s government said Monday it may not extend support for the refugees next year.

In the interview, Duda said there were “many different problems,” including “people-to-people problems.”

“Of course, there is a phenomenon of a certain fatigue,” he said. “But it’s normal, it’s just human. A lot of Polish people have sacrificed a lot to help their neighbors from Ukraine.”

–With assistance from Kasia Klimasinska and Andrea Dudik.

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