July 15, 2024

Poland’s prime minister has told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to never “insult” Poles again, returning to harsh rhetoric towards Kyiv after the Polish president had sought to defuse a simmering dispute between the two countries over the issue of Ukrainian grain imports.

Zelenskyy angered his neighbours in Warsaw – a key military ally against Russia – when he told the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week that Kyiv was working to preserve land routes for its grain exports amid a Russian blockade of the Black Sea, but that “political theatre” around grain imports was helping Moscow’s cause.

Poland extended a ban last week on Ukrainian grain imports in a unilateral move that broke with a European Union ruling. The move has shaken Kyiv’s relationship with Warsaw, which has been seen as one of its staunchest allies since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.

“I … want to tell President Zelenskyy never to insult Poles again, as he did recently during his speech at the UN,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told an election rally on Friday, according to the State-run news agency PAP.

Earlier on Friday, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said the dispute between Poland and Ukraine over grain imports would not significantly affect good bilateral relations, in an apparent move to ease tensions.

“I have no doubt that the dispute over the supply of grain from Ukraine to the Polish market is an absolute fragment of the entire Polish-Ukrainian relations,” Duda told a business conference. “I don’t believe that it can have a significant impact on them, so we need to solve this matter between us.”

Duda’s comment followed after Prime Minister Morawiecki was reported as saying that Poland would no longer send weapons to Ukraine amid the grain dispute.

“We are no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming Poland with more modern weapons,” Morawiecki said on Wednesday, according to a local media report.

Poland is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections on October 15, and Morawiecki’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has come in for criticism from the far right for what it says is the government’s subservient attitude to Kyiv.

Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said in an article by Politico that Poland wanted to see “a strong Ukrainian state emerge from this war with a vibrant economy”, and that Warsaw “will continue to back Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO and the EU”.

However, speaking to reporters in New York, Rau said that while Poland had not changed its policy towards Ukraine, there had been a “radical change in Polish public opinion’s perception” of the countries’ relationship.

Asked by the PAP news agency what it would take to improve this perception, Rau said repairing the atmosphere would require a “titanic” diplomatic effort.

Slovakia, Poland and Hungary imposed national restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports after the EU executive decided not to extend its ban on imports into those countries as well as fellow EU members Bulgaria and Romania.

The countries have argued that cheap Ukrainian agricultural goods – meant mainly to transit further west and to ports – get sold locally, harming their own farmers.

Speaking in Canada on Friday, Zelenskyy did not mention the tension with Poland but said that when Ukraine lacked support, Russia was strengthened.

“You help either Ukraine or Russia. There will be no mediators in this war. By weakening assistance to Ukraine, you will strengthen Russia,” Zelenskyy told reporters after a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“And a powerful Russia and what to expect from it… I think history in books and witnesses has long since answered this question. If someone wants to take a risk, fine, weaken assistance to Ukrainians,” he said, according to a statement posted on the Ukrainian president’s website.

“To be frank and honest, freedom, democracy and human rights must be fought for,” he added.

The Kremlin said on Friday that it was watching the situation between Kyiv and Warsaw closely, adding that tensions would inevitably grow between Kyiv and its European allies as the dispute over grain escalates.

“We predict that these frictions between Warsaw and Kyiv will increase. Friction between Kyiv and other European capitals will also grow over time. This is inevitable,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“We are, of course, watching this closely,” Peskov said, calling Kyiv and Warsaw “the main” centres of Russophobia.

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