Is Tension Building Between Ukraine And One Of Its Key European Allies?

A spat over grain has caused frustration on both sides this week.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy
picture alliance via Getty Images

Poland has just drawn a metaphorical line in the sand and said it will no longer provide weapons to its beleaguered neighbour, Ukraine.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, Kyiv has depended on assistance from its Western allies to help it fight back against the much larger state.

More than a year and a half into the war, Ukraine has far surpassed expectations on the frontline by holding back Moscow for this long.

But, Russia still occupies around 18% of Ukrainian land, and Kyiv’s counteroffensive has been faltering in recent months.

And, even though its only the sixth largest donor of military aid to Kyiv, Poland’s decision not to continue supplying its close ally Ukraine is a shock.

Why is Poland no longer sending weapons to Ukraine?

Warsaw has already sent Ukraine 320 Soviet-era tanks and 14 MiG-29 fighter jets – and doesn’t have many more weapons left to give, having offered out a third of its reserves already.

That’s why prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his country’s focus is now on restocking Poland, even as Ukrainian forces are struggling to progress on the frontline and Kyiv is lobbying for fresh weaponry.

“We are no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine, because we are now arming Poland with more modern weapons,” he explained on Wednesday night by the private Polsat news TV channel.

There are plans to modernise the Polish military too, amid growing concerns about Russia expanding its aggression in the area.

There will still be some Polish transfers to Ukraine though, as artillery weapons are still scheduled for the coming months.

Poland has also welcomed more than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine, and encouraged other countries to support Kyiv over the course of the war.

The two countries were already close allies, but the war meant the Polish population were keener than ever to support Ukraine as it was the only country between them.

President of Poland Andrzej Duda (L) and Zelenskyy (R) during a joint press conference on June 28, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
President of Poland Andrzej Duda (L) and Zelenskyy (R) during a joint press conference on June 28, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

Why is this turning into a larger drama?

The decision to ease off on the weapons came after a period of tension between the two countries.

Government spokesman Piotr Mueller said that Poland confirmed it was just fulfilling its previous agreements of weaponry, but noted that there had been “a series of absolutely unacceptable statements and diplomatic gestures appeared on the Ukrainian side”.

On Tuesday, Poland summoned Ukraine’s ambassador to Warsaw over comments Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy made at the UN, over Poland, Hungary and Slovakia’s decision to extend ban on Ukrainian grain.

Zelenskyy had said the that Ukraine’s European allies were working together “in a political theatre – making a thriller from grain”.

Grain is one of Ukraine’s major exports, and it has been hampered by the war blockade put in place by Russia, so grain cannot be exported via the Black Sea shipping lanes.

Grain can still be transferred via a different route across land, but it meant Ukrainian grain risked dominating European markets.

The EU did initially ban imports of grain into Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia because it risked overshadowing local grain.

But, this ban ended on September 15 – and the EU didn’t renew it, reminding members that it was not up to individual governments to control such bans.

Hungary, Slovakia and Poland brought it back anyway, although the grain can be transferred through them to other countries.

How did Ukraine respond to the new ban?

Ukraine issued a lawsuit to the World Trade Organisation over the renewed ban, saying it breached international obligations.

Ukraine’s economy minister Yulia Svyrydenko said it was “crucially important for us to prove that individual member states cannot ban imported Ukrainian goods”.

But, Kyiv and Slovakia have since agreed to keep to lift the ban by introducing a grain licence system instead.

Poland initially said it would keep the ban, saying they will increase the number of banned products from Kyiv if Ukraine takes it further.

But, Ukraine has since said that the two neighbours would agree to seek solution.

Poland has also maintained that the countries are still working together to defeat the “Russian barbarian”, by helping prop up its military hub in Rzeszow.

It’s worth noting that the Polish government is currently facing pressure ahead of its national election on October 15 – and a far-right party has stirred up tensions by suggesting Poland has not received the thanks it deserves for everything it has done since war began.

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