Poland’s PM tells Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky ‘never to insult Poles again’ as tensions over grain imports continue

Poland’s prime minister told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday not to “insult” Poles, maintaining harsh rhetoric towards Kyiv after the Polish president had sought to defuse a simmering row over grain imports.

Poland decided last week to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports, shaking Kyiv’s relationship with a neighbour that has been seen as one of its staunchest allies since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.

Zelensky angered his neighbours when he told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that Kyiv was working to preserve land routes for grain exports, but that the “political theatre” around grain imports was only helping Moscow.

“I … want to tell President Zelensky never to insult Poles again, as he did recently during his speech at the UN,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told an election rally.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) and Polish President Andrzej Duda commemorate victims of World War II at the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral in Lutsk, Ukraine in July. Photo: Reuters

Poland holds a parliamentary election 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 Ukraine.

Analysts say this has forced PiS, which looks set to remain the biggest party but may not secure a majority, to adopt a more confrontational approach to Kyiv in the closely fought campaign.

Earlier on Friday, President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, had 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.”

Zelensky showing the strain as Ukraine’s allies turn up pressure

Meanwhile, in an article for Politico, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said 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”.

“There’s absolutely no contradiction here.” Rau wrote. “Supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion and protecting our citizens and safeguarding them against unfair economic competition – both serve Poland’s interest simultaneously.”

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’ relations.

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

A deer stands by hay bales in a field in Czosnow, near Warsaw, Poland on Monday. Poland, along with Hungary and Slovakia, are continuing their bans on imports of Ukraine grain, saying it hurts the interests of their farmers. Photo: AP

Slovakia, Poland and Hungary imposed national restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports after the European Union executive decided not to extend its ban on imports into those countries and 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.

The EU, which imposed its ban in May, let it expire on Friday after Ukraine vowed to tighten controls.

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Morawiecki said on Friday Warsaw would take matters into its own hands again if it saw a need.

“If there is destabilisation of other markets … and the European Commission doesn’t act we will again take unilateral action on our side,” he said.

“In defence of the Polish farmer I will never hesitate to take such a decision.”

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