Poland, one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies, has announced an end to its arms transfers to the country, a day after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Warsaw of playing into Russia’s hands by banning Ukrainian grain imports.
Poland is one of Kyiv’s main weapons suppliers and has been one of the loudest cheerleaders for the Ukrainian cause since the full-scale invasion began in February 2022, but relations have soured over recent days amid the growing row over grain.
The argument has led to heated rhetoric between the two countries on the sidelines of the UN general assembly, with the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, comparing Ukraine to “a drowning person clinging to anything available”.
On Wednesday, the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said his country had decided to prioritise its own defence in the future. “We are no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming Poland with more modern weapons,” he said.
The announcement has largely rhetorical significance – the majority of available Polish military aid was transferred to Ukraine in the early months of the war, and there is no question of putting a stop to the use of Poland as a transit and repair hub for weapons supplies from other countries.
On Thursday, the Warsaw government spokesperson Piotr Müller clarified the statement, noting that Poland “is only carrying out previously agreed supplies of ammunition and armaments”.
The largest amount of Ukrainian military support comes from the US, and Zelenskiy has been using his current visit there to shore up support for continuing deliveries, as some Republicans begin to question the ongoing financial outlay on Ukraine.
The row also comes as Poland prepares for closely fought parliamentary elections next month, with the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party keen to avoid losing support to a far-right challenger that has called for reducing support to Ukraine, amid growing reports of “Ukraine fatigue” in some parts of the Polish population.
PiS also has strong support in farming regions, which are worried about falling grain prices after the surge in Ukrainian imports.
“We were the first to do a lot for Ukraine and that’s why we expect for them to understand our interests,” Morawiecki told Polsat News on Wednesday. “Of course we respect all of their problems, but for us, the interests of our farmers are the most important thing.”
The leader of the main opposition coalition, the former European Council president Donald Tusk, was quick to criticise the government, accusing PiS of “stabbing Ukraine in the back politically” for electoral purposes.
“The worst thing is that today this escalation, if it continues, both sides – Kyiv and Warsaw – are close to wasting what was a great opportunity for the entire region, for Poland and Ukraine – Polish-Ukrainian solidarity against Russian aggression, help for Ukraine to win the war with Russia, Polish-Ukrainian friendship and a rational, assertive policy when it comes to the burdens we bear,” said Tusk, at a news conference on the campaign trail.
The grain dispute came after the Russian invasion closed Black Sea shipping lanes and resulted in some Ukrainian grain being diverted overland through Europe.
In May, the EU agreed to restrict imports to Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, seeking to protect farmers there who blamed the imports for a slump in prices on local markets. The measures allowed transit through the countries to continue.
On Friday, the European Commission said it was ending the import ban, claiming the “market distortions” had disappeared. Poland, Hungary and Slovakia immediately announced they would defy the move.
On Wednesday, Zelenskiy used his speech to the UN general assembly to accuse the countries of hypocrisy and acting in Russia’s interests. “It’s alarming to see how some in Europe play out solidarity in a political theatre – making a thriller from the grain,” he said. “They may seem to play their own role but in fact they are helping set the stage to a Moscow actor.”
In response, Poland summoned the Ukrainian ambassador and warned of further retaliatory moves.
Morawiecki told Polsat News television: “I am warning Ukraine’s authorities. Because if they are to escalate the conflict like that, we will add additional products to the ban on imports into Poland. Ukrainian authorities do not understand the degree to which Poland’s farming industry has been destabilised. We are protecting Polish farmers.”
In turn, Kyiv urged Warsaw to rethink its stance, and said it would lodge a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the decision by Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. A WTO spokesperson confirmed that Ukraine had filed a complaint to the body.
“We urge our Polish friends to put aside their emotions,” said the Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko. “The Ukrainian side has offered Poland a constructive path to resolve the grain issue.”
He said Ukraine’s ambassador had explained Kyiv’s position on the “unacceptability” of the Polish ban and had offered proposals that “will become the basis for moving the dialogue into a constructive course”.