Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Poland has been paying for a key ally of Volodymyr Zelensky. Among other things, Poland accepted more than a million Ukrainian refugees and actively supported humanitarian, financial and military aid to Ukraine, both within the EU and NATO. However, Ukrainian-Polish relations have been cooling in recent months, either because of Ukrainian grain flooding the European market or because of statements by Ukrainian leaders about insufficient aid.
In May, Poland was at the head of five countries that concluded an agreement with the European Commission that Ukrainian grain would not reach domestic markets, but would at least be allowed to transit through them to the rest of the world. “We are primarily concerned with Polish farmers,” responded then Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, saying that Poland and other countries had flooded millions of tons of cheap Ukrainian grain, which had a negative effect on Polish farmers. Over the past year, wheat imports from Ukraine to Poland have increased by more than 16,000 percent, and corn by almost 30,000 percent.
In addition, the quality of Ukrainian grain has long been subjected to harsh criticism. According to the findings of the Polish inspectors, out of 73 samples of cereals imported from Ukraine, 17 of them contained salmonella bacteria, in seventeen cases also prohibited pesticides, in eleven samples it was genetic modifications and in six samples mycotoxins. The grain also contained metals such as mercury, cadmium, iron and lead.
The grain agreement greatly angered Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who complained to European Council President Charles Michel. “I expressed deep concern over such a decision and emphasized that these actions are a gross violation of the association agreement and EU founding treaties,” Zelenskyy said, while Ukraine’s foreign ministry sent protest notes to the five countries.
Regarding grain, Zelenskyj also thundered at the UN, while he exaggerated the criticism of his allies, even according to Czech politicians. “It is alarming to see how some in Europe, some of our friends in Europe, are just playing political theater and acting out a grain thriller in solidarity with us. It should look like they are playing their own role, but in reality they are helping to set the scene for Moscow’s borders,” Zelensky said.
Polish political elites do not like criticism and tell Ukraine that more gratitude is needed. The Minister of the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda, the head of the Office for International Policy, Marcin Przydacz, told Zelensky that he should be more concerned about strengthening alliances than criticizing his allies.
“We are in NATO, we have a strong army, we are in the EU, we have a fairly well-functioning country. But Ukraine has problems today and it should be important for Poland to support it. But we do not impose ourselves,” the minister emphasized that it is Ukraine that needs help.
Now Ukraine has been outraged by the blockade of border crossings due to truck transport, which is based on the commitment of the European Union. Polish truck drivers are blocking border crossings with Ukraine to protest the deal, which allows much cheaper Ukrainian drivers easy access to the bloc.
Since Monday, protesters have blocked three key border crossings, Dorhusk–Jagodin, Korczowa–Krakowec and Hrebenne–Rava–Russia, saying they intend to halt commercial traffic until the government in Warsaw and decision-makers in Brussels restore restrictions on shipping operations for Ukrainian carriers that were in place before last year’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
“We’re going to do what the farmers did – we’re going to protest until the government admits there’s a problem and does something about it.” said one of the protesters, as reported by politico.eu.
The Polish transport industry says that almost a million trucks will cross the Polish border this year by the end of the year, compared to only about 180,000 per year before the war. Protesters at the crossings plan to allow only one truck per hour to pass through, with the exception of vehicles carrying humanitarian and military aid. animals or perishable products; the passage of passenger cars will also be allowed.
Unlike farmers who had the support of the government, which resulted in the grain agreement of the European Commission and several countries including Poland or Slovakia, truck drivers do not have such support. The Polish and Ukrainian governments, as well as the European Commission, are calling on protesters to let the trucks pass.
“I absolutely do not recommend such behavior when the border is blocked. It’s not something very European,” said Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean. “We support the solidarity belts that we have created to support Ukraine and Moldova in their export and import activities. We are working on dialogue with all stakeholders, because I don’t think Polish transport companies have to worry too much about competition coming from Ukraine,” she stated.
Poland’s infrastructure ministry said in an emailed statement: “The infrastructure minister has sent a letter to members of the protest committee calling on them to lift the blockade.” Warsaw insists it cannot disrupt the EU deal, extended until next June, which allows shippers to transport cargo between Ukraine and an EU country without additional paperwork, but does not allow Ukrainian truck drivers to pick up and unload cargo within the EU.
“The agreement was concluded by the EU, so while it is in force, member states cannot conclude further agreements with Ukraine. In practice, this means that Poland cannot introduce a mandatory permit system with Ukraine before the agreement expires,” the ministry said.
Of course, the angry Ukrainian party also had its say. “We call on Polish protesters to stop blocking the border and choose other forms of defending their rights that would not impede movement across the border,” Ukrainian Ambassador to Poland Vasyl Zarych said in a statement on Monday. “Such methods only serve our common enemy, the Russian terrorists, and harm the interests of not only Ukraine, but also Poland and the whole of Europe,” Žaryč declared.
But according to Polish truckers, Ukrainian truck carriers even transport goods between individual locations in Poland and also transport cargo between Poland and third countries. It destroys Polish truck transport, which cannot compete with cheap Ukrainian carriers. Many smaller carriers are said to be facing bankruptcy.
“I have a small business. This year I had to reduce my vehicle fleet by 40 percent to only eight trucks, because Ukrainians transport much cheaper,” complained one of the drivers.
According to the Ukrainian side, this is another painful blow from the allies. “Polish carriers blocking the roads to the border crossings between Poland and Ukraine … are a painful blow to the back of Ukraine, which is suffering from Russian aggression. Solidarity corridors between Ukraine and the EU passing through the territory of Poland are at risk,” added Žaryč.
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Ukraine (War in Ukraine)
Reports from the battlefield are difficult to verify in real time, regardless of whether they come from any side of the conflict. Both warring parties, for understandable reasons, may release completely or partially false (misleading) information.
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author: Jakub Makarovič
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