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One of Ukraine’s strongest allies says it will no longer supply Kyiv with weapons

21.09.23 14:28

Poland has said it will no longer supply its neighbor Ukraine with weapons, as a rift over agricultural exports deepens.

“We no longer transfer weapons to [Ukraine], because we are now arming Poland,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday on the X social media platform, previously known as Twitter, according to a Google translation.

“Ukraine is defending itself against the brutal Russian attack and I understand this situation, but as I said, we will protect our country,” he added.

Poland is helping Ukraine to fight what he called the “Russian barbarian,” but cannot agree to any destabilization of the Polish market by Ukrainian grain imports, Morawiecki said in further Google-translated comments carried by Polish news agency Polska Agencja Prasowa.

The comments followed a dramatic deterioration of relations between Kyiv and Warsaw this week.

Warsaw has been one of Kyiv’s staunchest allies since mutual foe Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Poland has donated a wide range of weaponry to Kyiv, from modern Leopard 2 tanks to Soviet-era fighter jets, as well as delivering military training to Ukraine’s armed forces.

A recent dispute over Ukraine’s agricultural exports — which have had to be transferred via eastern European countries while Russia has effectively blockaded grain ships leaving the country’s ports — has threatened to break the alliance, however.

The high-profile falling-out came to a head on Monday, as Ukraine filed complaints against a number of countries, including Poland, at the World Trade Organization over the bans on Ukrainian grain exports.

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a thinly-veiled swipe at Ukraine’s eastern European allies, telling the United Nations’ General Assembly that Kyiv is “working hard to preserve the land routes for grain exports and it is alarming to see how some in Europe play out solidarity in a political theatre – making [a] thriller from the grain. They may seem to play their own role but in fact, they are helping set the stage to a Moscow actor.”

That drew a sharp rebuke from Poland, with Warsaw summoning Ukraine’s ambassador over the remarks. Following the meeting, the Polish foreign ministry in a statement said Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski “communicated Poland’s strong protest over the statements made yesterday by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the UN General Assembly which suggested that some EU countries simulate solidarity while indirectly supporting Russia.”

The statement added that Poland “stressed that this claim is wrong and particularly unjustified in Poland’s case, given that our country has supported Ukraine since the first days of war.”

Ukraine has not publicly commented on Poland’s latest announcement on stopping weaponry transfers. CNBC has reached out to the foreign ministry of Ukraine.

What happened?

Tensions have been rising between Poland and Ukraine for a number of months.

The majority of Ukraine’s agricultural exports — mainly consisting of grains, oilseeds and other goods — were transported via the Black Sea, over the course of the Black Sea Grain initiative — a deal struck between Moscow and Kyiv that enabled grain-laden cargo ships to depart from three Ukrainian ports without being attacked.

After the agreement collapsed in July, other rail, road and river routes set up by the EU, known as “Solidarity Lanes,” became the only way to get Ukraine’s grain out of the country relatively safely.

Warsaw and a number of its eastern European neighbors have repeatedly complained that a glut of Ukrainian agricultural exports has ended up in their own countries due to logistical bottlenecks in the Solidarity Lanes, driving down national grain prices and hurting local farmers.

The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, attempted to mediate earlier this year by allowing eastern European countries — namely, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia — to introduce import restrictions on Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower exports. This meant that these nations were effectively just transit countries through which Ukrainian grains were transported before being distributed throughout Europe and beyond.

But the Commission refused to extend those limits last week, renewing tensions with Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, who said they would defy the relaxation of import rules and maintain restrictions.

That led to an eruption of anger and indignation in Kyiv, with the government filing complaints with the WTO against Warsaw, Bratislava and Budapest on Monday.

“It is fundamentally important for us to prove that individual member states cannot ban the import of Ukrainian goods. That is why we file lawsuits against them in the WTO,” Yulia Svyridenko, a senior Ukrainian government minister, said in a statement on the economy ministry’s website on Monday.

“At the same time, we hope that these states will lift their restrictions and we will not have to clarify the relationship in the courts for a long time. We need solidarity with them and protection of farmers’ interests,” Svyridenko added.

The “unilateral ban” on the import of Ukrainian agricultural products by Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, was hurting domestic exporters, Svyridenko said, adding they “have already suffered and continue to suffer significant losses due to downtime, additional costs and the impossibility of fulfilling foreign economic agreements,” CNBC reports.