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The backstory: Poland, which borders Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, has been a major ally and supporter of the country during its war with Russia. It supported Ukraine at the UN, and it’s given material support, too. Over 200 Soviet-style tanks, and other Western military equipment and supplies for Ukrainian forces have been moved through Polish territory. Last spring, Poland was the first NATO country to send fighter jets to Ukraine.
More recently: Even though Poland still supports Ukraine in the war, the two countries have been experiencing some tension lately over the grain trade. Because it’s harder for Ukraine to ship its grain out into the world since Russia pulled out of the Black Sea grain deal, it’s been shipping more of its goods over to nearby countries, with the EU even lifting international tariffs on these imports.
Over the past few months, domestic agriculture industries in parts of eastern Europe have been arguing that, with all of this Ukrainain produce coming in, prices for these goods have been driven down, hurting local farmers. So, the EU made an agreement to allowed some grain to transit through EU countries but barred domestic sales to protect local producers.
Last week, the EU lifted this ban. Pretty much right after, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia announced new independent bans on Ukrainian grain imports, saying that they need to protect their domestic economies. But Ukraine argues that these bans are illegal. On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy referred to these moves as “political theater.” Poland denounced this comment.
The development: Just as another winter of fighting nears, Poland announced on Wednesday that it wouldn’t be supplying Ukraine with any more weapons. The Polish government said that it is “now arming Poland with more modern weapons.” The country said it would still send over the supplies and weapons it already promised and also remain a transit route for Western weapons going into Ukraine from other countries.
Some analysts say that Poland has already given over most of what it can, and this shift probably won’t have a major effect on Ukraine’s fighting. But, this move does show cracks in the support that Ukraine has been getting so far. Poland’s decision could also be related to its incoming election, with the ruling party pushing to show voters that it’s prioritizing Polish citizens. The major competing far-right party wants to cut a lot of Poland’s assistance for Ukraine. But surveys show that most Poles are in favor of continuing to support Ukraine in the war.
On Thursday, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda came out to say the comments were misinterpreted. He clarified that, in his opinion, the Prime Minister meant that the country was modernizing its military and wouldn’t be sending the new weaponry to Ukraine, only the supplies they’d previously agreed to send. Government spokesman Piotr Mueller also said on Thursday that Poland would continue to honor the previously agreed contracts to provide Ukraine with certain ammo and supplies. He was asked if Kyiv would sign other contracts in the future, but he declined to answer.
“It’s alarming to see how some in Europe play solidarity in a political theater – making a thriller from the grain,” said Ukraine’s President Zelenskiy, in a speech at the UN General Assembly earlier this week. “They may seem to play their own role, but in fact, they are helping set the stage to a Moscow actor.”
“We no longer transfer weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming Poland,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki posted in a statement on social media on Wednesday.
“The message is very bad, both for Poland’s reputation but also because Poland has been one of the chief advocates of military aid to Ukraine,” said Michal Baranowski, managing director of Warsaw-based GMF East, part of the German Marshall Fund think tank. “Saying Poland will not be sending more weapons means that Poland can no longer play this role.”
“In my opinion, the prime minister meant that we won’t be transferring to Ukraine the new weaponry that we’re currently buying as we modernise the Polish army,” President Andrzej Duda told TVN24 television. “As we receive the new weaponry from the US and South Korea, we will be releasing the weaponry currently used by the Polish army. Perhaps we will transfer it to Ukraine.”
“When I read the headlines this morning, I was of course concerned and had questions, but I’ve subsequently seen the Polish government spokesman come out to clarify that in fact Poland’s provision of equipment, including things like Polish-manufactured Howitzers, is continuing and that Poland continues to stand behind Ukraine,” said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
When asked if he was worried about losing Poland as a friend, Zelenskiy responded, "I want to thank the Polish people, Polish society for their support. That's it.''