WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s prime minister told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday not to “insult” Poles, maintaining harsh rhetoric toward Kiev after the Polish president tried to defuse a simmering dispute over cereal imports.
Poland decided last week to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports, shaking kyiv’s relationship with a neighbor that has been seen as one of its strongest allies since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
zelensky he angered his neighbors when he told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that Kiev was working to preserve land routes for grain exports, but that the “political theater” around grain imports was only helping Moscow.
“I… want to tell President Zelenskiy to never insult Poles again, as he did recently during his speech at the UN,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at an election rally.
Poland will hold parliamentary elections on October 15, and Morawiecki’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has been criticized by the far right for what it says is the government’s subservient attitude towards Ukraine.
Analysts say this has forced PiS, which looks set to remain the largest party but may fail to win a majority, to take a more confrontational approach toward kyiv in the tight campaign.
Earlier on Friday, PiS ally President Andrzej Duda 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 conflict over the supply of grain from Ukraine to the Polish market is an absolute fragment of all Polish-Ukrainian relations,” Duda told a business conference.
“I don’t think this can have a significant impact on them, so we need to resolve this matter between ourselves.”
SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE
Meanwhile, in an article for Politico, Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said that Poland wanted to see “a strong Ukrainian state emerge from this war with a vibrant economy” and that Warsaw “will continue to support Ukraine’s efforts to unite to NATO and the EU”.
“There is absolutely no contradiction here.” Rau wrote. “Supporting Ukraine against the Russian invasion and protecting our citizens and safeguarding them against unfair economic competition: both simultaneously serve Poland’s interests.”
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 the perception of Polish public opinion” about relations between the countries.
Asked by state news agency PAP what it would take to improve this perception, Rau said repairing the atmosphere would require a “titanic” diplomatic effort.
Slovakia, Poland and Hungary imposed national restrictions on imports of Ukrainian grains after the European Union executive decided not to extend its ban on imports to those countries and to EU members Bulgaria and Romania.
The countries have argued that cheap Ukrainian agricultural products, intended primarily for transit to the west and to ports, are sold locally, harming their own farmers.
The EU, which imposed its ban in May, let it expire on Friday after Ukraine promised to tighten controls.
Morawiecki said on Friday that Warsaw would take matters into its own hands again if it saw fit.
“If there is destabilization of other markets… and the European Commission does not act, we will again take unilateral measures on our part,” he said. “In defense of the Polish farmer, I will never hesitate to make such a decision.”
Reporting by Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Alex Richardson, Jonathan Oatis and Gareth Jones
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