Tensions between Poland and Ukraine over Ukrainian grain exports have now reached fever pitch. Provided that Poland has been one among Ukraine’s strongest allies since Russia launched its invasion final yr, the dispute could initially appear laborious to grasp.
The rapid reason behind the row is that there’s now a glut of Ukrainian grain in central and jap Europe. Because the Black Sea is blockaded by Russia, grain that will have been shipped to Africa and the Center East has as an alternative ended up within the EU. This has destabilised agricultural markets in Poland, placing extraordinary downward strain on native costs and inflicting outrage amongst Polish farmers.
Poland this week appeared to throw down the gauntlet, with prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki asserting that he would now not ship weapons to Ukraine. These extensively reported remarks have been taken out of context considerably. They really mirror the established order fairly than a u-turn in coverage. Poland has already despatched so many weapons to Ukraine that it has only a few left for its personal military. Throughout his speech, Morawiecki additionally reiterated his dedication to permitting Poland for use as the principle transport hub and restore centre for weapons destined for Ukraine. Polish president Andrzej Duda has since clarified that every one present weapons contracts will be honoured. Nonetheless, Morawiecki’s speech undoubtedly reveals that tensions are boiling over.
In reality, these tensions return additional than the row over grain. Ukraine and Poland, like most jap European neighbour international locations, have a posh and sometimes darkish shared historical past. At numerous levels over the previous a number of hundred years, giant components of western Ukraine have been dominated by Poles. These rulers confirmed various and never at all times tolerant attitudes to native Ukrainians. For Poles, particularly painful had been the massacres of Polish minority teams in Volhynia and Jap Galicia, carried out by forces loyal to Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera throughout the Second World Conflict.
Such historical past has not been fully forgotten within the wake of Russia’s invasion. Occasional protests from the Polish facet have been raised every time Ukraine has commemorated Bandera, who stays a nationwide hero. Ukrainians, for his or her half, have chafed barely on the undertones of paternalism in direction of Ukraine in some Polish commentary. However, on the entire, a groundswell of mutual feeling has largely pushed these gripes to at least one facet. Poland has taken in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees and Polish folks have displayed a spontaneous solidarity with atypical Ukrainians – a solidarity that has been tremendously appreciated in Ukraine.
Above all, Poland and Ukraine are united by real shared nationwide pursuits within the face of the Russian invasion. Vladimir Putin’s revanchist actions and neo-imperial designs are additionally a risk to Poland, not simply to Ukraine – a incontrovertible fact that Russian propaganda hardly ever fails to say. For this reason, for the reason that invasion, Poland has launched into an infinite army armament programme. Polish generosity to Ukraine displays not simply solidarity, but in addition existential considerations.
But, for all that they overlap, the nationwide pursuits of Poland and Ukraine usually are not an identical. For Poland, its territorial defence and its agricultural sector are two separate points – particularly when Ukraine is threatening the livelihoods of Polish farmers. For Ukraine, in determined want of the financial increase that grain exports present, agriculture and defence are way more firmly interlinked. With out grain exports, Ukraine stays solely reliant on the charity of different states.
Tensions have been ratcheted up additional by three different points. The primary is the looming Polish elections, the place the incumbent Regulation and Justice (PiS) celebration is dealing with powerful competitors. The agricultural vote is essential to its re-election possibilities. PiS is shedding floor within the polls to the right-wing Konfederacja (Confederation) celebration, which has began to query Poland’s ‘unconditional help’ for Ukraine and has linked this to the price of residing.
The second trigger is Ukraine’s personal blunders. At occasions, President Zelensky appears unaware of how vital farming is to Poland and PiS, and has gone so far as implying that Polish considerations about agriculture play into the arms of Moscow. Plus, the spectacle of globetrotting Zelensky making ever higher calls for for army support has began to grate for some because the struggle drags on.
The third is the inner politics of the European Union. Initially, the EU had introduced within the ban on Ukrainian grain. However now it has left Poland and others within the lurch by refusing to increase it for any longer. EU leaders are fairly proud of this, as they had been by no means snug imposing the ban in opposition to Ukraine, though they don’t have any different options to the issue. They’re additionally fairly blissful for jap European international locations to look as troublemakers.
All of which means the grain situation is more likely to rumble on and even perhaps escalate additional. Whereas it doesn’t but imperil Western help for Ukraine’s defence of its sovereignty, it does remind us that the tensions in Europe and the West haven’t been washed away by ‘unity’ within the face of the struggle.
The longer the struggle continues, the extra these tensions will come to the floor. Whether or not Western politicians possess the mandatory statecraft to navigate these variations may decide not simply the rapid success of Ukraine, but in addition the way forward for Europe.
Jacob Reynolds is a author primarily based in London and Brussels.