Poland and Ukraine have clashed over the absence of Polish defence firms from an industry forum in Kyiv at the weekend. The Polish state assets minsiter eventually apologised after realising he had falsely accused Ukraine of not inviting Poland.
Meanwhile, the Polish foreign minister skipped a meeting of his EU counterparts in Kyiv yesterday, saying that the decision was due to a current “downturn” in relations with Ukraine.
Though Poland has been a close ally of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last year, the two countries are currently embroiled in a dispute over Ukrainian grain exports, which Warsaw has unilaterally banned.
Poland is „no longer providing any weapons to Ukraine” because it needs to focus on boosting its own defence capabilities, the prime minister has announced.
His remarks come amid rising tensions between the two allies over Ukrainian grain exports https://t.co/HnLV47nFfV
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 21, 2023
Yesterday, the majority of the EU’s foreign ministers gathered in Kyiv for their first ever summit in a country outside the EU itself. They agreed a €5 billion package of additional military aid for Ukraine.
However, Poland was among a small number of countries that did not send its foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, with one of his deputies attending instead.
“My absence from the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Kyiv is partly an expression of the fact that, when it comes to relations between Poland and Ukraine, we are entering a period of decline,” Rau told Polsat News.
“I wouldn’t call it retaliation,” he added, emphasising that Poland still has “common strategic interests with Ukraine”. However, when it comes to “national interests we have divergent interests and misunderstandings regarding the transit of Ukrainian grain through Poland”.
When we are together, we are stronger.
The EU is and remains Ukraine’s first supporter.
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) October 2, 2023
Rau’s remarks yesterday followed a war of words with Ukraine over a defence industry meeting last weekend in Kyiv. While firms from over 30 countries were present, there was no representative from Poland.
“Shame on you, Mr Zelensky,” tweeted Krzysztof Lipiec, an MP from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. “Where is Poland? This is how Ukraine thanks Poland?”
In an interview with Radio Zet yesterday, Poland’s minister for state assets Jacek Sasin said that “PGZ [Poland’s state defence holding firm] as a company was not invited”. He added that “we have been dealing with a series of unfriendly gestures from Ukraine recently”.
“I am afraid that this is a matter of current political interest on the part of the Ukrainian authorities, who believe that when an [election] campaign is underway in Poland, it is better to side with Germany and to play for a change of government in Poland,” said Sasin.”This will have a negative impact on Ukraine.”
Shame on you, Mr. @ZelenskyyUa
Where is Poland?
This is how Ukraine thanks Poland? https://t.co/1bMiHnda8J
— Krzysztof Lipiec (@KrzysztofLipiec) September 30, 2023
However, that version of events was disputed by Ukraine’s ambassador to Poland, Vasyl Zvarych, who told broadcaster TVN that “Poland was among the first to be invited to this event” and its absence is “a question for the Polish side”.
Shortly after, Sasin issued a statement admitting that he had been wrong and that PGZ had, in fact, been invited to the forum in Kyiv. “I am sorry for the misunderstanding,” he wrote.
Sasin added that PGZ “decided not to attend due to the circumstances described below” and shared a statement from the firm. However, the statement did not provide any reason for PGZ’s decision not to attend the forum and instead talked about the firm’s existing good relations with Ukraine.
— Jacek Sasin (@SasinJacek) October 2, 2023
The government’s conflict with Kyiv has drawn criticism from the opposition, who have accused it of harming Poland’s relations with Ukraine in order to benefit the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s current campaign for parliamentary elections that will take place on 15 October.
“Poland as a country is currently paying the cost of an election campaign in which PiS subordinates the issues of national defence and relations with Ukraine to its own political benefits,” said Czesław Mroczek, an opposition MP and deputy head of the parliamentary defence committee.
“If Poland excludes itself from the group of countries and companies that will participate in the rebuilding of Ukraine, that will cause terrible harm to the interests and economy of our country,” Mroczek told industry news service Defence24.
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Main image credit: Josep Borrell/Twitter
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.