Poland's patience with Ukraine begins to fray

By bne IntelliNews October 15, 2014

Jan Cienski in Warsaw -


Poland has been Ukraine's most voluble supporter in the EU and a strong backer of sanctions against Russia, despite the consequences for the Polish economy – but Warsaw's patience with Kyiv is beginning to fray.

There is a growing sense that Poland is being taken for granted, that Ukraine is putting its own domestic political and economic interests ahead of cultivating a close relationship with its western ally.

The latest irritant is Ukraine's refusal to buy Polish coal. This is a hugely sensitive issue in Poland, where the coal sector is haemorrhaging red ink as local mines find it difficult to compete against cheaper imports, especially coal from Russia.

So, when Poland offered to sell coal to Ukraine, the feeling was that the Ukrainians would jump at the offer of diversifying some of their energy needs away from Russia. Ukraine's  coal output  plummetted by 96% in September compared with the same period last year, notes Tim Ash of Standard Bank. That is a consequence of war in eastern Ukraine, where most of the country's coal industry is located, which has led to mines being flooded and transport infrastructure being devastated by fighting.

But Ukraine decided to keep buying Russian coal instead.

“We hear that that there is only interest in Polish coal from the Ukrainian side on the condition that it is free,” Janusz Piechocinski, the economy minister, said in a radio interview on October 15. “I am disgusted by that.”

Poland has an agreement to sell Ukraine 100,000 tonnes of coal, but Ukraine appears to be negotiating subsequent deliveries from Russia and South Africa. Normally a coal exporter, Ukraine is likely to need to import 3m-4m tonnes of coal in the next months to keep its thermal generating plants online.

Poland is also furious that Ukraine has for months blocked the import of some Polish meat for health reasons.

“If there is a continuing problem with 2,000 tonnes of meat on the bone, please don't be surprised if there is a rise in unfriendly opinions about Ukraine,” said Piechocinski.

The complex internal dynamics of Ukrainian politics are also annoying Poles. Earlier this week, thousands of Ukrainian nationalists demonstrated in Kyiv, calling for the recognition of the wartime Ukrainian Partisan Army. UPA, which has strong roots in the west of the country, had a complicated war, wavering between support and opposition to the invading Germans while fighting the Soviets. Members of the guerilla force also helped massacre local Jews, and the UPA ethnically cleansed western Ukraine (which before the war had been eastern Poland) by killing about 100,000 Poles.

Leszek Miller, a former Polish prime minister and head of the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance opposition party, tweeted on October 14, “March of UPA supporters in [Kyiv]. `We are proud.' Of what? Of massacring Poles in Volhynia [a region in western Ukraine]?”

The friction is likely to strengthen Poland's new foreign policy direction, which is much more cautious about taking a leading role over Ukraine. In her maiden address to parliament at the beginning of the month, Ewa Kopacz, the new prime minister, stressed that Poland would no longer be out in front of other EU countries when it comes to policy on Ukraine. “It is impermissible for Poland to be isolated as a result of setting itself unrealistic goals,” she said.

Kyiv's policies on coal, meat and history are unlikely to prompt her to change that view.


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