Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on September 20 that Poland was no longer arming Ukraine as it is going to focus on upgrading its own armed forces instead.
The PM’s words caused an uproar as they came at a particularly difficult time in relations between the two countries.
Poland has been one of Ukraine's closest allies against Russia's aggression, but relations have soured over Ukrainian grain imports, which Poland says are hurting its farmers. The issue has become political dynamite ahead of the general elections next month.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the UN’s General Assembly earlier this week that “some in Europe play out solidarity in a political theatre,” putting a fight over trade before solidarity with a country at war.
Although Zelenskiy did not name names, his words did not go down well in Poland. Poland summoned the Ukrainian ambassador
in Warsaw the next day over Zelenskiy's comments where he accused those of halting Ukraine’s grain exports of “helping Moscow.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda – who was also at the UNGA but did not meet Zelenskiy – said Ukraine was like a “drowning man clutching at straws”.
“A drowning person is extremely dangerous, capable of pulling you down to the depths … [and can] simply drown the rescuer,” Duda said.
Although Morawiecki did not make the link between Poland’s military help to Ukraine and the ongoing spat over grain imports, the timing of his statement was telling.
Poland is “no longer sending arms to Ukraine because we are arming ourselves now,” Morawiecki told private broadcaster Polsat.
“You must have something to defend yourself with. This is our principle, so we have increased purchases of weapons,” Morawiecki said at a press conference. “We are focusing mainly on modernising and rapidly arming the Polish Army to make it one of the strongest armies in Europe. And we plan to achieve this in a very short time.”
“We know perfectly well that Ukraine is defending itself against the brutal Russian attack. We won't jeopardise its safety,” Morawiecki told Polsat, adding that the military help hub in the city of Rzeszow, southeastern Poland, continues to work as normal.
Asked if Poland was going to scale back help to Ukraine, Morawiecki told Polsat that help is ongoing but “Poland must not agree to the destabilisation of its domestic [agricultural] market.”
Poland imposed a ban on imports of grain and some grain by-products like bran from Ukraine on September 16 after the expiry of EU restrictions on Ukrainian imports.
Kyiv responded by filing a complaint with the WTO
against Poland (as well as Hungary and Slovakia), where it is seeking compensation for the trade disruption, and has threatened an embargo on Polish apples, cabbage, tomatoes, and onions. Grain exports are Ukraine’s main foreign exchange earner for the cash-strapped government in Kyiv. The export of Ukraine’s grain has been sharply reduced after Russia suspended the Black Sea Grain Initiative
on July 17 preventing Ukraine’s grain leaving by ship.
Poland is the West’s main hub of military help for Ukraine and has also taken in well over one million Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war. Poland has provided Kyiv with more than €3bn of military aid since the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine began last year, according to the Polish government. Polish military assistance to Ukraine included ammunition, armoured vehicles, tanks, self-propelled howitzers, and Soviet-era fighter jets.
In a tongue in cheek response to Ukraine’s complaint to the WTO asking for compensation, Poland issued an invoice to Ukraine totting up the cost to Poland to date for its support in the war against Russia:
- Military assistance - PLZ14bn
- Humanitarian assistance - PLZ4.3bn
- Financial assistance - PLZ1.6bn
- Assistance to citizens of Ukraine - PLZ71.4bn
- Private assistance from Poles – PLZ10bn.
TOTAL: more than PLZ100bn