Ukraine's President Zelenskiy seeks support in Bucharest ahead of critical elections in Poland

Ukraine's President Zelenskiy seeks support in Bucharest ahead of critical elections in Poland
The presidents of Ukraine and Romania announced in Bucharest “the beginning of the process of lifting the bilateral relation at the level of strategic partnership”. / Romanian presidency
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest October 11, 2023

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met President Klaus Iohannis, PM Marcel Ciolacu and the parliament's leadership in Bucharest during his first visit to Romania on October 10.

The presidents of Ukraine and Romania announced in Bucharest “the beginning of the process of lifting the bilateral relation at the level of strategic partnership”. Zelenskiy’s first visit to Romania took place amid a sudden deterioration in Ukraine’s relationship with Poland, previously one of its closest allies.   

The agenda focused on the military support provided by Romania (largely anti-aircraft equipment this time) and the transport of Ukraine’s grain crop through Romania.

Zelenskiy commented on the evening of October 10 that there had been “good agreements on weapons”. 

“I can't disclose everything now, but shells – affirmative, bolstering air defense – affirmative. We are still preparing some things. They will be powerful. A training centre for F-16 pilots is being set up in Romania, and Ukrainian pilots will be among the first to be trained,” he said, according to a statement from the Ukrainian presidency. 

“Secondly, we stated that we are moving to the level of strategic partnership. There is a very clear meaning behind this political wording. As President Iohannis told me, we can rely on Romania. Romania can definitely rely on Ukraine.

“I assured President Zelenskiy of Romania's determination to continue its support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, as long as it will be necessary until the victory against Russian aggression. Strengthening Ukraine's security means strengthening Romania's security,” said Iohannis on October 10. 

Meanwhile, Ukraine's relations with Poland have soured over Ukrainian grain exports, which Poland says are hurting its farmers, and the issue has become central to the Polish general election campaign.

In Poland, the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which recently questioned its support for Ukraine in order to win more votes from the nationalist camp, is facing the Civic Coalition bloc, headed by Donald Tusk, a former president of the European Council and a former Polish prime minister.

The Civic Coalition pledges to reverse the judicial amendments, safeguard media independence protect civil liberties and rebuild its cooperative relationships within the EU, particularly with Germany. The parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 15.

As the row over Ukrainian grain deepened, 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 pieces have been disturbed, they no longer stand as we knew them, for several reasons: one of them is the sudden and quite rapid cooling of relations with Poland, Ukraine's relations with Poland. Do not forget that the visit takes place a few days before elections in Poland, do not forget that Ukraine shows signs of changing its bearing in recent months,” said Armand Gosu, an expert in the ex-Soviet space’s politics and history, in an interview with Agerpres.

Zelenskiy’s first visit to Romania was largely prompted by fears of an adverse outcome of the elections in Poland – Ukraine’s traditional strategic partner who turned more unpredictable recently, argued Gosu.

Gosu added that the election is won by a “pro-Berlin party” — relations between Poland’s current PiS government and Germany have also worsened recently — “the relationship between Warsaw and Kiev will also be reset … You will see that Zelensky suddenly loses his interest in Romania, although he shouldn't because he also recognised that a large part of Ukrainian grain passed through Romania.” 

The electoral context in the United States, on the other hand, made Ukraine more interested in seeking support from Germany, Gosu said. “There is a risk that aid [from the US] will be delayed, but I see that Ukraine, on the political side, is more focused on Berlin at the moment."  

During Zelensky’s visit to Romania, more delicate topics such as the rights of the Romanian minority in Ukraine were discussed as well. Zelenskiy reportedly cancelled his speech to lawmakers after pro-Russian MP Diana Sosoaca announced protests. Ukraine’s president said he had not prepared a speech and avoided journalists’ questions about the Romanian minority in Ukraine.


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