No neighbor is as important for Ukraine in its defensive struggle against Russia as Poland. And Poland is helping: no other country has taken in so many refugees, it is sending its own weapons and is the hub of international arms aid for Ukraine.
But after almost a year and a half of war, discord between the capitals is increasing. Kiev and Warsaw each summoned the other country’s ambassador to give them an opinion at the foreign ministry. Reason for the unusual action among friends: Marcin Przydacz, foreign policy adviser to Polish President Andrzej Duda, had accused Ukraine of ingratitude.
Polish newspaper headlines “breaking friendship”
But the conflicts have been brewing for a long time, so that the Polish weekly “Do rzeczy” has already headlined “breaking friendship”. Disputes over Ukrainian grain exports, the Polish election campaign, bare nerves in Kiev and an unresolved bloody past weigh heavily on the strategically important axis.
In April, at the height of the rapprochement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the brotherhood of the two peoples in Warsaw. “Russia will never win if a Pole and a Ukrainian stand shoulder to shoulder,” he said in a speech in front of the old royal castle. In those days, Poland announced the delivery of Soviet MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine.
But even then Polish farmers had protested because grain from Ukraine not only passed through their country in transit, but was also sold. The prices fell. Poland and the other eastern EU members Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, in coordination with Brussels, closed their markets to Ukrainian agricultural products until September 15. Poland wants to extend the ban further. For the national-conservative governing party PiS, the farmers are important voters in the parliamentary elections, which are expected to take place in October.
In the grain dispute, Kiev accuses Warsaw of populist politics
Prime Minister Denys Schmyhal from Kiev therefore accused his Warsaw colleague Mateusz Morawiecki of populist politics. Deputy Prime Minister Julia Swyrydenko, responsible for the economy, thought aloud about “mirror measures”. The Polish presidential adviser Przydacz defended himself against such statements. “Ukraine has received great support from Poland,” he said. Ukraine should start appreciating the role Poland has played for them over the past months and years.
Piqued, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry summoned the Polish Ambassador Bartosz Cichocki. Selenskyj’s Deputy Chief of Staff Andriy Syhiba also reacted emotionally. “There’s nothing worse than having your rescuer charge you a rescue fee, even if you’re bleeding to death,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Russian military power will no longer murder in Europe or Asia or other continents”
Ukraine has recently been accused of ingratitude several times. At a NATO forum in mid-July, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called for more gratitude towards the American people. And Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, responded to repeated calls for arms: “I’m not Amazon”. After the allegations from Warsaw, Kiev seems to be thin-skinned.
The economically weakened Ukraine, which is dependent on foreign aid, cannot show much gratitude in deeds. Zelenskyi therefore raised the issue to a strategic level: other peoples should be grateful that Ukraine is saving them from Russia. “The Russian military power, stopped by the Ukrainians, will already stop killing in Europe or Asia or on other continents of the world,” he told Ukrainian ambassadors.
In 2022, out of gratitude for accepting Ukrainian refugees in Poland, Ukraine treated Polish citizens as almost equal to its own citizens for an initial period of 18 months. The neighbors are allowed to live, work and invest in Ukraine without any formalities, and receive medical treatment free of charge.
Bloody chapters of Polish-Ukrainian history are left out
The relationship between Poles and Ukrainians worked pragmatically in this war because they left out chapters in their long and often bloody history. As a sign of reconciliation, Zelenskyy and Duda commemorated the victims of the ethnic cleansing of 1943 in the northern Ukrainian city of Lutsk in July. In the Volhynia region, the Ukrainian underground army UPA murdered tens of thousands of Poles. The German crew watched. The irregulars are still considered heroes in Ukraine today.
In Poland, PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski did not accept the president’s sign of reconciliation. Ukraine refuses to search for Polish graves, he said. The strongman of Polish politics relies on historical issues in the election campaign and sees Poland surrounded by enemies. “No country can agree if the murder of its own people is put into perspective,” he said. “It’s difficult to surpass the Germans in that respect. But unfortunately the Ukrainians succeeded.”
Other PiS representatives struck peaceful tones after the quarrels. Poland will not do anything that harms itself, said foreign policy expert Radoslaw Fogiel. He emphasized: “We will help Ukraine because it is in our interest.”