The Polish government's recent decisions to stop sending new weapons to Ukraine and renew the ban on Ukrainian grain imports continue to dominate the run-up to Poland's upcoming parliamentary election.
Following the end of a temporary EU ban on Ukrainian grain imports, Poland, along with Hungary and Slovakia, controversially decided on September 15 to defy Brussels and extend the ban on Ukrainian grain. In response, Ukraine then took the unprecedented step of escalating the dispute to the WTO, filing a complaint against the three CEE governments. Diplomatic skirmishes followed between Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, while the government in Warsaw announced it will stop sending new arms to Ukraine and will focus on modernizing its own army instead.
From an electoral point of view, the sudden deterioration in Polish-Ukrainian ties comes down to Poland's high-stakes parliamentary election, in which Ukraine policy has emerged as one of the most important issues. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party of Prime Minister Morawiecki has been facing growing electoral competition from the far-right Confederation movement, which is aiming to win over right-wing voters by leading calls for scaling down Polish support to Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees.
The PiS-led United Right electoral bloc is currently polling around 35-38% against its main electoral rival, the centrist Civic Coalition (KO) of ex-PM Donald Tusk. While PiS seems certain to fall short of securing an outright majority in parliament, the far-right Confederation is increasingly seen as the likely kingmaker of the election. With virtually all incoming parliamentary parties competing for the votes of the influential farming and rural communities, observers agree that PiS has ramped up its rhetoric on Ukraine, and specifically the grain issue, to attract votes from the base of its far-right rival. All this comes as government, renowned for its tough stance on immigration, has been hit by a major ‘cash-for-visas’ scandal, with Polish consulates in Asia and Africa reportedly having handed out fast-track visas in exchange for bribes.
While fears have understandably grown that PiS is jeopardising Warsaw's relations with Kyiv, Poland's strategic foreign policy orientation is highly unlikely to change. Although bilateral ties have suffered through the increasingly heated Polish election campaign, the two countries are widely expected to reconcile their ties. This is regardless of whether PiS or the Tusk-led KO forms the next government, as evidenced by recent statements from both the Polish and Ukrainian governments, the Ukrainian parliament and the Polish opposition. Poland has taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees and has been among the largest providers of economic and military aid to Kyiv, and so remains strategically invested in supporting Ukraine in achieving longstanding peace.
On September 27, Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus also confirmed that talks with Ukraine to resolve the grain dispute "were on track", while Ukraine's agriculture ministry said the two ministers are scheduled to meet in a week.
The possible reconciliation comes as the United States also announced a $2 billion loan agreement with Warsaw to further support the modernization of the Polish military, while Polish President Andrzej Duda said that Warsaw could still supply Ukraine with older weapons after replacing them with new ones (Poland has already sent most of its Soviet-era tanks, vehicles and other available weapons to Kyiv). At the same time, the grain issue, which was (at least partially) fuelled by the Kremlin's decision to exit last year's Türkiye-brokered UN grain deal, has highlighted future economic disputes that could arise should Ukraine eventually become a member of the European Union.Aretera will be publishing further analysis of the Polish parliamentary elections in the coming weeks. To receive this directly, please subscribe to our website or follow us on LinkedIn. If you would like to schedule further discussion on the issues shaping Polish-Ukrainian relations, please contact Dominik Istrate, our Lead Analyst for CEE, at firstname.lastname@example.org.For our pre-election overview from September 5, click here.