By Alan Charlish
WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland summoned Kyiv’s envoy to the foreign ministry on Wednesday, after comments by Ukraine’s president on a ban on grain imports angered the government in Warsaw, which is toughening its stance ahead of October elections.
Poland has been one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies since Russia invaded the country in February 2022, but the countries are now embroiled in a deepening conflict over agricultural imports since Poland, along with Hungary and Slovakia, extended a ban on grain imports from their war-torn neighbour.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the United Nations General Assembly Kyiv was working to preserve the land routes for grain exports, but he added that the “political theatre” around grain imports was only helping Moscow, which invaded Ukraine last year.
“(Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski) conveyed the Polish side’s strong protest against the statements made by President V. Zelenskiy at the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, alleging that some EU countries feigned solidarity while indirectly supporting Russia,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
It said Jablonski also told Ambassador Vasyl Zvarych that “putting pressure on Poland in multilateral forums or sending complaints to international tribunals are not appropriate methods of resolving disputes between our countries”.
Poland, Slovakia and Hungary announced curbs on grain imports from Ukraine on Friday after the European Commission decided not to extend a ban on sales into Ukraine’s five EU neighbours, which also include Romania and Bulgaria.
The ban was introduced to protect farmers in those countries from a surge of grain and food imports from Ukraine, after Russia’s invasion largely blocked Ukraine’s favoured routes via Black Sea ports.
Romania will work with Ukraine over the next 30 days on a grain export control plan that will help protect Romanian farmers, Romanian Agriculture Minister Florin Barbu said on Wednesday.
A World Trade Organization spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday that Ukraine had taken the first step in a trade dispute by filing a complaint to the global trade body.
He did not name the countries although Kyiv has previously said the complaint targeted Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.
Also on Tuesday, Ukraine said it would impose retaliatory import curbs on certain goods from Poland and Hungary if they did not lift their unilateral bans, drawing a response from Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
“I warn the Ukrainian authorities, because if they escalate this conflict in this way, we will add more products to the ban on import into the territory of the Republic of Poland,” Morawiecki told Polsat News.
In a live broadcast on Facebook Morawiecki said that Warsaw was ready to help Kyiv but “not at the price of destabilising the Polish market”.
On the Ukrainian side, Trade Representative Taras Kachka appeared to move to ease tensions, telling Polish private broadcaster RMF FM that he did not think that Kyiv would introduce an embargo on Polish apples and vegetables.
Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus told state-run news agency PAP that he took Kachka’s comments as a way of “calming down a certain atmosphere that had been building for two or three days”.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz; editing by Christina Fincher, Tomasz Janowski and Mark Heinrich)