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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Pride Or Politics? Why Poland Suddenly Turned Its Back On Ukraine

Poland has taken President Zelensky's criticism at the UN very badly, and has decided to not supply new arms to Ukraine. One man in the Kremlin couldn't be more pleased.

photo in front of flags Andrzej Duda and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Happier times: Polish President Andrzej Duda and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Lutsk, Ukraine, in July

Jakub Szymczuk / Kprm handout/via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — Who could have imagined that the weakest link in support of Ukraine would be Poland? Since the start of Russia's invasion, Warsaw's commitment to Kyiv has been unwavering — initially driven above all by its unbound hostility towards Moscow.

That steadfast support of its neighbor is over now, and in a big way.

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The announcement in Warsaw that Polish arms deliveries to Ukraine were to be halted stunned all, and was accompanied by derogatory statements by Polish President Andrzej Duda towards Ukraine's leaders. He compared Ukraine to a desperate drowning man who would drag down those who tried to save him. Duda was also considered the most reasonable of the Polish populists — so that's the mood.

Poland had shown itself to be uncompromising in its support for Ukraine, and had even given lessons to more timid European countries on several occasions.

So why the U-turn? First of all, there are difficult general elections in Poland on October 15, and it's clear that the Law and Justice Party (PiS) in power in Warsaw will do everything possible to win.

Serious umbrage

There is also a dispute between Ukraine and several Central European countries — including Poland — over the entry of Ukrainian grain. They feel that their own producers are being penalized, and hence this summer blocked Ukrainian imports.

The European Commission has negotiated a way out of the crisis, but Poland and Hungary continue to refuse. In Poland, agriculture still employs 27% of the population, one of the highest rates in the European Union, making it a major electoral issue.

The problem is that Ukraine has taken serious umbrage with Polish restrictions in the midst of war. First, there were exchanges between the two sides, then, on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky's declaration at the UN, against countries that "feign solidarity by indirectly supporting Russia." Poland didn't like that at all, and announced its shock break-up.

photo of a tractor and farmers at a protest

Polish farmers protesting in April against Ukrainian grain exports.

Beata Zawrzel/ZUMA

Consequences and rivalry

The consequences of this crisis will not be immediate, as Poland has made it clear that it will abide by the commitments it has already entered into, and that it will remain the transit country for the supply of weapons to Ukraine.

Warsaw and Kyiv should be sufficiently aware of the historical responsibility to overcome their differences.

But politically, the damage is serious. The position of Poland can create imitators. We'll have to wait and see what happens in Slovakia this Sunday, where a pro-Russian populist party is poised to win.

What the crisis also reveals is a certain irritation with President Zelensky, as we sensed at the NATO summit in Vilnius in July, when he criticized the lack of eagerness to welcome Ukraine into the organization.

Still, one would have thought that Warsaw and Kyiv were sufficiently aware of their historical responsibility to overcome their differences. As they demonstrated in July, during a ceremony in memory of Polish victims of Ukrainian militiamen during World War II. Kyiv was exemplary then. Here instead, by its brutal response, Warsaw is offering the division on the Western Front as a gift to its worst adversary: Vladimir Putin.

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