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Shmyhal: Poland's border disputes with Ukraine influenced by pre-election struggle, no blocking of critical cargo recorded

by Martin Fornusek March 4, 2024 2:46 PM 2 min read
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal during a press conference.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal during a press conference in Kyiv on March 4, 2024. (PM Denys Shmyhal/Telegram)
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The border disputes between Poland and Ukraine may be influenced by the country's pre-election struggle, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said at a press conference on March 4, attended by a Kyiv Independent reporter.

Polish farmers began blocking trucks at the Ukrainian border in early February, protesting Ukrainian agricultural imports and the EU's Green Deal. The Polish government said it understands the demands of the protesting farmers, alleging the negative impact of Ukrainian products on local agricultural businesses.

The prime minister pointed out that economically, the ongoing trade disputes and border blockade cost Poland more than Ukraine. Only 5% of Ukrainian agricultural exports are transported by road, with 90% being shipped out via maritime routes, he noted.

"Frankly, the pre-election struggle is taking place in Poland today, and we understand Polish internal politics," Shmyhal said. A similar escalation over grain disputes took place last autumn, shortly before the Polish parliamentary elections.

This year, Poland is heading toward local elections in April, followed by the European Parliament elections in June.

"The border blockade by Polish farmers is senseless. Ukraine has not exported wheat, corn, or sunflower seeds to Poland since September of last year," Shmyhal said. Poland banned imports of these products in 2023 and threatened to expand restrictions on other items if disputes continue.

Shmyhal pointed out that while opposing agricultural products from Ukraine, Poland imports such goods from Russia and Belarus. According to the prime minister, Kyiv appealed to Warsaw to halt these imports.

An investigation by Ukrainska Pravda revealed that Polish trucks are importing increasingly larger volumes of agricultural goods from Belarus, with some of them originating in Russia.

While agricultural trade with Russia or Belarus is not prohibited or sanctioned in the EU, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk recently said that Warsaw would consider banning food imports from Russia, following Latvia's example.

According to Shmyhal, Poland and other EU countries increased imports from Russia from 4.9 million metric tons of goods in 2022 to 5.1 million metric tons in 2023, representing billions of dollars in lost income for Ukrainian and Polish farmers.

Ukraine's head of government also pointed out that the Polish economy enjoyed a boost of 1-3% between 2022 and 2023 due to investments and the provision of funds to Ukraine. Poland is also receiving international support for hosting Ukrainian refugees, and the Polish budget receives taxes from Ukrainian workers living in the country, he added.

The prime minister thanked Polish authorities for keeping the ongoing protests at the border under control and peaceful, despite earlier cases of vandalism targeted against Ukrainian grain.

"It is very important that despite the protests of Polish carriers and farmers, not a single case of blocking the deliveries of weapons, military equipment, humanitarian aid, or fuel to Ukraine has been recorded," Shmyhal said, denying earlier claims that appeared on social media.

Shmyhal said, however, that if Poland takes illegal actions and escalates, Ukraine will respond in kind.

"During the trip of the government team to the border, we offered Poland a plan of five clear steps to solve the blockade issue," Shmyhal noted, voicing hopes that a compromise can be reached soon.

A meeting between Polish and Ukrainian officials is scheduled for March 11, Shmyhal said. Talks to address the disputes have also been scheduled on March 28 in Warsaw.

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