Foreign Policy Research Institute

+38 (044) 287 52 58

Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Will the "grain crisis" hinder the development of the strategic partnership between Ukraine and Poland?

After mutual summonses of ambassadors to the Ministries of Foreign Affairs in late summer, relations between Ukraine and Poland continued to deteriorate in September. The main issue in interstate cooperation was grain. In the spring, Poland, along with Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, banned imports of a number of Ukrainian agricultural products. In May of this year, these actions were supported by the European Commission, which, in an attempt to resolve this dispute at the supranational level, banned imports of four categories of Ukrainian agricultural products to five countries.

On September 15 this year, the European Commission did not extend the temporary restrictive measures on the import of Ukrainian grain, but Poland continued to defend its own line, which is not something new for official Warsaw, as the country has repeatedly resorted to confrontation with the EU.

For Ukraine, Poland's refusal to resume imports of Ukrainian agricultural products is an unacceptable decision that does not correspond to the level of bilateral relations. Selling grain to foreign markets remains one of the ways to support the economy affected by the full-scale Russian invasion and to receive foreign currency. In the context of Russia's attempted naval blockade and the destruction of Ukraine's port infrastructure, exports via land corridors have become an important component. Therefore, Poland's decision to extend the ban caused a strong reaction from the Ukrainian leadership.

First, Ukraine filed lawsuits against Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary at the World Trade Organization. After that, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticized the neighboring state's actions in his speech at the UN General Assembly, which angered the Polish authorities. During his speech at the UN General Assembly session, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: "Alarmingly, some in Europe play out solidarity in a political theater—turning grain into a thriller. They may seem to play their own roles. In fact they’re helping set the stage for a Moscow actors”.[1] Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau even refused to come to Ukraine for the EU Council of Ministers. "There are many reasons, including my health. But first and foremost, it is due to the fact that in politics, in particular bilateral politics between the countries, we are in a period of decline in relations between Poland and Ukraine. We are entering a period of decline, and my absence is partly an expression of this," Zbigniew Rau said.[2] In addition, the diplomat emphasized that the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy's criticism of Poland at the UN General Assembly had shaken the trust of Polish society in the current policies of the Ukrainian government.

In the context of the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Ukrainian-Polish strategic partnership has become one of the important elements in protecting Ukrainian statehood and European security. Since the beginning of 2022, Poland has supplied the Ukrainian military with Soviet-era armored vehicles, artillery, and aircraft as well as their Polish versions. The Polish side also provided various small arms, shells, ammunition, and other military equipment. Poland has become an advocate for Ukraine's membership in the EU and NATO.

Thus, Poland became one of Ukraine's most reliable partners. At the same time, Ukraine not only received but also made its own contribution. The transfer of weapons is beneficial for Poland, in particular in the context of the subsequent transfer of more modern weapons to the Polish armed forces by the United States in exchange for Soviet models that were supplied to the Ukrainian Defense Forces. Also, the domestic military-industrial complex receives orders and, ultimately, profits. In addition to strengthening Poland's security due to Ukraine's resistance, Ukrainian internally displaced persons have increased the GDP of the neighboring state. Ukrainian refugees received subsidies from the Polish government, but many of them found jobs and spent money in Poland, which had a positive impact on its economy. In other words, Ukraine and Poland are an example of symbiosis, although Ukraine is in a difficult situation, the assistance of the Republic of Poland is not charity.

Victory over the Russian Federation is a common interest of the two countries. That's why Andrzej Duda denied Prime Minister Morawiecki's statement about the suspension of military assistance. Probably, the concern over the US statements about the suspension of Polish aid also played a role.

At present, Ukraine and Poland will not be able to restore the level of trust in their relations that preceded its deterioration. The domestic political agenda in Poland is determined by the election race. Much of the rhetoric of Polish politicians depends on electoral preferences. That is why Andrzej Duda, in explanation of Prime Minister Morawiecki's words, said that Poland would transfer weapons, but not new ones.[3] The current Polish government communicates with the population about strengthening the Polish armed forces by purchasing modern weapons. In the fight for the electorate, it needs to demonstrate that, Poland builds relations with its neighbors in a way that is beneficial to the state and its population. That is why it is explained that the transfer of arms is in Poland's interest. That is why grain imports are blocked: Polish farmers create a significant share of jobs in the country. To ensure their support, Ukrainian grain will not enter the Polish market.

At the same time, it is a positive development that the parties have begun to seek a consensus. The Ukrainian government, for its part, has suspended legal proceedings against neighboring countries over grain and agreed to negotiate to find an optimal solution. Currently, they are discussing ways to ensure the transit of Ukrainian agricultural products to Europe through Poland.

The grain issue has been partially resolved. Ukraine continues to receive Polish military assistance. At the same time, tensions remain. In particular, due to the opinion of some Polish officials that Ukraine is "ungrateful". Probably, the fact that Ukraine has not adjusted its foreign policy course to that of the neighboring country is negatively perceived in Polish government circles. After all the talk of a de facto confederation, Ukraine continues to rely primarily on its partners in Western Europe.

In international organizations, Ukraine still makes decisions and defines its position independently. Poland was also not on the list of states with which Ukraine signed an agreement on security guarantees. It is likely that Polish officials expected Ukraine to be more oriented toward their country. However, this did not happen, and there is a positive side to this. Ukraine continues to view Poland as one of its main partners. The two countries share the same view of the threats facing the region and see common ways to overcome them. At the same time, Ukraine's position demonstrates to Western European states, which were afraid of losing their overall weight in the EU after Ukraine's possible accession, that Ukraine has its own path and its membership should be considered not only in terms of threats, in particular the weight of the votes of Eastern European member states, but also in terms of opportunities, because Ukraine is an independent state with independent views on various issues, and some of them may conditionally coincide with Poland's views, and some with Germany's views, where these countries have different visions.

The ban on Ukrainian grain is also a signal about Ukraine's future accession to the EU. Poland has outlined its initial negotiating position, and the task of Ukrainian diplomacy will be to ensure the most favorable conditions for Ukraine's accession in the context of the neighboring country's requirements. Resolving the grain issue in a constructive manner will help improve relations between Ukraine and Poland. At the same time, it will not completely return relations between the two countries to the level that preceded the current deterioration. In the future, Poland and Ukraine will seek consensus on other issues, which will likely be difficult to achieve. This is both a historic issue and an issue of Polish-Ukrainian partnership.

 Experience shows that Poland takes a rather tough stance in disputes with both Ukraine and the EU. This means that Ukraine will face a rather difficult task, as the neighboring state is a really important partner that should not be lost in the face of Russian aggression. This is compounded by the risks associated with the US elections. So, Ukraine needs strong and reliable allies in Europe. Therefore, the grain dispute is not the last problem in bilateral relations. However, due to the main threat to the two countries - Russian aggression - Ukraine and Poland must work to overcome the crises. Improving relations between Kyiv and Warsaw is in the interest of both Poland and Ukraine, as well as the whole of Europe.

1. Сьогодні людство має діяти в повній солідарності, щоб урятувати життя – виступ Президента Володимира Зеленського під час загальних дебатів Генеральної Асамблеї ООН, 19.09.2023,
2. Україна і Польща входять у період "спаду" – МЗС Польщі, 02.10.2023,  
3. "Зрозуміли невірно": президент Польщі пояснив слова Моравецького щодо припинення передачі зброї Україні, 22.09.2023,