16th Apr 2024

Zelensky visits Poland amid farmers' anger over grain prices

  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky meeting Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki previously in Brussels (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky paid a visit to one of his country's closest EU allies, Poland on Wednesday (5 April), amid worries that grain from Ukraine is putting farmers and prices under pressure in neighbouring countries.

Zelensky met with president Andrzej Duda and prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw, where Zelensky and and his wife, Olena Zelenska, were welcomed with military honours.

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"We have no doubt that your attitude, together with the bravery of the nation, has saved Ukraine," Duda told Zelensky.

Zelensky visited Poland at a delicate time, as Ukrainian grain has been pushing down the prices in Poland and in several countries in the eastern flank of the EU.

Polish agriculture minister Henryk Kowalczyk resigned on Wednesday amid rising anger among farmers over the impact of Ukrainian imports.

In a letter signed by five EU countries last Friday to EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, the prime ministers argue that tariffs on Ukrainian agricultural imports might need to be reintroduced if an influx keeps pushing down prices and no alternative is found.

The prime ministers of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia said that the scale of the increase of products including grains oilseeds, eggs, poultry, and sugar had been "unprecedented".

The premiers urged the commission to buy the surplus grain from these countries for humanitarian purposes, as one possible solution.

The premiers also called for more EU funds to help farmers and for faster development of transport infrastructure to help the transport of goods from Ukraine.

Ukraine, one of the world's largest grain exporters, had its Black Sea ports largely blocked due to the Russian invasion and has been shipping through EU member states Poland and Romania.

However, logistical bottlenecks mean that large amounts of Ukrainian grain have ended up in central European countries, pushing down the prices.

"Let's support Ukraine, but let's do it wisely and, above all, let's put the interest of the country and Polish farmers in the first place," Morawiecki said as the letter was sent.

The issue has created a headache for Poland's ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) as it faces elections in the autumn, since the party gets much of its support from rural areas.

Unwavering ally

Poland has been galvanising political and military support for Kyiv since Russia's invasion last February. Poland has taken in more than a million Ukrainian refugees over the past 13 months of war.

Polish public opinion firmly supports Ukraine in the war with Russia: 82 percent of the population things Nato and EU countries should back Ukraine until it wins, according to an Ipsos poll.

Kyiv has been preparing for a counter-offensive in the next weeks and months to recapture land in its east and south from Russia, and has sought military aid from its Western allies.

EU ambassadors on Wednesday were debating how to finance ammunition slated for Ukraine and jointly buy more ammunition to resupply decreasing European stocks.

The EU pledged to supply one million 155-mm shells to Ukraine over the next year. The bloc plans to spend €2bn on ammunition, partly to reimburse countries that supply Ukraine from their own stocks and to buy new ammunition.

Poland also gave the green light for delivering 14 MiG-29 fighter jets, which started arriving in Ukraine on Monday.

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