A Shadow Of ‘Ukraine Fatigue’ Hangs Over Polish Politics

From the beginning of Russia's full-on invasion, Warsaw has been a firm supporter of Kyiv.

Himalaya Times
Read Time = 4 mins

It's often led the way in sending military aid and equipment, and argued passionately that this support is essential to protect Poland itself from Russian aggression.

The change of tone from the Polish government on Ukraine is startling.

Now suddenly it feels like the political knives are out for Kyiv.

There's talk of how Ukraine should be "grateful" for Polish support. This week came a warning from Poland's prime minister about ending weapons transfers, although others in his party then scrambled to soften that message.

But there was no misinterpreting the Polish President's words. Andrzej Duda compared Ukraine to a drowning man who risks dragging his rescuers down with him.
Moscow seized upon that comment with glee.

The sharp downturn in relations between the neighbouring countries began with a dispute over grain imports that remains unresolved.

Ukraine needs to export its harvest, and land routes are now critical because Russia is deliberately attacking ports on both the Black Sea and the Danube river. But in an effort to protect its own farmers, Poland won't allow cheaper Ukrainian grain to hit its domestic market, only to pass through to the rest of the European Union in transit.

For Poland's governing Law and Justice party, or PiS, the equation is simple - farmers here don't want competition from Ukrainian grain and PiS wants those farmers' votes at next month's elections.

Kyiv is fuming, but Poland's airwaves - and social media platforms - are currently packed with pre-election talk and the tone at times is near-shockingly vicious.
PiS are ahead in the opinion polls but the margins are tight and most commentators think it's too close to call.

In the battle for votes, PiS has positioned itself as the strongest defender of Polish interests. So redefining how it is assisting Ukraine is just one of the cards it is playing alongside other populist causes such as migration.

Piotr Lukasiewicz, from the Polityka Insight analysis group, explains: "It's not about grain, it's not about weapons. It's about sentiment among the conservative electorate, which is the big issue for PiS, and they have to ride this sentiment.

"It's constructed around the notion that Ukraine is not thankful enough [for Polish support] and that Ukrainians here are getting too much in terms of social services and finance," he says.
PiS is trying to coax voters from the far-right Konfederacja party, which is currently polling at close to 10% support.

This week, Konfederacja members picketed the Ukrainian embassy in Warsaw and held up a mock invoice for Poland's support. Konfederacja proclaimed the total cost of helping Kyiv to be over 100bn zloty (£18.79bn, $23.1bn) and wrote: "Paid: zero. Gratitude: none."

Opposition politicians have slammed the government's conduct as dangerous nationalism.

But Poland's shift in tone isn't happening in isolation.

The shadow of "Ukraine fatigue" hangs over election campaigns from Slovakia to the United States, a serious worry for Kyiv which needs continuing and firm Western support as it battles Russian forces.

The Polish government is stressing that international aid will continue to flow to Ukraine's frontlines via Rzeszow in the east, a critical hub for everything from tanks to bullets. Meanwhile, talks between Ukraine and Poland on the grain dispute are continuing.

'Words matter'

There appear to be efforts on both sides to prevent the war of words from escalating into a full-blown crisis.

And whilst PiS pursues the rural, conservative vote, support for Ukraine here in Warsaw remains strong.

"It's definitely not good that we're limiting help. The thing Russia is doing is unacceptable. We should defend ourselves and help Ukraine defend their freedom," Viktoria told me, in a city that still has lots of Ukrainian flags draped out of apartment windows in solidarity - and a lot of Ukrainian refugees.

"I think this is a tool the government uses to win the election. They play on all the emotions and this is dirty speech before elections," Rafa suggested.

"I hope it's just talking. It depends who wins the elections. In one month, that will be clear."

But some think the damage for Poland is already done.

"Words matter," analyst Piotr Lukasiewicz argues "I think it will have consequences and they will be bad for Poland."

By Sarah Rainsford/BBC

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