WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s prime minister said his country is no longer sending arms to Ukraine as a trade dispute between the neighboring states escalates and his populist party faces pressure from the far right in the upcoming national election.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a television interview late Wednesday that Poland is “no longer transferring any weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming ourselves with the most modern weapons” in a military modernization plan spurred by fears of Russian aggression in the region. He did not elaborate or explain how the two actions were mutually exclusive.
A government spokesman, Piotr Mueller, clarified Thursday that the country was now only providing supplies of ammunition and armaments that had previously been agreed to, noting that “a series of absolutely unacceptable statements and diplomatic gestures appeared on the Ukrainian side.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he believes that “Poland will continue to be a supporter of Ukraine.”
“When I read the headlines this morning, I was of course concerned and had questions, but I’ve subsequently seen the Polish government spokesman come out to clarify that in fact Poland’s provision of equipment, including things like Polish-manufactured Howitzers, is continuing and that Poland continues to stand behind Ukraine,” Sullivan said when asked about the matter at a news briefing.
Poland has supplied Ukraine with a wide range of weaponry, including Leopard 2 tanks and Soviet-era MiG fighter jets. Poles are still largely in favor of supporting Ukraine, believing their nation would be vulnerable if Russia were to prevail just across the border. But there is also a growing weariness in society with the large numbers of refugees.
Ahead of the national election on Oct. 15, the far-right Confederation party has said that Poland is not getting the gratitude it deserves for arming Ukraine and accepting its refugees. And emotions have been running high since Poland, Hungary and Slovakia announced a new ban on Ukrainian grain imports last week, saying they wanted to protect their farmers.
The Polish-Ukrainian spat comes as Ukraine forces are making slow progress breaking through Russian battle lines in a counteroffensive that has not moved as quickly or as well as initially hoped and Poland’s move could have wider fallout as another winter of fighting approaches. Kyiv’s leaders are lobbying for a new round of advanced weapons, including longer range missiles.
U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last weekend that there is a continued need for more weapons and equipment in Ukraine and that allies and partners are looking for ways to address that.
But some U.S. voters are beginning to tire of helping Ukraine, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits Washington this week as Republican leaders in Congress diverge on how to send more military and humanitarian aid to the country.
A leading security and defense expert, Michal Baranowski, said that Poland gave most of what it could give earlier in the war, and with no plans for shipments of major equipment soon, he doesn’t see a threat to Ukraine’s capabilities in the near term. Still, he considers Morawiecki’s comments troubling for Ukraine as its seeks to maintain Western support in the war unleashed by Russia.
“The message is very bad, both for Poland’s reputation but also because Poland has been one of the chief advocates of military aid to Ukraine. Saying Poland will not be sending more weapons means that Poland can no longer play this role,” said Baranowski, managing director of Warsaw-based GMF East, part of the German Marshall Fund think tank.
He said Poland’s attempt to show toughness toward Kyiv should be understood in the context of the election campaign. In response to Morawiecki saying Poland would now focus on modernizing its own forces, Baranowski noted that Poland is capable of both modernizing its military and continuing to help Ukraine.
Donald Tusk, a top opposition leader, accused Morawiecki and other ruling authorities of a “moral and geopolitical scandal of stabbing Ukraine in the back politically when they decide to fight on the Ukrainian front, just because it will be profitable for their campaign.”
Poland, Hungary and Slovakia said the new ban on Ukrainian grain imports was put in place to protect their farmers from a glut of Ukrainian grain in their markets, which lowers prices and hurts their livelihood. Kyiv responded with a complaint at the World Trade Organization against the three countries that sparked even more angry reactions from Poland.
Polish and Ukrainian agriculture ministers said Thursday they were working to resolve the situation in a way that takes the interests of both countries into account. Ukraine meanwhile was lifting its complaint against Slovakia as the two sides sought a resolution, Slovak authorities said.
At the United Nations on Tuesday, Zelenskyy suggested that the countries opposing Ukraine on grain were in fact working on Russia’s behalf. Poland urgently summoned the Ukrainian ambassador to complain Wednesday.
Morawiecki said in interview on private broadcaster Polsat that a NATO and U.S. hub in the Polish city of Rzeszow used for transporting weapons into Ukraine would not be affected. “We are not going to risk the security of Ukraine,” he said.
The German Foreign Ministry said: “Ukraine continues to need our full support. It is important that we in Europe act decisively and in solidarity in this regard. Germany will support Ukraine humanitarianly, politically, economically and with weapons for as long as it needs us.”
Associated Press writers Seung Min Kim in Washington, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.