Status: 21/09/2023, 17:16 p.m.
By: Stephanie Munk
Is Poland transforming itself from the biggest supporter of Ukraine to the country that is campaigning on Ukraine's back? Advances by the PiS government indicate this.
Warsaw – Is the ruling PiS party in Poland deliberately carrying out its election campaign tactics on the backs of Ukraine? That's what the FDP's foreign policy spokesman in the Bundestag, Ulrich Lechte, thinks. He now spoke of a "disgrace" that Ukraine's largest ally to date is now refusing to support it. And indeed, the political climate in Poland towards Ukraine seems to be changing shortly before the parliamentary elections.
A statement by Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki caused a stir on Thursday, which is partly interpreted as Poland stopping arms deliveries to the Ukrane. In an interview, when asked whether Poland would continue to support Ukraine with weapons, he said: "We are no longer supplying armaments to Ukraine, but are equipping ourselves with the most modern weapons."
Are tensions rising between Mariusz Morawiecki (left) and Volodymyr Zelensky? Poland recently doubted further arms deliveries to Ukraine. © Imago (Montage)
Conflicts between Ukraine and Poland are on the rise
These words came a few hours after the conflict over grain exports between Poland and Ukraine escalated: Warsaw summoned the Ukrainian ambassador to protest statements by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the United Nations.
Zelensky had said, among other things, to Poland, that some countries were only feigning solidarity and indirectly supporting Russia. Morawiecki probably understood this as a harsh affront: "We were the first to do a lot for Ukraine. That's why we expect them to understand our interests," he said on Polsat News.
Weapons ban by Poland and Ukraine would mean a 180-degree turnaround
A halt to Ukraine arms deliveries from Poland means a 180-degree turnaround: Poland has been providing enormous support for Ukraine since the beginning of the Ukraine war, supplying hundreds of tanks and being the first country to comply with Ukraine's request for Western fighter jets.
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Solidarity with Ukrainian refugees was also huge in Poland at first: after Vladimir Putin's invasion, twelve million Ukrainians fled to the neighboring country. 1.6 million remained permanently. The government immediately organized support. Private individuals, associations and initiatives stood by the refugees day and night. "In contrast to Germany, not only humanitarian but also military support for Ukraine is considered undisputed in Poland," said Polish historian Prof. Dr. Kornelia Kończal in an interview with Bielefeld University in March.
But solidarity now seems to be crumbling. The ruling nationalist party PiS, which wants to be re-elected on 15 October, is focusing on the issue of immigration in its election campaign, according to a report in the ARD Europamagazin. It stirs up resentment against people who supposedly only come to Poland to receive social benefits.
Ukraine refugees in Poland: "No hostility, but greater skepticism"
The party is apparently picking up on a mood in Poland that is increasingly turning against the Ukrainians who have fled. In May 2023, Polish reporter Jan Opielka explained on Swiss radio and television that there was not much left of the welcoming culture. "It's not hostility, but it's a bigger skepticism," the Poland expert said. It is striking that in Poland, only the opposition party (the "Confederacia" party) that has a very sceptical attitude towards Ukraine is currently gaining support.
According to the expert, the Polish population is now experiencing in concrete terms what the wave of refugees from Ukraine is doing: housing prices have risen significantly because many Ukrainians are renting apartments due to a lack of collective accommodation. As a result of the Ukrainian migrants, more people have entered the labour market, and wage increases have failed to materialise since then, despite rising inflation. The Polish state also poured a lot of money into weapons – for Ukraine or for itself. This money is lacking for investments in the social and health sectors, and Poland's population is feeling this.
The Polish historian Kończal also explained that "the competition for scarce resources such as housing, medical care and daycare places" repeatedly led to tensions in everyday life. It remains to be seen to what extent Poland's right-wing and far-right politicians would instrumentalize the issue of Ukrainian refugees before the parliamentary elections.
"Demonstratively hard line" against Ukrainians in the Polish election campaign
Ukrainian refugees are already experiencing the dwindling solidarity from the government firsthand: perks such as free use of public transport and aid for Polish families who took in Ukrainians have since been cancelled, MDR reported in June 2023. Since March, Ukrainian refugees living in Polish collective accommodation for more than four months have also had to pay half of their housing costs themselves, according to a report by Euractiv. From six months onwards, the proportion rises to 75 percent. The European Commission had not been informed of those plans.
Now, shortly before the election, there is talk of even greater cuts for Ukrainians in Poland, according to a report on Deutschlandfunk: At the same time as Morawiecki's ambiguous announcement that no more weapons will be supplied to Kyiv, a discussion is also underway in Polish politics to completely cancel social benefits for Ukrainian refugees. At the same time, critics accuse the ruling PiS party of trying to "win votes with a demonstratively hard line against Ukraine" in the current election campaign.
Poland rejects Zelensky's push in the UN Security Council
Differences between Poland and Ukraine also came to light at the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York on another issue: Poland spoke out against a permanent seat for Germany on the UN Security Council on Thursday (21 September). The push had come from Ukrainian President Zelensky.
Zelensky's demand was "quite strange" from a Polish point of view and "a great disappointment," Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told Polish radio. According to him, the Ukrainian president does not seem to remember that Germany did not come to Ukraine's aid at the beginning of the war. (smu with material from dpa and AFP)