Eastern countries give and take Ukraine

Eastern countries give and take Ukraine: why they boycott Kyiv grain while insisting on sending it more weapons

Ukraine has strong support and others that are not so strong to face the Russian invasion. In the first group is (or was) Eastern Europe, which at least until now has vehemently insisted that Kyiv can win the war if arms continue to be sent to it. On the other hand, there are already some countries of that kind that are beginning to blow and sip. Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and it seems that Bulgaria has decided to block the import of Ukrainian grain at a time when the coffers of the invaded are beginning to feel more and more the weight of the conflict.

Each case is very particular, but the most resounding is that of Poland. Warsaw is the most pro-Ukrainian voice in the EU and its measure has been harshly criticized, but it has a purely political sense: the PiS government -ultra-conservative- is risking its future in the elections next December, and with unfavorable polls, it trusts it almost everything to a strong voting base in which the workers of the primary sector are a capital leg. The grain crisis has had repercussions in Poland at the highest level since the former Minister of Agriculture Henryk Howalczyk resigned a few days ago after asking Brussels to recover tariff controls on this raw material.

The first to follow in the Polish footsteps was Hungary. The considered Putin’s Trojan horse in Europe has always been closer to Russia than to Ukraine, so the measure is not so surprising. The Executive led by Viktor Orbán relies on not taking “the damage would be very serious” for its agricultural sector. Likewise, he has asked the EU for “a balanced distribution” of Ukrainian grain. Slovakia, for its part, did the same with a similar premise, although in this case, they qualified that the blockade “does not affect agricultural products that transit [through its territory] to third countries .”

Daniel Gil, a European policy analyst at The Political Room, explains to 20minutos that “the first thing to take into account is that the majority of Ukrainian grain exports left by sea, specifically through the Black Sea”, but as a result of the war “this road is cut off” and that causes a lot of Ukrainian grain “to stay in Central and Eastern Europe”. What has happened is that now Poland, “which is the great defender” of Kyiv in the EU, takes this measure because, Gil continues, “when Ukrainian grain is stored in these countries, the price drops a lot, damaging local farmers.”

In this sense, the analyst recalls that in the Polish case the ruling party “has a huge rural base” in terms of votes, and is facing elections in months. “The EU decided to propose a series of funds to give aid to farmers in these countries, but the governments and the workers themselves rejected that path.” In this way, under the reasoning of Poland, “this decision is made precisely because of the alleged inaction of the Union”. Warsaw opened the ban and others followed that path. “It is a reality check to this thesis that the EU turns to the East due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” summarizes Gil.

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“Above all Poland, yes, is a country that resolutely supports Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion, but we already see that if it perceives that Ukrainian interests and its own collide, it will try to satisfy the national interests, also taking into account the election year” concludes the analyst. Thus, the photo is full of nuances, but it threatens to crack the much-repeated message of European unity in favor of Ukraine.

Faced with such a complex situation, Spain has also wanted to mark positions. Thus, the Government hopes that the EU will be able to respond to the needs of farmers in the Eastern European countries bordering Ukraine without impeding the exit of Ukrainian grain through those territories. This is how the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Luis Planas, expressed himself on Tuesday, considering that both issues are perfectly compatible. 

In addition to Ukraine, the step taken by these countries has also become an ordeal to the European Union, and the Commission was quick to step up to remind them that “commercial policy is an exclusive competence” of the EU. “In such challenging times, it is crucial to coordinate and align all decisions within the EU,” they added the Community Executive while reiterating that it is an “unacceptable” decision. For whatever reason, the East is beginning to look inward and shift its focus away from Kyiv, at least for now and as far as the point is concerned. 

There is, after all, the risk that the situation will get even more complicated, which is why the European Commissioner for Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, will meet this Wednesday with representatives of the European Union countries most affected by the increase in grain imports from Ukraine, as well as with Kyiv authorities, to address the current situation. The meeting will be held in a hybrid format since some representatives will be able to attend physically, while others will participate electronically. At stake, after all, is the unity of Europe in its support of Ukraine.

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