Zelenskyy invites Poland’s leaders to border to resolve farmers’ protests

Polish farmers have been protesting Ukrainian food imports, angry at what they say is unfair competition.

Polish farmers drive tractors in a convoy in Minsk Mazowiecki, Poland, on Tuesday Feb. 20, 2024, as they intensify a nationwide protest against the import of Ukrainian foods and European Union environmental policies. Farmers across Europe have been protesting recently, worried that EU plans to place limits on the use of chemicals and on greenhouse gas emissions will result in a reduction in production and income. They are also in revolt against competition from non-EU countries, in particular Ukraine. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Polish farmers drive tractors in a convoy in Minsk Mazowiecki, Poland, as they intensify a nationwide protest [Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo]

Ukraine’s president has invited Polish leaders to meet him at their shared border to resolve a blockade by Polish farmers protesting Ukrainian food imports.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on social media on Wednesday that he hoped the proposed border meeting for him, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and a European Union representative could happen before the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Saturday, February 24.

“This is national security,” Zelenskyy said. “I am ready to be at the border with our government.”

“We have had enough misunderstanding. We should not humiliate each other; we should not humiliate either Ukrainian or Polish farmers. We need unity. We need solutions – between us, Ukraine and Poland, and at the level of the whole of Europe,” Zelenskyy said in a statement.

There was no immediate reaction from the Polish government.

Zelenskyy added that Ukraine could not accept the appearance of slogans supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the protests, after one such banner was displayed on Tuesday.

Earlier, Polish authorities voiced concern over the slogans praising Putin and his war against Ukraine.

Poland, a member of NATO and the European Union, has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, accepting unlimited numbers of refugees and providing Ukraine with weaponry.

Poles, with past oppression by Moscow rooted deeply in generational memory, are largely supportive of Ukraine.

But tensions have been growing as Polish farmers blame imports of Ukrainian grain and other food for pushing down prices and harming their livelihoods.

Polish farmers are among farmers across Europe who have been protesting competition from Ukraine as well as EU environmental policies, which they say will increase their production costs.

On Tuesday they staged a major day of protest, blocking almost all traffic on the border with Ukraine, angering Kyiv, in an escalation from previous demonstrations.

‘Under the influence of Russian agents’

Earlier Wednesday, Poland’s Foreign Ministry said it believed that extreme groups were trying to take over the protest movement “perhaps under the influence of Russian agents”.

It noted “with the greatest concern the appearance of anti-Ukrainian slogans and slogans praising Vladimir Putin and the war he is waging”.

On Tuesday, a tractor at a protest in the southern Polish region of Silesia carried a Soviet flag and a banner that said: “Putin, put things in order with Ukraine, Brussels, and our rulers.” A photograph was published by the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

Poland’s Interior Minister Marcin Kierwinski called the banner “scandalous” and said it was immediately secured by police, and prosecutors were investigating.

“There will be no consent to such criminal activities,” he said.

The public promotion of a totalitarian system can be punished with up to three years in prison under Polish law.

The Foreign Ministry called on protest organisers “to identify and eliminate from their movement” the initiators, arguing it was necessary for Poland’s interest.

“The current situation of Polish farmers is the result of Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine and the disruption of the global economy, not because Ukrainians are defending themselves against the aggression,” the ministry said.

Polish farmers blocked eight major roads on Wednesday. Police said protests continued at border crossings to Ukraine in Medyka and Korczowa, but passenger traffic was smooth and some trucks were also being let through.

Source: News Agencies