The complicated relationship between Poland and Ukraine
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is turning Kiyv’s relationship with its neighbouring European countries into a rollercoaster. One of the most evident examples is Poland. Over the past few days, the country asked to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports and, at the same time, signed a document with Ukraine to increase imports and exports via rail.
The agreement was signed between the two national railway companies, Polskie Koleje Państwowe (PKP) and Ukrzaliznytsia (UZ). There are two new policies introduced with this document, as UZ mentioned. The parties agreed that cargo transshipment at breaks of gauge will be carried out by the operator handing over the cargo, whereas previously it was always up to the receiving carrier. Moreover, traction services between border crossing stations will now be provided in an equal manner by UZ and PKP. Finally, the documents mentioned collaborations between the two companies in the field of infrastructure management.
Railways cooperate, but grain remains biggest obstacle
The agreement signed by PKP and UZ to boost imports and exports via rail was the first of its kind since 1994. Additionally, UZ chose Poland for its first international subsidiary, UZ Cargo Poland, launched less than two months ago. Despite all of this, there are still tensions between the two countries when it comes to grain and various other food products that Ukraine cannot export via its ports anymore. The Polish ban on the import of grain from Ukraine, for example, was first introduced in April and is supposed to be lifted on 15 September. However, last week, Poland made it known that it was ready to extend it until the end of the year. Both back then and now, Poland is not the only country implementing a ban on Ukrainian grain imports.
Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia all joined in, stating that this initiative aimed at protecting their farmers’ best interests. The first ban was approved by the European Commission and included restrictions on the import of wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds, while still allowing transit to other destinations. Polish Minister of Agriculture Robert Telus said that they are ready to introduce bans on their own in case the EU does not intervene. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly responded to the five countries, defining the request to extend the ban on grain imports as “categorically unacceptable”. It now remains to be seen if and how European institutions, already under pressure, will get involved to de-escalate the situation.