What’s up with Ukraine and Eastern Europe?

If you were surprised after hearing this week that Poland is “no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine”, you’re not alone.

Here’s what happened. Responding to Russia’s naval blockade, Ukraine has exported more cheap grain via Europe, competing with local farmers there. So Poland has led a group (including Hungary and Slovakia) to impose their own curbs on Ukrainian imports, prompting a Ukrainian lawsuit at the WTO.

Explaining the move, Polish President Duda said Ukraine’s fight for survival was like a “drowning person” pulling rescuers underwater. In turn, Ukrainian President Zelensky argued these countries were effectively helping Russia.

Later that night (Wednesday), Poland’s PM said it was no longer supplying arms to Ukraine, in remarks President Duda later said were misinterpreted.

This drama has all felt a tad unexpected from Poland, where Russia-scepticism runs high; leaders make regular visits to Kyiv; folks have taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees; and NATO runs a vast hub supplying Ukraine.

So what’s going on? Poland’s ruling Law & Justice Party (PiS) faces tough elections next month, so it’s pivoting to shore up support with:

  • 🌾 some rural voters losing income to Ukrainian grain, and
  • 😐 some euro-sceptic voters calling for a domestic re-focus.

Polling suggests the PiS may not win enough votes to hold power on its own, so a coalition government could emerge, embedding this recent pivot.

Intrigue’s take: There are two high-wire balancing acts on display here. The first is in Poland, where a clear majority still backs Ukraine, but specific issues (like grain, refugees, the economy) are contributing to voter fatigue.

The second is in Ukraine, where Zelensky needs to keep getting grain out and arms in, but the vigorous pursuit of both interests can risk political headaches for the leaders making it happen.

This week’s events show how hard it is for both sides to nail that balance.

Also worth noting:

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