Polish minister apologises for spilt Ukrainian grain incident
WARSAW, Feb 13, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Poland's agriculture minister apologised for an incident at the Ukrainian border which saw protesting Polish farmers spill grain from Ukrainian trucks onto roads, stoking tensions between the allies.
The farmers launched their latest protests at the Polish-Ukrainian border last week, blocking three crossing points in anger at what they see as unfair competition from Ukrainian grain imports into the EU.
On Sunday, they pried open Ukrainian trucks crossing into Poland, spilling mounds of grain.
In a statement late Monday, Polish Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Siekierski condemned the incident but highlighted the farmers' plight.
"On behalf of Polish farmers, I apologise for such an act of desperation and ask for understanding of their extremely difficult situation," Siekierski said.
The incident drew sharp criticism from Kyiv which called on Poland to punish the culprits.
Poland on Monday opened a probe into claims the farmers had broken customs security rules and destroyed property, offences that carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
"This is not the right form of protest, but it is often used by farmers in various countries," Siekierski said of the incident near the Dorohusk crossing.
Ukraine, once dubbed "Europe's bread basket", has seen its agriculture sector turned upside down by Russia's invasion, with many of its Black Sea export hubs blocked and farmland rendered unusable by warfare.
The fresh protests mark another blow to relations between Ukraine and its ally Poland, which had only weeks earlier managed to quell a similar two-month blockade by Polish truckers.
The countries had sparred over grain last year, when Poland imposed a unilateral ban on grain imports from Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian border guards said the latest wave of protests disrupted cargo traffic at five border crossings.
"As of this morning, there are about 1,250 trucks in queues at all these checkpoints," a spokesman for the Ukrainian Border Guard Service told Interfax-Ukraine news agency.