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Polish truckers’ protest strains Ukraine as cracks in war alliance widen

Ukrainian trucks are seen near the Poland-Ukraine border, near the village of Korczowa, Poland, November 19, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

A senior Ukrainian official says weeks of road blockades by Polish truckers protesting at the border will reduce Ukraine’s overall amount of imports by about a fifth in November.

Support and public opinion for the Ukraine war is also on the decline in Western countries.

“The disruption is very clear. It's a sharp decrease; it's like one fifth of our monthly imports are stuck at the border,” trade representative and deputy economy minister Taras Kachka was quoted as saying on Thursday. “The scale of the challenge is big. I agree with people who say it might cost 1% GDP growth.”

He cited unpublished government data showing Ukraine imported $3.8 billion worth of goods and products in the first 26 days of November, down from $5.2 billion in all October.

Kachka said the government was trying to minimize harm and would invest in alternative export routes.

Since early October, Polish truckers, joined by farmers, have blockaded at least four border crossings in protest against what they call a flood of cheaper Ukrainian carriers into the country. The truckers say they will keep commercial traffic in a standstill until Warsaw and decision-makers in Brussels restore limits on transport operations for Ukrainian carriers; restrictions that used to be in place before the war that began in February 2022.

Meanwhile, Slovak truckers were also set to block the main border crossing with Ukraine from Friday, joining the Polish protests. They also complain Ukrainian truckers offer cheaper prices for their services and also transport goods within the European Union.

Separately, the European Commission has censured Poland’s “nearly complete lack of involvement” in trying to end the trucker protests.

“I find the situation at the Polish border with Ukraine absolutely unacceptable,” said transport commissioner Adina Valean. “There is not good faith in finding a solution... It's a nearly complete lack of involvement of Polish authorities.”

“The entire EU, not to mention Ukraine, a country currently at war, cannot be taken hostage by blocking our external borders.”

Valean said the Commission had the right to take measures against those “who are not respecting the rules and not applying the law.”

Dwindling support for Ukraine war

Although Poland is a staunch supporter of Ukraine in its war with Russia, trade relations between Warsaw and Kiev have been prickly after Ukrainian trade flew out of the war-torn country to EU markets following the suspension of most restrictions on Ukraine’s export in the wake of the war.

EU member states and European institutions have provided more than 70 billion euros (more than $77 billion) in military assistance to Ukraine. But public discontent has been rising against the war in recent months. 

Continued economic support and military assistance to Ukraine was also one of the most contentious issues during the budget showdown on Capitol Hill in September.

Back then, US lawmakers proposed a major cut in aid for Ukraine ahead of a looming government shutdown, despite President Joe Biden’s repeated promises to increase Washington’s support.

In Russia, during a July 24 videoconference with permanent members of the Russian Security Council, President Vladimir Putin said  public opinion in Europe is changing, and that Europeans tend to believe supporting Ukraine is a waste of money and not in European interests. “We can see the public opinion changing in Europe, too. Both the Europeans and European elites see that support for Ukraine is, in fact, a dead end, an empty, endless waste of money and effort.”

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