By Maija Ehlinger and Mariya Knight, CNN
(CNN) — Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has told Volodymyr Zelensky never to “insult Poles again” after the Ukrainian president suggested his neighbor was putting on a show over their disputes on grain exports.
The Polish leader fired back at Zelensky after the Ukrainian leader offered a veiled criticism of Poland at the United Nations’ general assembly this week, saying the dispute was “political theater” and that “some of our friends in Europe” have “made a thriller from the grain.”
On Friday, at a rally in Swidnik, Poland, Morawiecki hit back.
“I want to tell President Zelensky never to insult Poles again, as he did recently during his speech at the UN,” he said.
“The Polish people will never allow this to happen, and defending the good name of Poland is not only my duty and honor, but also the most important task of the Polish government,” the Polish prime minister added.
The comments by Morawiecki risk deepening the divisions between two countries that have previously been close allies united against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Tensions between them have been rising in recent weeks over a ban on Ukrainian grain, initially put in place earlier this year by several EU nations to protect the livelihood of local farmers worried about being undercut by the low price of Ukrainian grain.
The EU announced plans to suspend the ban last week but Poland – alongside Hungary and Slovakia – said it would stick with it, sparking protests from Ukraine, which filed lawsuits against the three countries, and, subsequently, Zelensky’s comments at the UN.
Poland immediately condemned Zelensky’s comments at the UN and its foreign ministry summoned the Ukrainian ambassador to convey its “strong protest.” Hours later, the Polish prime minister said in a blunt social media statement that the country would “no longer transfer weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming Poland.”
That had seemed to indicate a major change in policy: until now, Poland has been one of the most forthright countries in the race to get weapons and resources into Ukrainian hands.
But Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday moved to walk back his prime minister’s comments, saying they were “interpreted in the worst possible way.”
He said Morawiecki had merely been referring to new weapons being purchased for the Polish army, and that older weapons systems Warsaw deems not necessary for modernizing its own military could still be shipped across the border.
NATO and European sources told CNN that the Polish stance may be an attempt to woo farmers with elections due next month.
Poland has long been one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies, alongside multiple former Eastern bloc nations which fear they could be next if Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expansionist war is successful.
Hungary warns against more Russia sanctions
In another sign of disenchantment over Ukraine in Eastern Europe, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has said new sanctions against Russia are not needed because they “cause more harm to Europe than Russia.”
Szijjarto made the comments in an interview with Russian state media TASS on Friday following his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“If we look at the sanctions from a pragmatic point of view, we see that they cause more harm to Europe than to Russia,” he said, according to TASS, adding that “the new packages of sanctions are not necessary.”
Szijjarto also said that supplies of Ukrainian grain to Central European countries will destroy their agricultural sector.
“If Ukrainian grain starts to spread into Central European countries, it will definitely destroy the agricultural markets of Central Europe. Not to mention our farmers, whom we obviously need to protect,” Szijjarto continued, as cited by TASS.
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