Zelenskyy invites Poland's leaders to border to resolve farmers' protest affecting flow of weapons

Polish farmers, angry at EU agrarian policy and cheap Ukraine produce imports which, they say, are undercutting their livelihoods, drive their heavy-duty tractors in protest outside the office of the regional governor, in Poznan, western Poland, Friday Feb. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (Czarek Sokolowski, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WARSAW – Ukraine's president on Wednesday invited Polish leaders to meet him at their shared border to resolve a blockade by Polish farmers protesting Ukrainian food imports, saying it's hampering the shipment of weapons to Ukrainian soldiers.

Meanwhile, Polish authorities voiced concern after slogans appeared at the protests praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war against Ukraine.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on social media he hoped the proposed border meeting for him, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and a European Union representative could happen before the two-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Saturday.

"This is national security," Zelenskyy said. “I am ready to be at the border with our government.”

There was no immediate reaction from the Polish government.

Poland, a member of NATO and the European Union, has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, accepting unlimited numbers of refugees and providing Ukraine with weaponry.

Poles, with past oppression by Moscow rooted deeply in generational memory, are largely supportive of Ukraine. But tensions have been growing as Polish farmers blame imports of Ukrainian grain and other food for pushing down prices and harming their livelihoods.

Polish farmers are among farmers across Europe who have protesting competition from Ukraine as well as EU environmental policies, which they say will increase their production costs.

Earlier Wednesday, Poland’s Foreign Ministry said it believed that extreme groups were trying to take over the protest movement “perhaps under the influence of Russian agents.” It noted “with the greatest concern the appearance of anti-Ukrainian slogans and slogans praising Vladimir Putin and the war he is waging.”

On Tuesday, a tractor at a protest in the southern Polish region of Silesia carried a Soviet flag and a banner that said: "Putin, put things in order with Ukraine, Brussels, and our rulers.” A photograph was published by the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

Interior Minister Marcin Kierwinski called the banner “scandalous” and said it was immediately secured by police, and prosecutors were investigating.

“There will be no consent to such criminal activities," he said.

The public promotion of a totalitarian system can be punished with up to three years in prison under Polish law.

The Foreign Ministry called on protest organizers “to identify and eliminate from their movement” the initiators, arguing it was necessary for Poland's interest.

“The current situation of Polish farmers is the result of Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine and the disruption of the global economy, not because Ukrainians are defending themselves against the aggression,” the ministry said.

On Tuesday some protesting farmers at the border spilled Ukrainian grain.

Zelenskky called it "grain that our farmers grow with great difficulty despite all the difficulties associated with ruthless Russian aggression."

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