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Good morning. Today, I explain the possible consequences of Poland’s arresting decision to stop supplying new weapons to Ukraine, while our climate correspondent previews the EU’s two visitors to China this weekend.
Poland’s spat with Ukraine over grain exports has simmered all summer. This week it boiled over into something far more serious.
Context: Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said late on Wednesday that the country would not send any new military support to Ukraine, following criticism from Kyiv of Warsaw’s decision to impose a unilateral ban on imports of certain Ukrainian grain. Morawiecki is fighting for re-election next month, and wants farmers’ votes.
Whether a statement of fact or a fit of pique, that is a serious declaration by the leader of the EU’s fifth-largest member state, with potentially far-reaching negative consequences for all involved, most obviously, Ukraine.
Poland has been a major arms supplier, and has also been a leading voice in calling for others to follow suit. That voice just got a lot weaker.
Take the proposal for all EU countries to finance a €20bn fund to supply weapons to Ukraine for the next four years. Some countries oppose such a move. Morawiecki’s remark will give the holdouts more reason to resist.
Poland also loses from playing politics as others fight a war. Its previously unwavering support for Kyiv has enhanced its stature and foreign policy clout among EU and Nato allies.
Withdrawing — or threatening to withdraw — that lifeline for the sake of electioneering or, worse still, to soothe some ruffled national pride, is not a good look around Nato’s top table.
As Slovakia showed yesterday with an agreement to drop its own grain ban in exchange for more safeguards from Kyiv, keeping your cool and quietly negotiating can reap rewards.
And the EU loses, too. Far-right and pro-Russian political parties that already planned to run campaigns in next year’s European elections against support to Ukraine will thank Morawiecki for moving the issue from taboo to mainstream. Expect to see a surge in Kremlin-backed propaganda seeking to exploit the crack in western rhetorical unity.
Yesterday, Morawiecki’s spokesman sought to mollify the furore, clarifying that Warsaw would still provide previously announced ammunition and armaments.
Expect more of that messaging, as allies seek to remind the Poles who the real enemy is.
“When I read the headlines this morning, I was of course concerned and had questions,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters yesterday. “[But] Poland continues to stand behind Ukraine.”
Chart du jour: Vicious cycle
An economic slowdown in wealthier countries has coincided with a rise in zero-sum thinking, or the belief that one group’s gain is at another’s expense. Populism conspiracy theories and nativism are all rooted in this kind of thinking.
These days, the visit of a European commissioner to China can go one of two ways, writes Alice Hancock.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU’s climate commissioner, has told the Financial Times he expects a “very good agenda” when he travels to Beijing today.
But he says it won’t be so easy for his trade colleague Valdis Dombrovskis, who is travelling to China at the same time and will have to smooth over tensions provoked by the EU launching an anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese electric vehicles.
Context: European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced the probe in her annual State of the Union address. Its aim is to shield European carmakers from competing with cheap, subsidised EV imports from China.
As a result, the mood music for Dombrovskis’ trip is sombre at best. News of the probe angered Beijing, which has called it a “naked protectionist act”.
“These questions will be more discussed in meetings with him,” Sinkevičius said.
Concerning his own area of expertise, the Lithuanian commissioner struck an upbeat tone, signalling that the environment was an area where China and the EU can find common ground. “Especially on the environmental agenda, [the relationship] has absolutely been delivering so far,” he said.
The aim of his trip is to push co-operation on sustainable use of the seas and make progress on a UN pledge to end plastic pollution.
Pushing China to move on some of these issues has a wider significance — especially during a moment in which the EU is trying to bolster its relations with non-western countries.
“Let’s not, you know, downplay China’s influence on G77 [developing] countries,” the commissioner said.
What to watch today
German chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the UN general assembly.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy gives a speech to the Canadian parliament.
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