September 16, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

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Workers harvest a field of wheat in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on July 4. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Poland, Hungary and Slovakia will defy the European Union and extend a temporary ban placed on Ukrainian grain imports, in a move likely to anger the bloc’s leadership.

On Friday, the EU announced it was lifting restrictive measures placed on the export of Ukrainian grain to a select number of countries in Eastern Europe.

The temporary measure, adopted May 2, banned the import of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seed to Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia to counter the risk of farmers in these countries being undercut by a bottleneck of cheap Ukrainian grain.

The European Commission said in a statement that it was lifting the ban because Ukraine had committed to export control measures that would prevent any further disruption to neighboring economies.

While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejoiced, his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki did not welcome the EU’s decision.

“We will extend this ban despite the European Union’s disagreement,” Prime Minister Morawiecki said, according to Polish state news agency PAP. “We will do it because it is in the interests of the Polish farmer,” he added.

A Polish government spokesperson formally announced the government’s plan to extend the ban on Ukrainian grain imports later Friday.

Hungary has also opted to retain the ban, with the country’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban announcing his plans on Saturday to “take matters into our own hands.”

“Ukrainian agricultural products destined for Africa are flooding Central European markets,” Orban stressed. “The bureaucrats in Brussels are turning a blind eye to the problems … of European farmers once again, so Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are extending the ban on imports on a national basis.”

Slovakia’s Ministry of Agriculture announced its decision to extend the ban in a Facebook post Friday, citing a need to safeguard Slovakia’s “domestic market.”

More context: European officials have tried to keep Ukrainian grain flowing during Russia’s war in Ukraine, fearing widespread famine brought on by blocked ports and sea routes to Africa and the Middle East.

The EU took steps to lift duties on grain from Ukraine and ease its distribution to global markets, but those moves sparked protests from farmers elsewhere in Europe, who said the influx of cheap grain hurt them.

The EU convened meetings in search of a compromise before Friday’s announcement, and said the decision should satisfy the needs of both sides.

Now the decision by the three countries to apply their own measures is expected to anger EU officials.

Earlier Friday, European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis called on countries to “work along the lines” of the new agreement and “refrain from unilateral measures” on Ukrainian grain imports.

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