Zelenskyy visit tightens bonds with Poland amid Russian war

WARSAW (AP) : Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy won new pledges of deeper military and economic cooperation on a state visit to Poland on Wednesday as the neighbors sought to forge a tighter relationship in defiance of Russia’s full-scale war against Kyiv that has reshaped international alliances.

Polish President Andrzej Duda said his country has provided four Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine to help it beat back the Kremlin’s assault. Four more are in the process of being handed over and another six are being prepared, he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, said Moscow’s relations with Washington are “in deep crisis” as the U.S. has led its allies in supplying aid and weapons to Ukraine. Speaking at a ceremony where he accepted diplomatic credentials from ambassadors of 17 nations, including the U.S., Putin alleged that Washington’s support for the 2014 protests in Kyiv that ousted a pro-Kremlin president led to Russia’s sending troops into Ukraine.

Zelenskyy said at his news conference with Duda that his government would “extend a hearty welcome” to Polish businesses seeking to help Ukraine’s postwar rebuilding, which the World Bank has estimated could cost $411 billion. He met later with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and signed agreements on developing Ukrainian infrastructure that opens a door for hundreds of Polish companies.

Poland heaped military honors and praise on Zelenskyy as it welcomed him and his wife on a joint visit, during which they thanked the country for its crucial military support as well as being a haven for Ukrainian refugees. The former Soviet satellite that is now a member of the European Union and NATO feels especially threatened by Russia and has been a leading advocate for aid to Kyiv.

Zelenskyy said the countries signed a new defense package for the delivery of Polish weaponry. They will also set up joint manufacturing plants for weapons and ammunition, he said.

Morawiecki said Zelenskyy’s visit was “extremely important because we are shaping the picture of Europe for the future. The Kremlin and Putin, Moscow wanted an end to Ukraine, but today we can see that this war initiates the end of an aggressive Russia, of the Russia that we know, and (marks) a start of a completely new Europe. This is the beginning of a completely new Europe.”

Earlier, Zelenskyy and Duda said they wanted to leave behind any World War II-era grievances that linger in Ukraine and Poland.

“There are no taboo topics between us,” Duda said. “There are still open wounds in the memory of many people.”

The visit to Warsaw was a rare wartime foray out of Ukraine for Zelenskyy. While he also traveled to the United States, Britain, France and Belgium, the trip to Poland stood out because it was announced in advance and undertaken without the secrecy of past foreign trips. It also was the first time Zelenskyy and first lady Olena Zelenska traveled abroad together since the war began in February 2022, said Marcin Przydacz, head of Duda’s foreign policy office.

Duda awarded Zelenskyy Poland’s oldest and highest civilian distinction, The Order of the White Eagle.

“We have no doubt that your attitude, together with the bravery of the nation, has saved Ukraine,” the Polish president told Zelenskyy.

At a ceremony in the courtyard of the presidential palace, Duda and the two countries’ first ladies were dressed in formal attire, while Zelenskyy wore the military-style sweatshirt and khaki trousers that have become his uniform since the invasion.

His trips to London, Paris and Brussels in February were part of his push for warplanes and for his country admission to the EU and NATO, and his visit to Washington in December was intended to shore up U.S. support.

Zelenskyy traveled through Poland on his previous foreign trips, but until now had not made it his sole destination. The purpose of the journey to Warsaw was primarily to thank a country that has been an international cheerleader for Ukraine, as well as a safe haven for Ukrainian refugees and a transit hub for Ukraine-bound humanitarian aid and weapons.

The visit highlighted the central European nation’s rising role in a new international security order that has emerged from the war. Poland is seeking to modernize its military by purchasing tanks and other equipment from U.S. and South Korean producers. The United States has also bolstered its military presence in Poland.

Zelenskyy also was meeting with Ukrainians who have fled to Poland. More than 1.5 million Ukrainians have registered with the Polish government since the war began.

His visit came at a delicate time, with Polish farmers increasingly angry because Ukrainian grain that has entered the country has created a glut, causing prices to fall.

The grain is only meant to be stored temporarily before being sent to markets in North Africa and the Middle East. But farmers say the grain is taking up space in silos and entering Polish markets, causing local prices to fall. Romanian and Bulgarian farmers say they face the same problem.

Zelenskyy and Morawiecki said they had reached a deal to resolve that problem, though they gave no details.

The Polish farmers’ anger has been a headache for Morawiecki’s government ahead of fall elections, particularly since his conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, gets much of its support in rural areas. Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk, the focus of the farmers’ anger, resigned Wednesday.

In Ukraine, the military authorities said Russian forces in the previous 24 hours had launched 47 airstrikes, three missile strikes and 42 attacks from multiple rocket launchers. At least four civilians were killed and 16 others wounded in that period, Zelenskyy’s office reported.

Also on Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine and its allies of trying to affect Russian civilian communications satellites and threatened that Moscow could respond in kind. It didn’t offer any specifics.

“This is a flagrant violation of international law. The Russian side has the right to respond in kind. All the necessary opportunities for this are available,” it said.