Explosive situation: Polish-Ukrainian border blocked by Polish carriers

It is the third week of Polish carriers’ blockade of the Polish-Ukrainian border. Due to the protests on the border between Ukraine and Poland, cargo transportation is virtually non-existent. The only exceptions are humanitarian and military cargo.

Polish truck drivers blocked Polish-Ukrainian border

In early November, Polish truck drivers went on protest and began blocking border crossings with Ukraine.

Polish truck drivers are demanding the introduction of commercial permits for Ukrainian companies to transport goods, except for humanitarian aid and supplies for the Ukrainian military, suspension of licenses for companies established after the war in Ukraine, and inspections of these companies.

Polish protesters said they would not block traffic for passenger buses and cars.

European Commission: No legal grounds exist for fulfilling Polish protesters’ demand

Polish carriers refused to unblock the border after negotiations with Ukrainian officials. At the same time, the European Commission stated that they could not fulfill one of the protesters’ demands, i.e., to cancel the transport visa-free regime for Ukraine.

Magda Kopczyńska, the head of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Transport, arrived at the scene to discuss the issue. The European Commission stated there are no legal grounds for fulfilling Polish protesters’ demand.

“Any restoration of the system of permits or quotas for road transportation is not legally possible, as it would be incompatible with the EU-Ukraine Road Transport Agreement. This Agreement on Road Transport was, of course, concluded with the consent of the EU member states,” said the spokesman Adalbert Jahnz.

Two Ukrainian drivers died in the queue on the border

Ukraine’s ambassador to Poland said that Ukraine had sent a note demanding that the strike of Polish carriers be dissolved. The reason was the second death of a Ukrainian driver at the border.

However, Polish carriers threatened to not lift the blockade in the next few months.

As of November 24, 3,700 trucks were waiting in lines to enter Ukraine due to the border blockade. On November 23, the blockade participants took on another checkpoint. It is Medyka-Shehyni, the last checkpoint where the carriers were not blocked.

The European Commission may initiate criminal proceedings against Poland if the government does not solve the problem of carriers blocking checkpoints on the border with Ukraine shortly.

Polish authorities are obliged under EU law to ensure the free movement of Ukrainian trucks at border crossings, a European Commission spokesman told RMF FM.

The Polish authorities are confused after the elections. They are not doing much to stop the blockade, although it directly contradicts the strategic priorities of the Polish state and the European Union.

There is practically no government in Poland, as the previous government has resigned, and a new one still needs to be formed. Therefore, the Ukrainian authorities have no one to engage in a dialogue with, as the Polish government has taken a “wait-and-see” attitude.

Impact on the economy and bilateral relations

Bilateral talks are currently blocked. However, neither the Polish nor the Ukrainian side is interested in any tension in Ukrainian-Polish relations.

The blockade of the border by the Poles affected the Ukrainian economy. Due to truck downtime, Ukrainian companies are losing millions of euros. In addition, imported products do not reach the shelves of Ukrainian supermarkets, and farmers’ export of Ukrainian grain becomes impossible.

Ukraine has already seen a spike in gas prices due to the blockade. This is especially dangerous on winter’s eve and possible attacks on the energy infrastructure.

Who are the Polish carriers blocking the border?

The Association of International Road Carriers of Ukraine reported that the carriers currently on strike on the Ukraine border used to work in Russia and Belarus. Only one of the 4 Polish carrier associations is on strike.

The Polish truck drivers say they live near the Poland-Ukraine border and mainly operate on routes to Russia and Belarus. Now, due to Russia’s war, these markets are closed. So, they aim to turn to Ukraine-Poland transport routes, where they face competition with the Ukrainian companies.

Observers also note that the strike at the border was organized by the efforts of Polish carriers affiliated with the right-wing radical party Confederation, which promotes anti-Ukrainian views.

Some may talk about the marginality and small number of blockers, but the fact is that the blockade tactics have been successful for its organizers (so far). The Ukraine-Poland border is still under blockade.

As a result, we can state a situation of high uncertainty. The conflict can develop explosively at any moment with any unpredictable outcome.

Ukraine evacuates its drivers. What should we expect next?

In this situation, the Ukrainian government started evacuating the truck drivers blocked at the border. Legal proceedings against the protest organizers by those who suffered from the blockade are considered, too.

The blockade organizers feel that success is slipping away, so they are escalating. The longer the blockade lasts, the higher the likelihood of violent incidents, especially given the provocative behavior of some Polish radicals at the protest site, such as demonstrative axe-carrying.

This situation poses a severe risk on several levels – from the safety of people at the blockade site to strategic threats to the Polish and Ukrainian states due to the disruption of regular cooperation and mutual weakening in the face of the threat from Russia.

It is likely that everything will depend on the new Polish government, which will have to make efforts to resolve the conflict.

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