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Poland probes pro-Putin banner at farmers' protest

February 21, 2024

Poland says an investigation is underway into the display of a pro-Vladimir Putin banner during a farmers' protest held near the Czech border.

Farm tractors drive slowly to block the street in Krakow
Farmers have been blocking major highways near to Poland's borders, and in large citiesImage: Jakub Porzycki/Anadolu/picture alliance

Poland's Interior Minister Marcin Kierwinsk on Wednesday said prosecutors were investigating the appearance at a farmers' protest of a banner glorifying Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While farmers have been demonstrating across Europe for numerous reasons in recent months, Polish farmers are particularly aggrieved by what they consider unfair competition from Ukrainian imports.

What the banner said

The sheet of material, stapled to the front of a tractor and appearing alongside a Soviet flag, read: "Putin — Put Ukraine, Brussels and our rulers in order."

It appeared at a demonstration on a motorway near the village of Gorzyczki, close to the Czech border.

Polish farmers have been staging a border blockade in protest against European Union agricultural policy, as well as imports of cheaper Ukrainian grains and other products, which they say are pushing down prices.

A close-up of a tractor at a Polish farmers' protest. a graphic on the front bumper shows a cartoon figure urinating on the EU flag. February 9, 2024.
Poland's change of government has lent fresh impetus to pre-existing anti-EU sentiment among some portions of the populationImage: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto/picture alliance

What the Polish government said

Poland's interior minister called the banner "scandalous" and said it had been immediately secured by police. "There will be no consent to such criminal activities," he said.

Under Polish law, the public promotion of a totalitarian system is punishable with up to three years in prison.

The Polish Foreign Ministry said it noted "with the greatest concern the appearance of anti-Ukrainian slogans and slogans praising Vladimir Putin and the war he is waging during the recent agricultural blockades."

"We believe that this is an attempt to take over the agricultural protest movement by extreme and irresponsible groups, perhaps under the influence of Russian agents," the ministry said.

A spokesperson for the Solidarity farmers' union said the banner was unacceptable, but rejected the suggestion that Moscow's agents were seeking to influence the protest movement. He blamed someone unconnected to the union for the banner.

The comparatively recent change of government in Poland, with the more pro-EU coalition headed by Prime Minister Donald Tusk taking office, has intensified the farmers' protests, which have been a recurring occasional feature for some time, often at Ukraine's border.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said on social media that the blockade could hamper the delivery of weapons to his country. He said he hoped to meet Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk for a meeting at the border, preferably ahead of the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Saturday.

EU states back plan to shield farmers from Ukraine imports

In a bid to respond to the farmers' concerns, EU member states on Wednesday backed proposals from Brussels for "safeguards" to prevent cheap Ukrainian agricultural imports from the flooding the market and undercutting Polish products.

The European Commission, the EU's executive, last month introduced a proposal to extend the tariff-free entry of Ukrainian imports for another year from June. But it also called for safeguards to stop imports driving down prices at the expense of Europe's own farmers.

The commission's proposal envisions "quick remedial action in case of significant disruptions to the EU market."

For the most sensitive products — poultry, eggs and sugar — an "emergency brake" would be used to stop future imports from rising beyond the average volumes of 2022 and 2023.

After the green light from the majority of member states the proposal will now have to be negotiated at the European Parliament before it can go into force.

rc, mf/msh (AP, Reuters)