Hungary Joins Poland in Banning Grain Imports From Ukraine

Hungary has joined Poland in banning imports of grain and other foods from Ukraine that have hit their domestic agriculture industries hard, in a diplomatic setback for Kyiv that may also have repercussions for the future of an agreement that allows wartime grain shipments to leave from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

Hungary’s agriculture minister said on Saturday that his country would restrict Ukrainian grain imports until the end of June, according to Hungarian media reports. The move came after Warsaw reached a deal with Kyiv on Friday to strictly limit and, for a time, halt Ukrainian grain deliveries to Poland.

That agreement was expected to affect Ukrainian grain, wheat, corn and some other produce, but on Saturday, Poland appeared to move to expand it to include dozens of other types of food. Ukraine’s agriculture minister, Mykola Solskyi, said Kyiv understood that its agricultural exports represented “tough competition” for other countries, but added: “The Ukrainian farmer is in the most difficult situation.”

There had been signs in recent weeks that Ukraine’s food exports were becoming a sore point in relations with Poland, one of its staunchest allies through the war.

Facing a general election later this year and worried that discontent among farmers could erode support among its predominantly conservative, rural base, Poland’s governing Law and Justice party has made solving the grain issue with Ukraine a priority. Poland’s new agriculture minister, Robert Telus, whose predecessor resigned during a state visit to Poland earlier this month by President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, said at a party convention on Saturday that halting grain deliveries would act as a “shield” for Polish farmers.

The European Union lifted tariffs on Ukrainian grain last year to help transport it to the rest of the world. But once the Black Sea deal was reached, the bulk of the products being moved by land routes remained in Europe. As a result, farmers in Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European nations have struggled with a glut of grain and other Ukrainian agricultural products and seen their incomes plummet.

The announcements from Hungary and Poland came as Russia has been voicing doubts about extending the Black Sea grain deal, which was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last year and is scheduled to expire in the next few weeks. It has been crucial for alleviating global food shortages and limiting price increases.

The Black Sea deal was renewed in March but the U.N. did not say how long it would last. Russia at the time said it was valid through May 18. Russia has expressed dissatisfaction with the deal for months because of sanctions that have hindered its own food and fertilizer exports. The agreement would become even more vital if Ukraine could not ship grain and foodstuffs over land routes in Eastern Europe, through Poland and Hungary.

On the battlefield in Ukraine over the weekend, the Russian assault remained focused on the eastern front near the towns of Lyman and Bakhmut, according to a statement from the Ukrainian Army’s general staff on Sunday. The battle for the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut has been grinding on for months and has claimed many lives on both sides, though the toll so far has likely been much higher for Russia’s forces.

Early on Saturday, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that the Wagner mercenary force had taken control of two areas on the northern and southern outskirts of Bakhmut. The remaining Ukrainian forces in the city, the Russian ministry said on the Telegram messaging app, were “retreating and deliberately destroying the city’s infrastructure and residential buildings to slow down the advance of Russian troops.”

It was not possible to immediately verify those claims.

As of late last week, Ukrainian soldiers were defending a shrinking half-circle of destroyed buildings in a western neighborhood of Bakhmut, only about 20 blocks wide in the 16-square-mile city.

Ukraine’s army is determined to hold out, even as allies have quietly questioned the rationale for sustaining significant casualties in a city that has been reduced to rubble. For both sides, the city has taken on outsized symbolic significance, military analysts have said.

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