(CN) — The European Union's got a problem: Poland, the bloc's erstwhile front-line champion of Ukraine, is in a bitter spat with Kyiv.
This row got new fuel on Tuesday when Poland's ultra-nationalist government said it may launch an extradition request against the 98-year-old Ukrainian-Canadian Nazi veteran who received a standing ovation during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit last week to the Canadian Parliament.
On Tuesday evening, Przemysław Czarnek, the education minister in Poland's hard-right Law and Justice government, announced an extradition probe had been launched against Yaroslav Hunka for possible war crimes against Poles during World War II.
Hunka fought for the 1st Ukrainian Division, which was also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, or the SS 14th Waffen Division, a voluntary unit under the command of the Nazis. The division committed atrocities in Poland.
“In view of the scandalous events in the Canadian Parliament, which involved honoring, in the presence of President Zelenskyy, a member of the criminal Nazi SS Galicia formation, I have taken steps towards the possible extradition of this man to Poland,” Czarnek said.
Poland's move to seek the extradition of Hunka was the newest twist in a toxic row that's erupted in recent weeks between Kyiv and Warsaw.
This fight involves competition over grain, historic grievances over war crimes, the presence of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees in Poland, and how Ukraine's potential entry into the EU could weaken Warsaw's position within the 27-member bloc.
It became an open confrontation last week during the U.N. General Assembly in New York City.
In a speech to the assembly, Zelenskyy accused Warsaw of acting like an ally of Moscow by prolonging an embargo on Ukrainian grain after the EU lifted restrictions on Ukrainian imports earlier this month.
After Poland decided to prolong the embargo — in defiance of the EU's bloc-wide trade policy — Slovakia and Hungary did the same; the three countries argued their farmers were being put out of business by a flood of Ukrainian grain. In response, Ukraine challenged the embargo at the World Trade Organization, a move that quickly soured relations.
In his speech, Zelenskyy hit out at Poland by saying it was “alarming to see how some in Europe, some of our friends in Europe, play out solidarity in a political theater — making a thriller from the grain. They may seem to play their own role but in fact they are helping set the stage to the Moscow actor.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda struck back, likening Ukraine to a “drowning man” and saying Poland could not allow itself to be pulled under by Ukraine.
“Ukraine is under Russian attack, undoubtedly in a very difficult situation, clutching at whatever he can. Should we be offended by it? Of course, you can be indignant about it,” Duda said.
“Should we act to protect ourselves from being harmed by a drowning man?" Duda continued. "Of course we must act to protect ourselves from a drowning man causing us harm, because if the drowning man causes us harm and drowns us, he won’t get any help. So we have to look after our own interests, and we will do this effectively and decisively.”
Also last week, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki jolted the Western alliance by saying Poland would no longer ship weapons to Kyiv because Poland needed to focus on its own defense.
This spat sharply exposes growing fatigue and unease across the EU and the Western alliance with the war in Ukraine. Opinion surveys and political polls show eroded support for Ukraine and a rise in fringe political parties opposed to the war.
The shifting attitude toward Ukraine is expected to be felt in Slovakia this weekend when voters head to the polls. Robert Fico, a former Slovak prime minister who wants to stop providing military support to Ukraine, is ahead in some polls in the tight election.
Anti-war sentiment is rising in Germany too, and that's giving a big boost to the far-right Alternative for Germany, a party opposed to providing Ukraine with weapons. The AfD is now the third-largest party in opinion polls.
Poland holds national parliamentary elections on Oct. 15 and support for the ruling Law and Justice party has dwindled. It is expected to remain Poland's largest party, but it is unlikely to pull in enough votes to hold a majority in the Sejm, Poland's parliament.
In large part, Law and Justice has shifted its tone on Ukraine because it is threatened by a rival far-right party known as Confederation.
Confederation is luring away Law and Justice supporters by opposing support for Ukraine. Its leaders speak out against giving aid to Ukrainian refugees, bring up historical grievances against Ukraine, and argue the war is damaging Poland economically.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.Follow @cainburdeau
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