WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s prime minister has chastised her coalition partner for describing Ukraine’s economy as on the brink of disintegration and suggesting Poland could face a flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees across its frontiers.
“(We need) fewer critics and more real help on this particular issue, which will make it easier for Ukrainians,” Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz was quoted as saying by state news agency PAP late Wednesday when asked about her deputy’s remarks.
European Union member Poland ranks as one of Ukraine’s most outspoken supporters in a war with pro-Russian rebels in eastern provinces. It is helping Kiev fight graft and improve regional governance, and plans to help with military training.
In an interview with Reuters published on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocinski also said progress toward building a Western-style democracy in Ukraine had been disappointing since a pro-Russian President was toppled by demonstrations in February last year.
The comments by Piechocinski, leader of the junior coalition partner, the PSL, signaled frictions in the alliance. The PSL is third-biggest party in parliament, with 39 MPs of 460; but opinion polls give PSL candidate Adam Jarubas less than 5 percent of votes for a May presidential poll.
“Poland should very strongly support Ukraine today in finishing or starting reforms,” Kopacz said.
There is, however, concern among some voters about the possible security implications for Poland of the Ukraine conflict, which has killed over 5,600 people. A ceasefire is being broadly observed but the situation remains volatile.
Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna, a senior figure in Kopacz’s Civic Platform party, said Piechocinski should think twice before commenting on foreign policy.
“Because one can help here, or cause a lot, a lot of damage,” Schetyna told broadcaster TVN24.
Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of backing pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and the EU has imposed sanctions on Russia. Russia denies involvement and has responded with counter-measures including embargoes on food imports that have had a particular impact on Poland.
When first published on Tuesday, Piechocinski’s comments drew little official reaction in Warsaw, but the fallout grew when the interview was carried by Russian media.
Polish parliament speaker Radoslaw Sikorski, a vocal critic of Russia, told TVN24: “I think that one has to be very careful in regards to words and not allow oneself to be played by the Russian media machine, which at the moment has increased its influence in Poland.”
Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Ralph Boulton