SLOVAKIA could possibly see an increased presence of NATO troops on its territory after the organisation decided to step up its presence along the country’s eastern border. Meanwhile, the government is still in the midst of reverse gas flow talks.

“We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land,” NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said following the North Atlantic Council session on April 16. As a result, the US is sending about 600 troops to conduct training in four eastern states of the alliance: Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The exercises are part of an effort announced last week by Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel aimed at reassuring NATO allies of America’s commitment to the region’s defence, according to the AP newswire.

The Slovak media have speculated over whether NATO troops might make use of Slovak military facilities as well. Slovakia is too far to be utilised by air forces, according to analysts addressed by the Sme daily, but the country does have a so-called host nation support airport in the central-Slovak town of Sliač. As for military bases, Slovakia offers training centres in Kamenica nad Cirochou in the east, and in Valaškovce. The best training centre, which is also a host nation support station, is located in Lešť, Sme reported.

The Defence Ministry did not comment on such speculations.

President Ivan Gašaparovič told the media after the April 23 Security Council session that Slovakia is capable of securing its own territory under the current situation and that there is no need to place NATO forces at Slovakia’s military bases. He said he is convinced that there is no threat of a conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Analysts agree that if Ukraine becomes further destabilised, Slovakia could face an influx of tens of thousands of refugees at its eastern border. So far, there have only been a handful of asylum requests. On April 17, Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák announced that four Ukrainians inquired about asylum in Slovakia but were “talked out of it”.

“We had the first four asylum requests of Ukrainians, but we discussed it with them and they decided to return,” Kaliňák said, as reported by Sme. The ministry has failed to provide any details of the identities of the applicants or the nature of their situation. The Ukrainians reportedly inquired about asylum while on vacation in Poprad, according to Sme.

“After we explained that they would have to go through the asylum process and their movement within the EU would be limited, they changed their minds,” the ministry told Sme.

Representatives of Ukrainians and Ruthenians living in Slovakia expressed doubts about the ministry’s approach.

Meanwhile, Slovakia’s major involvement with the Ukraine crisis concerns the reverse gas flow from Slovakia to Ukraine, which is still being discussed between the two countries as well as the international community.

The US has been active in the talks, with US Vice President Joe Biden speaking on the phone with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico several times, most recently on April 17. During the call, Biden underscored the US’ support for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, contingent on Russia’s disavowal and cessation of destabilising actions within Ukraine. The two leaders agreed that if Russia further escalates the situation in Ukraine, it will face mounting consequences for its actions, according to the official statement published by the White House. Biden thanked Fico for Slovakia’s commitment to bolstering energy security within Europe, including supporting the reverse flow of natural gas to Ukraine, according to a White House statement.

“Biden sent a signal that they also consider the reverse gas flow an extremely important matter in Washington,” Alexander Duleba from the Slovak Foreign Policy Association told Sme earlier in April.
The matter of the reverse gas flow from Slovakia to Ukraine has not been resolved yet.

With press reports

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