A EUROPEAN spirit of solidarity and neighbourly cooperation should prevail in Slovakia’s approach to helping supply gas to Ukraine, says Matej Navrátil, a researcher at the Institute of European Studies and International Relations at Comenius University in Bratislava.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Slovakia so far has not reported an increased number of asylum applications from Ukraine. Do you expect this to change if the tension in the country escalates further?
Matej Navrátil (MN): There is this possibility in the event that Ukraine is destabilised. Slovakia will have to react reflexively. In the most pessimistic scenario, Slovakia needs to get ready for tens of thousands of refugees, if not more.
TSS: What are the possible scenarios of further development in Ukraine? Is it likely that some regions will break away from Ukraine as Crimea did and that the tension will move further west, closer to Slovakia’s border?
MN: I do not expect the Crimea scenario to happen [again]. In my opinion there is this mistaken idea that the eastern part of Ukraine has tendencies to become part of Russia, but I’d rather say that there are efforts to be independent and neutral towards both the EU and Russia, while having good economic and political relations with both. To put it simply, it’s not so much about becoming part of Russia but rather about being Ukrainians. I rather expect a looser federative or even confederative arrangement in the country. I don’t think Putin would be interested in turning Ukraine into a ‘failed state’; that would be counterproductive for the economic interests of Moscow.
TSS: Is there a real threat that Russia would attempt to exercise its interests in the Baltic States in the way that it did in Ukraine? How should the EU and Slovakia react if that were to happen?
MN: I believe to a minimal extent. The Baltic countries have a special statute among the post-Soviet republics and they are not geopolitically and economically as important as Ukraine. Of course, post-Soviet nostalgia can surface in some border regions, but the Crimea scenario is unlikely. Putin does realise very well that these countries are fully integrated into the euro-Atlantic sphere and potential attempts by Russia to annex part of their territories would result in a confrontation with the armed capacities of the NATO member states, where the most important partner and guarantor of security is the US.
TSS: Edward Lucas from The Economist wrote about how this conflict could grow into a third world war. Do you believe this conflict has the potential to gain global dimensions?
MN: Analysts have been trying to show parallels between the approach of Russia and Nazi Germany. It’s good to remember what happened so that it cannot be repeated, but I don’t think it should lead to a third world war. Putin does not have an interest in, and I dare say at the moment not even the financial capacities, for an all-out war. It’s in nobody’s interest.
TSS: What does the conflict’s escalation currently mean for Slovakia in terms of energy security?
MN: Ukraine has not proved to be the most reliable partner in fulfilling its obligations in the past. Russia is stressing that now, using it to legitimise the fact that it is bypassing Ukraine in supplying energy to Europe. That would force Ukraine to seek closer ties with Russia, which is not in the EU’s interest. That’s why I think it is good that the Slovak government points out the Ukrainian excesses, but in this case the European spirit of solidarity, cooperation and neighbourly help should prevail, with the security that if Ukraine proves to be an unreliable partner, we will have the guarantees of the EU that they will stand by us should problems arise.
TSS: Based on the agreement on the immediate strengthening of technical and personnel presence in eastern Europe, is it possible that the presence of NATO armed forces in Slovakia will be increased? What will that mean for Slovakia?
MN: I’m not an expert in defence, but I don’t think this would be tragic for Slovakia. It would rather be sort of a projection of the fact that the West is united and that if Russia bullies a country that sees its future in Europe, it is spoiling its relations with the entire western world. At the same time, it is necessary to interpret this step in Slovakia accordingly: being a member of the club means having certain obligations in the event of a crisis, and at the same time it is also a guarantee of our security.
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