Two Slovaks join Ukraine mission

A PAIR of Slovak military officials were among those blocked from entering Crimea as part of an observer mission to neighbouring Ukraine, as Prime Minister Robert Fico and other top Slovak officials call for a diplomatic solution to the biggest crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

A PAIR of Slovak military officials were among those blocked from entering Crimea as part of an observer mission to neighbouring Ukraine, as Prime Minister Robert Fico and other top Slovak officials call for a diplomatic solution to the biggest crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

“Any use of military force or any invasion has no place in the modern world,” Fico said at a March 2 press conference.

Following Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry on March 4 called on Russia to withdraw its troops to its bases and refrain from further intervention in Ukraine.

“Any further escalation of tensions and continuing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine will present a serious threat to international peace and security,” the ministry wrote in an official statement published by the TASR newswire.

In line with the outcome of the special session of the Council of the European Union on Ukraine, held on March 3, the ministry condemned the violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine by acts of aggression.

Meanwhile, 18 Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states, including Slovakia, decided on March 5 to send 35 unarmed military personnel to Ukraine based on the country’s request to send inspectors to “dispel concerns about military activities”.

Defence Ministry spokeswoman Martina Balleková confirmed for TASR that Slovakia dispatched the two members of the armed forces. That observer mission was blocked from entering Crimea on March 6, according to Reuters.

“The participation of our soldiers in the international inspection group represents our contribution towards the de-escalation of tension in Ukraine,” Defence Minister Martin Glváč said.

Criticism of the response

Prior to the announcement of the observer mission, a group of foreign policy experts issued a joint statement charging that the government’s response was not strong enough. Slovakia should clearly declare its interest in Russia ending its military build-up and clearly state that Russia’s intervention is unacceptable, their joint declaration issued on March 3 said.

“We regret that the official stance of Slovakia so far is falling behind our neighbours in the region in its promptness and unambiguousness,” said the statement signed by Jozef Bátora, Vladimír Bilčík, Martin Bútora, Alexander Duleba, Balázs Jarábik, Milan Ježovica, Marian Majer, Juraj Marušiak, Milan Nič, Jaroslav Naď, Róbert Ondrejcsák, Milan Šuplata, Peter Terem and Róbert Vass, as reported by TASR. “We are certain that Slovakia should declare its solidarity with Ukraine clearly and without any delay in close coordination with our closest allies and partners.”

The analysts at the same time condemn the solution Russia has chosen in Crimea.

Ondrejcsák, director of the Center for European and North-Atlantic Relations, an NGO focusing on international issues, said Slovakia must declare that it cannot accept military operations on the territory of its neighbouring state or occupation of part of the Ukrainian territory.

“It is in direct contradiction with our most important values as well as our strategic and security interests,” Ondrejcsák told The Slovak Spectator on March 3.

The challenges

As to the main challenges the V4 countries face in connection with recent developments in Crimea, Tomasz Chłoń, the Polish ambassador to Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator that the immediate tasks have more to do with “helping Ukraine rather than our own internal risks: to prevent an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and to help the Ukrainians quickly prepare for stabilising the situation politically and economically, and then starting necessary reforms”.

Slovakia’s Security Council after its special session on March 3 has fortified the protection of its borders with Ukraine.

“It is mainly to prevent illegal migration through our borders,” Fico said.

Slovakia has not recorded any increase in visa applications from Ukraine, the SITA newswire reported.

Vladimír Baláž, chief researcher at the Institute of Prognostics of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV), explained that if the conflict in Ukraine is to last several months or even years, or if Ukraine ends up on the verge of bankruptcy, Slovakia could expect Ukrainian migration to increase.

“The main influx would be captured by Poland, and paradoxically partly also Russia, but certainly a couple dozens of thousands of migrants would also come to Slovakia, for which we certainly are not prepared,” Baláž told The Slovak Spectator.

Slovakia will take in approximately 20 Ukrainians who suffered injuries during the demonstrations in Kiev, while the country is ready to accept a couple hundred migrants in areas located close to the borders, Fico said on March 2.

According to Chłoń, there’s a working group of representatives of the ministries of interior of the V4, and it is coordinating closely on preparations for a potential influx.

“Maybe we are not the richest countries of Europe, but we are affluent enough to provide adequate resources,” Chłoń told The Slovak Spectator adding that “we are, in a way, historically obliged to help refugees because we know from our own experiences what it means to have to run away: 1956, 1968 and 1981”.

Recalling history

In responses to the Russian occupation of Crimea many have referred to the 1968 invasion of then-Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies.

When asked about such parallel Ondrejcsák has said that every parallel is somehow a simplification but “certainly there are some shared signs”.

Both cases, Ondrejcsák said, involve a military operation against a sovereign state and military occupation of a territory. In the case of Czechoslovakia, however, it was a total occupation and a “change of internal political context” while in “Ukraine it is only the occupation of part of the territory, aimed at destabilising the whole political and societal situation”.

According to Ondrejcsák, Ukraine’s security is inseparably linked with the safety of central Europe.

“Any threat to Ukrainian security, sovereignty and stability will have long-term negative consequences for our security, while our neighbourhood becomes destabilised, and a long-term freeze and hard-to-solve conflicts will be created, while on the territory of a neighbouring country a significant Russian presence will emerge,” Ondrejcsák said.

However, Ondrejcsák does not think that Russia would become so “unwise that it would escalate the conflict to that level, which would mean a direct confrontation with NATO”.

Energy and economics

Slovakia’s most urgent interests in Ukraine involve energy, Fico said on March 2, adding that Slovakia has not recorded any problems with supplies of gas from Ukraine thus far. Slovakia currently has 1.77 billion cubic metres of gas in storage, which, according to Fico, should be enough for five months if supplies were to be cut off, SITA reported.

“The weakest point with direct and rapid impact on our economy seems to be the transit of gas and oil,” said ČSOB Chief Economist Marek Gábriš, as quoted by TASR.

About 75 percent of gas and oil transported to central Europe from Russia goes through Ukraine, he said.

“Slovakia’s dependence is even higher and impacts of the previous gas crisis are still in all our minds,” Gábriš added.

Ukraine’s international bond ratings were at CCC, one step away from bankruptcy, Baláž said. Unless quick and substantial help from international institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is provided to Ukraine, the country might really go bankrupt. The United States and the European Union have pledged $1 billion and about €11 billion in aid, respectively.

Slovakia’s trade with Ukraine represents 1 percent of the total exports, Baláž said, adding “thus, the direct impacts were not that significant”.

According to Baláž, Slovakia might have problems with supplies of ore or coal but it could still somehow offset this shortage.

“I would see, rather, danger in the fact that the markets react nervously to every bankruptcy,” Baláž told The Slovak Spectator, adding that Ukraine is a relatively large country with more than 40 million people, and if such a country goes bankrupt then all emerging markets would feel the impact.

Slovakia is no longer an emerging market, but investors might also worry about its stability as it is a small country and thus the risk of increased borrowing costs might rise, he added.

Michaela Terenzani, Roman Cuprik and Radka Minarechová contributed to this story

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