AMID a politically charged discourse over the crisis in eastern Ukraine and its implications for regional security, with Prime Minister Robert Fico offering an interpretation that the conflict represents a geopolitical fight for influence between Russia and the United States, Slovakia has made concrete offers to its partners in NATO on how the country could contribute to facing the current challenges.
The list that Slovak state officials tabled at the NATO summit in Newport, Wales on September 5 includes a logistics base in Poprad, trainings at an airport in central Slovakia and a pledge not to make any cuts to the defence budget.
“We have pledged to boost our presence in the headquarters in Szczecin, Poland,” said President Andrej Kiska, who led the Slovak delegation to the summit, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “We have offered our airport in Sliač and the training facility in Lešť for the Alliance’s manoeuvres.”
Slovakia is also working on intensifying intelligence activities together with its Visegrad Group (V4) partners, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, in association with the situation in Ukraine, Kiska said, as quoted by TASR.
Slovakia, which currently contributes about 1 percent of GDP to its defence budget, promised no further budget cuts until 2016 and pledged that it would start hiking this budget to reach 1.6 percent of GDP by 2020, still well below the 2 percent threshold pledged by NATO members. Of the total spending, 20 percent should go for the modernisation of forces.
“We came to the summit with an ambitious package, which our partners appreciated,” Kiska said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, adding that raising national budgets is important in light of the current crisis in Ukraine. “Russia, with its behaviour, endangers security in Europe.”
Russian soldiers are fighting in the eastern parts of Ukraine, raising concerns mainly in the neighbouring countries that fear for their security, Kiska said.
Nevertheless, information that Slovakia is planning to build a logistics base for use by NATO in Poprad has so far received the strongest response, especially among Poprad locals who in a poll posted on the official municipal website rushed to oppose the idea. Within the first 22 hours, more than 902 of the 1,000 voting citizens responded no, SITA reported.
The establishment of the logistics base is not yet certain, according to Defence Ministry spokesperson Martina Balleková, suggesting that NATO authorities have yet to assess the Slovak proposal.
Help for Ukraine
The NATO summit also approved an aid package for Ukraine, which will actively involves Slovakia. Slovakia is already helping its eastern neighbour via the reverse flow of gas, which Prime Minister Fico, his Ukrainian counterpart Arseniy Yatsenyuk and High Representative of the European Union Klaus-Dieter Borchardt ceremonially launched on September 2.
The Vojany-Uzhgorod pipeline is to transport gas to Ukraine at a rate of 10 billion cubic metres per year. However, it will not be capable of pumping at that speed consistently and, thus, the actual volume delivered will be less. Starting on March 1, 2015, it will be capable of maintaining that delivery speed on a permanent basis, officials claim. The guaranteed rate of delivery starting on October 1 will be at a rate equivalent to 6.4 billion cubic metres per year, Eustream spokesman Vahram Chuguryan wrote in a press release earlier in September.
Eustream estimated the costs of conducting the reverse flow via the Vojany-Uzhgorod pipeline at €20 million.
Along with gas transport, Slovakia has also assisted Ukraine in providing health care to injured Ukrainian citizens and supplying non-military technical devices, said Slovakia’s Defence Minister Martin Glváč.
Fico: Ukraine should not enter NATO
As for Ukraine’s position on the region’s security map, in recent days Fico has expressed his conviction that Ukraine should not join NATO because it is not prepared to enter and it also would be better for the region if the country remains outside the alliance.
While speaking on the public service Slovak Radio on September 6, Fico also said that “given the strategic position of Ukraine and also considering what is happening there, I would consider it a big mistake if the country entered NATO”.
According to Fico, the position of Ukraine as a neutral country would secure what Fico called “a certain peace”, adding that “however, Slovakia cannot influence these things”.
“If the United States says Ukraine will be in NATO; then it will be in NATO,” Fico told Slovak Radio.
Fico was quick to add that Ukraine absolutely does not meet the conditions for entering NATO or the European Union.
Earlier in September, Fico also offered his interpretation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, suggesting that it is actually a geopolitical fight between two super-powers.
“It is a conflict between Russia and the United States for influence over Ukraine,” Fico said, as quoted by the local press, suggesting that he has been in politics long enough not to believe what is being spread by propaganda.
Fico also told a press conference after the EU summit on August 31 that even though he respects Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko he does not believe every word he says, referring to his statement that thousands of foreign troops have flooded his country.
Ukrainian Ambassador to Slovakia Oleh Havaši, in an interview with the Sme daily, said that the Ukrainian government has plenty of proof backing the claims about Russian military intervention, adding that people who do not trust Ukrainian sources should approach NATO or the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE).
Meanwhile, Kiska presented a different view when speaking to the media after the NATO summit in Newport.
“It’s clear, and there can’t be any doubts that Russian soldiers are fighting in eastern Ukraine at the moment,” Kiska said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
Kiska further noted that people in EU-member countries that border Russia feel vulnerable.
“Smaller countries especially need reassurance that the Alliance, along with larger countries, would stand by them and would be willing to act,” Kiska said on September 5.
15. Sep 2014 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová