Risks Ukraine faces from Hungary and Slovakia

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said that his government will not provide military aid to Ukraine
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said that his government will not provide military aid to Ukraine

Thoughts on the aftermath of the European Council meeting, where the representatives of Hungary and Slovakia made unpleasant statements about Ukraine.

Difficult discussions and unpleasant statements by some leaders of neighboring countries at the European Council meeting on the continuation of financial and military support for Ukraine should not have been a cause for panic in Ukrainian society.

The behavior of Viktor Orban and Robert Fico has its own logical and pragmatic justification. Orban speaks Brussels' language and is now trying to bargain for the unfreezing of the "Hungarian funds" that were withheld from them by Brussels in response to its violation of democratic principles. He boasts to Europe about his contacts with Putin and China, and declares that he is blocking aid to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. Orban obviously wants to keep his domestic policy, remaining an outspoken pragmatist and maximizing the potential of the foreign policy track.

In this context, it is noteworthy that, despite the threats from Budapest, the discussion did not result in any changes to the European Council's conclusions on Ukraine.

Diplomacy should not be performative but effective

For Fico, the first meeting of the European Council after his election victory is an excellent opportunity to prove to his voters that he is committed to his election promises, at least at the beginning of his government. Loud declarations directly to the faces of the leaders of EU institutions and member states should have appealed to his voters. Now, EU bureaucrats and heavyweights have time before the next European Council meeting in December to try to "correct" Slovakia's position on both the financial support package for Ukraine and the EU's common position on foreign policy and defense.

As in the case of Budapest, we should be prepared for Bratislava's pragmatic, sometimes cynical position. However, this should not be a cause for panic as long as Kyiv demonstrates maximum pragmatism and reasoning in its dialogue with difficult and uncomfortable partners.

We also have to believe in the power of European unity and solidarity with Ukraine and the ability of European partners to "push" on issues that contradict the values and strategic interests of the EU.

At the same time, the effectiveness of Ukraine's diplomacy on the Hungarian and now Slovak tracks raises many questions. There is still no Ambassador of Ukraine to Hungary. Our ambassador to Slovakia is also passive. Official Kyiv did not react appropriately to the handshake between Orban and Putin in China. The silence of foreign policy strategists about the Fico government's intentions to violate the bilateral and multilateral declarations of support for Ukraine, at least in terms of arms and financial assistance, that were signed at the time and loudly publicized, is also surprising. It turned out that purely political declarations with the EU and NATO countries in 2019-2021 were more of a gimmick and image decision that was virtually guaranteed to be affected by the change of government in partner countries.

The examples of Slovakia and Hungary once again prove the value of systematic, multilevel, and in-depth diplomacy rather than one-off declarations. I hope that this lesson will be taken into account in the preparation and conclusion of so-called bilateral security agreements. Slovakia even once announced that it would join the list of countries with which Ukraine should conclude such agreements. Diplomacy should not be performative but effective!

The text is published with the permission of the author.

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