Does the V4 encourage Putin’s ambitions in restoring Russia’s regional hegemony?
The original purpose of the Visegrad initiative was for the four re-emerging Central European democracies to coordinate their pursuit of NATO and EU membership. However, since achieving its primary targets, the V4 has proved unable to coordinate the disparate foreign policies of its members and lacks a clear geopolitical identity.
While competitive geopolitics has returned to Central Europe with a vengeance through Russia’s pursuit of a new Moscow-centred “pole of power,” the V4’s response has been tepid and rudderless. Worse still, the region has exposed itself to Kremlin inroads through economic, political and intelligence penetration. In sum, Visegrad has become a microcosm of EU disunity.
Warsaw remains more assertive in focusing EU and NATO policy on Russia’s aggression and has viewed transatlantic relations as paramount. In contrast, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic remain circumspect. After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, all three governments were hesitant in supporting sanctions against Moscow partly for economic reasons, especially where there is high dependence on Russian energy. In some cases, political leaders display sympathy toward a more authoritarian political model or view Moscow as a potential counterbalance to Brussels.
By focusing on short-term national interests rather than more significant strategic imperatives, Visegrad governments play into Moscow’s hands and encourage Putin’s ambitions in restoring Russia’s regional hegemony. The partition of Ukraine did not convince Budapest to terminate the contract with Rosatom for the modernization of the nuclear power plant in Paks, as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán avoided confrontation with Moscow. Similarly, the Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka opposed strengthening NATO forces in Europe while Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico protested against increasing America’s military presence in Central Europe.
Unless it can adopt a more assertive Atlanticist and Europeanist position to help defend the continent against Moscow’s subversion, the V4 will remain divided and defunct. Without a new impetus, it will be unable to play a constructive role in the geopolitical struggle for the future security and independence of Central and Eastern Europe.
This article is taken from the book “V4 – 25 YEARS. THE CONTINUING STORY OF THE VISEGRÁD GROUP 1991 – 2016“
Janusz Bugajski is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington DC and author of 20 books on Europe, Russia, and trans-Atlantic relations. His newest book, co-authored with Margarita Assenova, is entitled Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks (Washington DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2016)