Long-delayed V4 Summit in Prague Unlikely to End Disunity

Democratic Security Outlook 2024: 26 February - 3 March 

26 February 2024

Leaders of the Visegrad Four are holding a long-delayed summit in Prague on 27 February as fault lines in the club over Ukraine and Russia eased barely enough with the Hungarian climbdown on aid to Kyiv and Sweden’s NATO accession.

EU/REGIONAL

  • Prime Ministers of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia will meet in Prague on Tuesday, but divisions on Ukraine are likely to be on display among the Visegrad Four group, whose previous ability to coordinate on EU affairs had diminished under the Eurosceptic axis of Budapest and Warsaw.
  • The summit is taking place against continued farmer protests across CEE, demanding a halt to Ukrainian food imports. Some of the protests have been hijacked by fringe pro-Russian groups in a sign of Moscow’s continued hybrid operations to sow discord in Europe.
  • The summit is likely to show realignment within V4, with the new Polish PM, Donald Tusk, and the summit’s Czech host, Petr Fiala, meeting the day before to underline their common hawkish approach to Russia’s threat to Ukraine and Europe as well as the need for European unity.
  • Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán, whose isolation inside the EU has reached unprecedented levels and whose reputation at home received a blow from a child sex scandal, will likely find consolation from his Slovak counterpart Robert Fico, but the two countries are no match for the combined Polish-Czech weight in the group.
  • The summit is taking place as the four leaders are gearing up for a European Parliament election in June, after which Orbán’s Fidesz hopes to join the ECR grouping together with Fiala’s ODS party as well as the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) and Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.
  • Meloni, who apparently played a role in persuading Orbán earlier this month to cease blocking aid to Ukraine, is seeking a greater role for ECR, which would require Fidesz participation because PiS, the second biggest representation in ECR, is set to lose EP seats as is Fiala’s ODS.
  • In a further complication, Meloni’s and Fiala’s hawkish approach to Russia and China stands in contrast to Orbán’s pandering to Moscow and Beijing. While Meloni went to Kyiv in a show of support for Ukraine at the weekend, Orbán blocked a joint EU statement on the war.
  • The Hungarian parliament is set to ratify Sweden’s entry the day before the V4 summit, making Hungary the last NATO member to approve the accession. Despite his recent setbacks, Orbán is seen as already planning a comeback after the European Parliament elections, expected to result in a swing to the right.
  • The race for the post of the next NATO chief has sharpened as Romania put forward its outgoing president, Klaus Iohannis, as its candidate to challenge the frontrunner backed by the US and Britain, Dutch PM Mark Rutte, which many in CEE see as compromised by his earlier endorsement of Russia’s Nord Stream pipeline.

Western leaders visit Kyiv, pressure on Republicans over Ukraine aid grows 

UKRAINE

  • Several Western leaders  – led by Ursula von der Leyen, Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Belgian PM Alexander de Croo – joined President Volodymir Zelenskyy in Kyiv to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s all-out assault on Ukraine.
  • The US and the EU approved new sanctions on Russia and tighter implementation of existing ones in response to the murder of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the continued Russian aggression on Ukraine. A few Chinese firms are also on the list of new sanctions.
  • Zelenskyy signed 10-year security pacts with the Canadian and Italian leaders, following on earlier such deals with Britain, France and Germany.
  • “We will continue to support Ukraine in what I have always deemed the just right of its people to defend itself,” Italian PM Meloni said. “Confusing the oft-mentioned word ‘peace’ with ‘surrender,’ as some people do, is a hypocritical approach that we will never share,” she added.
  • “Solidarity with Ukraine” rallies were held in several Western capitals, including a large gathering in Prague.
  • Zelenskyy vowed Ukraine would not give up the fight despite the recent setbacks on the frontline, which are partly caused by a shortage of Western deliveries of ammunition and other war materiel. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg vowed that more aid is coming and that Ukraine’s membership in the alliance is a matter of “when, not if”.
  • Some of the staunchest US allies piled pressure on the Republican-controlled Congress to finally pass the bipartisan Ukraine aid bill, arguing that abandoning Ukraine now would hurt US credibility in Europe but also in Asia.
  • Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski, on a visit to the US on the occasion of a UN meeting, said Washington risked spurring a nuclear arms race if some of its allies began to doubt the US would honour its commitments. Sikorski also made a powerful and widely shared speech at the UN, exposing Russia’s falsehoods.
  • In Taiwan, the US dithering over aid to Ukraine is causing concern because rather than trusting Republican assertions that this is caused by a need to focus on Asia, Taiwanese leaders fear they would be abandoned next.

Poland secures EU funds release 

CZECH REPUBLIC

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