December 2, 2015

“Visegrad Four” and Ukraine: Fall Trends

Some softening of the position of France and Germany on the Russian Federation on anti-terrorism and economic grounds, Brussels and Berlin's dissatisfaction with the anti-immigration policies of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), and the results of the parliamentary elections in Poland and of local ones — in Ukraine, have significantly strengthened the desire of the ruling elites of the “Visegrad Four” (V4) first of all to defend national interests in terms of current challenges in the security, economic and migration spheres.

First of all, I mean the expected changes in foreign and domestic policy of the government of Poland, where due to the results of the parliamentary elections of October 25 all the power in the country (for the first time in post-communist period) moved to one political force — the national-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS).

According to experts, Andrzej Duda's being elected President of Poland May, 2015, and appointment an absolutely loyal Deputy leader of the Law and Justice party Beata Szydlo, haveled to a significant strengthening of the role of the leader of national-conservatives Yaroslaw Kaczynski as an actually “shadow” head of the Polish state. Preliminary analysis of the new government shows the presence there of old and loyal associates of this politician — the first Vice-Premier, Minister of Culture Piotr Glinski, Minister of National Defence, the Internal Affairs and Cooperation with Parliament, are, respectively Antoni Macierewicz, Mariusz Blaschak, Adam Lipinski, Coordinator of Special Services’ activity Mariusz Kaminski, and head of the Office of the Prime Minister Beata Kempa.[1]

Some Western analysts predict that such personnel changes, as well as certain Law and Justice party's electoral dependence on environment and new presence in the ranks of the ruling party of the rather aggressive kresowiaks (borderland inhabitants) environment can lead to the Party's course (uncompromising to liberal and center-left opponents) to build a “Fourth Republic” by de facto recognition of the primacy of national law over the European one, establishing closer relations between the state and the church, cautious distancing from Germany and more active use of Euro-skeptic rhetoric, and weakening of lobbying the activity in the Ukrainian direction of the foreign policy of the Republic of Poland and the European Union.

Apart from diversion of resources to partial fulfillment of election promises in the social sphere, development of the national MIC (Military Industrial Complex) and modernization of the Armed Forces, the national conservatives will seek to demonstrate a more dynamic foreign policy aimed at consolidating the alliance with the US and expansion of the American presence in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Baltic States as a basic guarantee of the security in the region in the face of the Kremlin's imperial encroachments, gradual institutionalization of the “cordon sanitaire” between the West and Russia by forming the Baltic-Black Sea-Adriatic Bloc of countries, which should be the basis for “Eastern European Benelux” — Poland-Ukraine-Romania. At the same time, Warsaw will try to find a compromise with Berlin in the migration crisis related controversial issues (especially regarding mandatory quotas for the distribution of refugees between EU Member States). This forecast can be confirmed by the fact of appointment of the «architect» of Poland's foreign policy strategy Witold Waszczykowski Foreign Minister of Poland.

Today there is a convergence of Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic's positions on the «Ukrainian issue», taking into consideration Bratislava and Prague's current more resolute course to support Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia.

In particular, against the background of forthcoming parliamentary elections to be held in March 2016, Slovakia's attitude to Ukraine is recently determined by the trend towards consolidation of positions of President Andrei Kiska (representative of center-right forces) and Prime Minister Robert Fico, (leader of the ruling party «SMER-Social Democracy», which has the highest level of electoral support among parties of the CEE region — about 40 %) in the context of support for the official Kyiv's European integration aspirations.

At the same time, positive transformations of stereotypes about Ukraine in the Slovak political circles and society among other things were caused the migration crisis, the result of which is the Government of the Slovak Republic's rather critical towards Brussels/Berlin position on this issue, including through the Slovak center-left election considerations. In particular, R. Fico in September 2015, announced about injustice of the complicated procedure for obtaining Schengen visas by citizens of Ukraine against the background of Brussels' insisting on the need for Slovakia to accept refugees from the Middle East.

At the same time, the Cabinet of Ministers of Slovakia demonstrates a departure from its previous skeptical position regarding the need to strengthen the country's defense in the context of threat to stability in the Central Eastern European region caused by V. Putin's unpredictable regime. Besides, the drift of Slovakia's position is strengthened by dissatisfaction with Robert Fico's arrangements through Berlin-Moscow on the construction of the second branch of Nord Stream, which can lead to leveling of transit capacities of Slovakia and Ukraine. In this regard, the Government of the Slovak Republic provides the most effective among the EU member states support to Ukraine in the context of diversification of energy carrier supplies. In particular, the Slovak side is carrying out technical modernization of Vojany-Uzhgorod Gas Pipeline to the capacity of 55-57 million cubic meters per day (design capacity was 27 million cubic meters per day, and now it transports about 40 million cubic meters of gas per day).

Besides, Bratislava is actively preparing for the forthcoming presidency in the European Union in the second half of 2016, with the aim to raise Slovakia's international prestige and to strengthen its influence on the development of the Ukrainian direction in Brussels' foreign policy. At this, the Slovak leadership counts on effective cooperation with Ukraine as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, above all in the plane of coordination of measures to stabilize the security situation and to activate the processes of democratization in Eastern Europe as well as to promote relevant projects in our country and other countries participating in the EU program “Eastern Partnership” as one of the main priorities of the future Slovakia's presidency in the EU.

The position of the ruling circles in the Czech Republic's foreign policy towards Ukraine remains ambiguous, traditionally having significant contradictions in the assessment of the situation in Ukraine and prospects of development of bilateral relations between the pro-Russian President Miloš Zeman and the largely pro-Western Czech government of Bohuslav Sobotka.

Among a large part of Czech officials and experts, prevailing is the point of view that the weakness of the “Minsk negotiation process” is the West's (read — the European Union's) representation in it of two major trade partners of the Russia Federation (France and FRG), but not of guarantors of the Budapest Memorandum (USA and Great Britain). At this, the European Union treats the Minsk Agreements in line with the desire to find a peaceful solution to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, while Russia considers the Agreements in the context of their ability to act as instruments of aggressive military and political pressure on Ukraine and “freezing” the conflict.

Within the framework of the current presidency of the “Visegrad Four”, the Czech Republic's government has initiated a number of measures aimed at enhancing cooperation in the “V4 + Ukraine” format. One of them was the held on October 13 this year in Chernivtsi meeting at the level of Deputy Ministers of Education and Foreign Affairs of the members of the “V4” and Ukraine, and the Conference “Financial Support for Higher Education and Science”. Despite the negative position of the leadership of the Czech Republic on the inflow of illegal migrants to EU member states, the official Prague will simplify the procedure for obtaining permission to stay in the state by qualified professionals from among citizens of Ukraine: as of today, the Czech government has developed a pilot project to make easier the provision of national visas to certain categories of employees. Its development was initiated by Deputy Prime Minister and the head of the Czech Republic Ministry of Finance Andrew Babish, arguing his position by Czech employers' positive experience of cooperation with citizens of Ukraine and Ukrainians and Czechs' closeness of mentality and cultural traditions.

In Budapest's official policy towards Ukraine, the determining factor today is Hungary's government's willingness to use the high results in the local elections in Transcarpathian region (October 25, 2015) of the combined bloc of pro-Hungarian organizations — KMKS Party of Hungarians of Ukraine (translated from Hungarian, the abbreviation KMKS means — Association of Hungarian Culture in Transcarpathia /TUKZ/) in favour of gradual autonomization of the region and its fixing in the Hungarian sphere of influence.

Largely thanks to Victor Orban's government's position on reconciliation between KMKS and the Democratic Party of Hungarians of Ukraine (DPHU), the alliance KMKS-DPHU won unequivocal victory in elections to Berehovo City Council, having significantly overcome its rivals and in general it will have in the Transcarpathian Regional Council a faction of 8 deputies having received 9 % of votes (40,000) of the residents of the region. At this, KMKS and DPHU won most seats in total in Berehovo (respectively 12 and 6 of 34), Vynohradovo (7 and 4 of 36) and Uzhhorod District Councils (8 of 36). The DPHU's candidate at the elections of Mayor of Berehovo, Zoltan Babjak was re-elected for a second term by 81.5 % votes. Candidates from the above-mentioned parties also got into councils of cities of regional significance: Uzhhorod, Mukachevo and Khust.

Meanwhile, in Hungary itself, due to the migration crisis, is getting exacerbated the confrontation between the ruling national-conservative party Fidesz — Hungarian Civic Union (Fidesz-HCU) and right radicals from the xenophobic and pro-Russian party Jobbik, which aims to compete with Victor Orban's party in the next parliamentary elections in Hungary.

Under these circumstances, the head of the government has to radicalize his position on a number of sensitive for the Hungarian public directions of foreign policy, first of all in the context of migration and nuclear power issues, positioning himself as the main opponent of Brussels/Berlin, most categorically denying the prospect of settling and fixing quotas of places for illegal refugees among the EU member states, as well as directly accusing Germany and Chancellor A. Merkel of provoking an artificial migration from the Middle East. Budapest's being resolute in this issue is demonstrated by the Hungarian government's intention to amend the state budget, envisaging increase of expenditures (by 220 million US dollars) needed for the construction of a protective wall on the Hungarian-Serbian border and detention of refugees in specially equipped camps.

As for the “Ukrainian issue”, in the Hungarian Government's current policy will dominate the following trends: further formation of the necessary preconditions for the establishment of the Hungarian national-territorial autonomy in areas of compact residence of Transcarpathian Hungarians through granting Hungarian citizenship via a simplified procedure; implementation of E. Wekerle and E. Egan's economic programs to support and finance farms of local Hungarians; deepening cooperation between Budapest and local Hungarian structures with Rusyn organizations, including within the framework of boosting of activity of the founded in April 2015 the Cross-National Assembly of Transcarpathia, and using opportunities of Deputies of the European Parliament from Hungary, in particular, of the head of the EP Subcommittee on Human Rights of National Minorities LTőkés, to preserve and strengthen its influence on Transcarpathian ethnic Hungarians in the territory of their compact residence.


So, according to Borysfen Intel's experts, at the present stage in Central and Eastern Europe there is a situational coincidence of interests of the members of the “Visegrad Four”, in view of the need to develop common approaches to respond to the key challenge for the region caused by the migration crisis in the EU, as well as rapprochement of ruling elites of these countries in their attitude to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the need for the West's unified course to counteract the Kremlin's revenge-seeking and to neutralize Russia's possible military threat.

Besides, the temporarily dominant in these countries anti-migration discourse in some way can strengthen pro-Ukrainian sentiments, given the a bit more loyal attitude of political and public circles and the population of Central and Eastern Europe to Ukrainian immigrants than to those from the Middle East.

At the same time, good results in local elections in the Transcarpathian region (October 25) of the bloc of pro-Hungarian organizations can significantly enhance the threatening trend for further formation of preconditions needed for creation of the Hungarian national-territorial autonomy in the areas of compact residence of Transcarpathian Hungarians.


[1] Parts of these politicians during the eight-year rule of their liberals-predecessors of the "Civic Platform" (2007-2015) law enforcement authorities in Poland imposed on suspicion of abuse of office and of politically motivated persecution of opponents to head the Military Counterintelligence Service, the Ministry of Justice and the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau and M. Kaminsky even got a verdict — 3 years imprisonment suspended punishment.