BUDAPEST – The summit of the four Central European leaders in Slovakia on Thursday could be designed to rethink the regional alliance, which is experiencing tension due to different approaches to the war in Ukraine.
Fault lines within the bloc known as the Visegrad Four — Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary — have emerged in recent months. Soft support of Hungary to Ukraine amid a Russian invasion that has alienated the populist government in Budapest from some of its strongest regional allies.
The meeting of the four prime ministers in Kosice, Slovakia, will be the first in months after the cancellation of previous V4 meetings, including a meeting of parliamentary heads that was canceled last week after Czech delegates boycotted it over maintaining close ties Hungary with Moscow.
The boycott prompted Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to express doubt that Thursday’s summit would take place at all. At a conference in Budapest last week, he said “geopolitical divergence” within the V4 over the war in Ukraine had forced its dynamics to “change significantly”.
“Czechs and Slovaks… expressed uncertainty and opinions that downplayed the importance of the V4 in their foreign policy,” Orbán said. the main goals of the V4, the Russian-Ukrainian war transformed these relations and complicated them.”
The four, all former members of the Cold War Warsaw Pact, have historically distrusted and feared Russia after spending decades under Soviet rule in the 20th century.
Yet as governments across the European Union, and perhaps especially on the bloc’s eastern flank, sought to impose sanctions on Moscow and deprive the Russian economy of vital revenue by cutting energy imports, Orbán, considered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the EU , determinedly lobbied against EU sanctions, banned arms shipments across Hungary’s border with Ukraine, and pushed for additional deals with Moscow on gas, oil and nuclear energy.
In addition, Orbán said last week that his government will veto the EU aid package to Ukraine 18 billion euros ($18.6 billion) to keep energy and health facilities running, as well as to finance salaries and pension schemes.
While Slovakia, which hosts the summit and chairs the V4, has indicated that foreign policy will be downplayed at the meeting in favor of discussions on migration, energy and sustainable development, war is looming and could drive the wedge even deeper between Orbán and his colleagues.
Hungary is the only NATO member besides Turkey that has yet to ratify Finland and Sweden’s accession to the military alliance, disappointing some allies who believe their swift acceptance is a security priority amid the war in Ukraine.
Speaking in Helsinki on Sunday, Poland’s right-wing Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said V4 leaders would pressure Orbán on Thursday to ratify the Nordic countries’ accession.
“I am sure that together with our friends from Slovakia and the Czech Republic, we will ask Viktor Orbán for the rapid ratification of the documents for Sweden and Finland,” said Moravetski. “This is critical to enhancing the security of NATO’s eastern flank and the security of our region.”
Other tensions are likely to surface in Kosice. Officials in most of Hungary’s neighbors reacted angrily after Orbán posted a video on Facebook on Sunday in which he wore a scarf with a map of “Greater Hungary,” the borders of the historic Hungarian kingdom that were reduced in 1920 after World War I.
The foreign ministries of Romania, Austria, and Ukraine — areas that once belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary — accused Orbán of irredentism, that is, of wanting to return lost territories. Slovak Foreign Minister Rostislav Kacer called the scarf “disgusting”.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala told Czech news agency CTK on Wednesday that V4 leaders would discuss the episode with Orbán.
“What you sometimes hear from the Hungarian side, whether it’s in the form of rhetoric or specific actions of individual representatives of the Hungarian government, certainly does not help the situation,” Fiala said. “I also noticed Orbán’s scarf and I have no doubt that it will be mentioned at our meeting tomorrow.”
Monika Szczysłowska in Warsaw, Poland, Karel Janicek in Prague, Czech Republic, and Jari Tanner in Tallinn, Estonia contributed to this report.
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