Democracy Digest: Orban urged to cancel Putin talks as region pledges to help Ukraine

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Hungary’s United Opposition urged the government to cancel the meeting, which it called harmful and contrary to Hungary’s national interests. Russia’s demands are aimed at restoring the former Soviet sphere of influence, the parties wrote in a statement.

“Moscow is trying to divide transatlantic cooperation by proposing that Russia and the United States agree on Europe’s security, but without asking Europe,” they said, adding that it is rather surprising that the Hungarian government, always hypersensitive to questions of sovereignty, did not reject the Russian demands are uncontrollable and specify that Moscow does not have the right to decide how and by what means Hungary ensures and guarantees its security.

“Hungary must say no to Moscow’s ultimatum,” they concluded.

The government has tried to keep the impending visit low-key and unrelated to the situation in Ukraine. Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto said last week in an interview with Russian news agency TASS that topics on the agenda would include the construction of the new reactors at the Paks nuclear power plant – a project that is already five years behind schedule, but the government wants to see it in its implementation phase this spring, ie. before the legislative elections on April 3.

Szijjarto also mentioned that Hungary would like to increase the volume of Russian gas specified in the long-term contract which was just signed last October, leading experts to wonder why this would be necessary if the contract was such a success. as previously announced. The opposition also fears that Orban could strike an unfavorable gas deal and cement the controversial and hugely expensive nuclear cooperation with Rosatom, making it difficult to change if the opposition wins the election.

Hungary is seen by some as a Trojan horse for Russia in the EU, but the country has also been a staunch NATO ally, actively participating in the mission in Afghanistan and never questioning the security structure. of the post-Cold War era. Part of Orban’s legend as a freedom fighter is that his 1989 speech triggered the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary – even though the operation was already underway.

Orban’s dilemma over NATO and Russia is considerably more acute than in his fight against the EU. According to CNN, talks are underway about deploying thousands of troops to eastern NATO countries. Among the countries considering accepting deployments are Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Hvg.hu wrote that negotiations are underway with the Hungarian Defense Ministry over a possible deployment, but a deal is unlikely to be reached before Orban’s trip to Moscow.

Poland, meanwhile, has declared itself ready to help Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion, but details of what it plans to do are slow to emerge.

“Ukraine can count on our support,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said on January 21 after a two-day meeting in Warsaw with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “Poland rejects the concept of spheres of influence and supports Ukraine’s full Euro-Atlantic integration.”

The meeting, however, was closed to the media and no further details were given of any preparations that might take place.

Speaking to the Dziennik Gazeta Prawna newspaper on Monday, Pawel Soloch, head of the National Security Bureau, the body supporting the president on security and defense matters, said that in the event of a Russian invasion, Poland is ready to help as part of a so-called “coalition of the willing” within NATO. He added that “the Ukrainians need weapons and we are conducting discussions on this”.

On Wednesday, Andrii Deshchytsia, Ukraine’s ambassador to Poland, told Polish radio RMF FM that the authorities had pledged to send arms and ammunition to Kyiv, and that the subject had been raised by the two presidents during their their meeting last week. Discussions are ongoing about what can be provided, he added.

There have also been no military transfers to Poland itself so far from any of the Western powers and President Duda, after taking part in a videoconference on Monday with US President Joe Biden and top EU and NATO leaders said “there were no indications that at the moment Poland was under any threat.

The response from the Polish president and government has so far remained relatively subdued, as the public agenda is mostly occupied with record levels of COVID-19 virus infections and the ongoing Pegasus scandal. But President Duda announced a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the issue on Friday – this includes the presidents of both houses of parliament, relevant ministers, heads of parliamentary political groups, heads of security services and the Bureau of the president’s national security.

Russia’s reported positioning of long-range weapons, including missiles, capable of striking Slovak territory is spooking the Defense Ministry in Bratislava. This military technology is “not only of a defensive nature”, Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad warned, adding that around 130,000 members of the Russian armed forces are closing in on Ukraine’s eastern borders. “The situation is perhaps the worst since the end of World War II,” Nad was quoted as saying by the Slovak Spectator.

With the security threat escalating, the Slovak Security Council held a two-day extraordinary session, during which experts discussed various scenarios and defense plans ready to be implemented in the event of a Russian attack against Ukraine. “Any crisis of a military nature in Ukraine” has a direct effect on Slovakia, Nad stressed.

Although Slovakia does not face a direct military threat, the country risks suffering serious consequences even if Russia decides to launch a small-scale offensive against its neighbor, likely triggering a migration wave of tens of thousands of refugees from war who would try to reach Slovakia.

Although Slovakia is ready to deploy all available forces and resources on its border with Ukraine, Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok has always expressed hope for a diplomatic end to the conflict. Korcok, who is due to travel to Ukraine in early February, stressed that “there is the threat of a real conflict”, but that the situation, “although the most serious in 30 years”, is not ” not unsolvable”. Slovak diplomats will not be withdrawn from Kiev for the time being, Korcok stressed, and no official warning against travel to Ukraine will be issued at this stage. The country is unlikely to request the presence of troops from its NATO allies and refrain for the time being from sending military or humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

But the status quo could be reversed in a flash, and the Ministry of Defense has drawn up secret plans in the event of an all-out war between Russia and Ukraine, the daily Sme reveals. Economic and political sanctions against Russia, cooperation with the Hungarian and Czech economy ministers in the event of a stoppage of gas flows through Ukraine, and even a symbolic NATO mission to protect the country in the Should the conflict spill over across the border would be all on the cards.

Responding to concerns about a building wave of refugees from Ukraine, Czechia promised it was ready to help by sending police units.

“Protecting the external border of the Schengen area is a common priority for us. If the Slovak side is interested, the Czech Republic and the Czech police are certainly ready,” Interior Minister Vit Rakusan said on Tuesday.

The Ukraine crisis presented the new Czech government with a first opportunity to fulfill its promise to end the foreign policy confusion instigated in recent years by the president linked to China and Russia and the weak government, to bring back firmly the country towards the West. .

So far Prague has put on an assertive face, although of course sitting next to Germany would help give the weaker a positive Churchill appearance. Meanwhile, President Milos Zeman’s office has maintained a stony silence.

Some suggest that due to the recent spate of diplomatic disasters between the two countries, the Kremlin has now all but abandoned its friend at Prague Castle. The government’s response to the current crisis on the Ukrainian border may well seal this deal.

Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky, the China-Russia hawk whose appointment Zeman sought to block late last year, has been busy coordinating Czechia’s response with the two neighbors and the within the diverse five-party coalition. On Wednesday, that saw the government approve munitions shipments to Ukraine.

“Czechia joins NATO allies and will deliver over 4,000 152mm high-range shells to Ukraine. Our goal is to strengthen Ukraine’s defense in the face of growing tensions on the Ukraine-Russia border. #WeAreNATO”, tweeted Lipavsky.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is expected to travel to Prague next week to discuss further requirements. Lipavsky is then due to travel to the Ukrainian frontline on February 7 – alongside his Slovak and Austrian counterparts – “to express our full support for our Ukrainian friends”.

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