The V4 Prime Ministers in Prague in February. Credit:

Differences Between V4 Countries Evident At Prague Summit, Despite Talk of Unity

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The leaders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, known as the Visegrad Four (V4), met in Prague yesterday morning, to discuss major current affairs of mutual importance, such as the war in Ukraine.

The four prime ministers, including Czech PM Petr Fiala, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Slovak PM Robert Fico and Hungarian head of government Viktor Orban, met in Prague’s Liechtenstein Palace as a quartet for the entire meeting, although the original plan was for a delegation to join them for part of the meeting. The format of the meeting was changed because the prime ministers felt that they needed to talk openly among themselves about certain issues, according to Fiala.

Speaking after the meeting, Czech PM Petr Fiala said the prime ministers of all V4 countries had agreed that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a gross violation of international law and that Ukraine needs help, though they differ in their views on the causes of the Russian aggression against Ukraine and on the forms of assistance they are willing to provide to the attacked country.

Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Visegrad Four countries in the Liechtenstein Palace, February 27, 2024. Credit: Vláda České Republiky

The Czech Republic and Poland are providing military aid to Ukraine, while Hungary and Slovakia are not, but are ready to contribute in other ways, such as humanitarian and financial aid, Fiala noted. All four leaders said that no country is planning to send troops to Ukraine. 

It is important for Hungary’s security that an entity east of the country is between Hungary and Russia, and that is also why Budapest is helping Ukraine, Orban said. He confirmed that the V4 agreed that the Russian aggression was a violation of international law and that Ukraine needed help.

“We are not sending weapons to Ukraine. We are not sending them with or without soldiers. But we will provide all the assistance that is outside this circle, such as humanitarian aid. We are also training doctors operating in the war, aiding refugees, and helping reconstruct the energy structure,” Orban said.

The V4 countries can at least partially cooperate in helping Ukraine, Tusk said, and after today’s discussion, support for the country should be more unequivocal.

Fico said he did not believe in a military solution to the conflict in Ukraine, but favoured an immediate ceasefire and peace talks.

Tusk said earlier that because of the stances of Bratislava and Budapest on the war in Ukraine, it was necessary to assess whether the V4 still made sense after the Prague summit.

Fico said at the weekend that the West could not admit that its strategy of massively supporting Ukraine with money and weapons and sanctions against Russia was not working, but prolonging the conflict. He criticised the EU for not using its authority to push for an immediate ceasefire. He also claimed that the failure to fulfil the alleged promises that NATO would not expand further eastwards was among the causes of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Fico said yesterday that he recognized and respected Ukraine’s independence, but argued that both Ukraine and the Russian Federation needed security guarantees.

He said the Slovak government would continue to provide very intensive humanitarian and civilian aid to Ukraine. A joint meeting of the Slovak and Ukrainian cabinets will be held in eastern Slovakia on 11 April, he added.

Orban again called for peace talks as soon as possible, “the sooner the better”.

Fiala said he did not believe in pacifist solutions, or that long-term peace could be achieved by giving in to the aggressor. On the contrary, it is sometimes necessary to fight for peace, to show determination and strength in order to gain security and peace, he said.

Tusk described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a war criminal. “The moral, political and historical assessment of what is happening in Ukraine today must be clear. There is no space for negotiations about such matters as the assessment of who is the victim and who is the aggressor,” he stressed.

After the meeting, Fiala said yesterday’s V4 talks were sincere and important from this point of view.

“We have had a very long meeting, but also a very open and frank one, and an important one from that point of view,” Fiala said. 

There are differences between countries, which have not changed, Fiala said. “At the same time, we have also found that there are things we agree on, and topics on which it makes sense for our countries to cooperate,” he said.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico summarized his opinion on the further functioning of the V4 at a press conference on February 27, 2024. Credit: Vláda České Republiky

Before the meeting, he had already mentioned energy, the fight against migration and agriculture as such areas.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said the meeting was one of the most important V4 meetings he had attended, stressing that the V4 was an important regional institution.

“Yes, we have different opinions,” he said. “But there will be topics, such as EU enlargement, regional issues, where we have to find common solutions.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the V4 countries would be worse off if they did not act together on certain issues, such as migration.

In a report about the summit, Radio Free Europe (RFE) said the V4 is not dead, but is undoubtedly ailing. The report observed that the group is functioning more like V2+V2 than V4 regarding the war in Ukraine. However, on other issues, such as nuclear energy, illegal migration, and European Union reform, it appears to be in robust health.

It was telling, the RFE report continued, that the bilateral meeting between Fiala and Tusk in the morning before the summit lasted longer than the meeting with Fico and Orban.

Czech diplomats described the conversation between Fiala and Tusk as “very cordial.” Among other things, Poland indicated that it is ready to support the Czech initiative to buy artillery ammunition for Ukraine.

The press conference after the end of the quadrilateral meeting was quite a different story, according to RFE/RL. All four leaders more or less admitted with wry smiles that their approaches differed considerably, though thanks to Fiala’s efforts, the group was able to say that it agreed at least on condemning Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and on the need to support Ukraine.

What began at the end of the Cold War as a platform for cooperation between four countries that wanted to shed their Soviet legacy and support each other’s integration into Western political institutions has quickly turned into a bloc that must be taken seriously, RFE argued, as it represents nearly 65 million people and has significantly influenced European migration, agricultural, and foreign policy. However, it is on the foreign policy issue itself that the V4 member states are diverging, the report concluded.

The German news agency DPA also wrote that “the war in Ukraine has divided” the group’s members.

As well as the bilateral meeting between Fiala and Tusk, other meetings took place on the sidelines of the summit. Former Czech President Milos Zeman met Fico and Orban at his office in Prague’s Dejvice district during the afternoon, while Orban also met with former President Vaclav Klaus.

Around the same time, President Petr Pavel received Polish PM Tusk at Prague Castle.

Zeman told reporters that the roughly 40-minute meeting had been very friendly, adding that he found it enriching that there were “politicians who had their own opinion and did not copy the views of others”. The topic of the meeting was aid to Ukraine.

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