The prime ministers of the four countries forming the Visegrad Group (V4) met in the Slovak city of Košice, where they discussed regional co-operation on matters concerning energy, security, and health, as well as the current war in Ukraine with its regional and global implications.
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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that in the past months, the V4 has been viewed by many through the lens of differences between its member states. But he assured journalist present at the press conference that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has not broken the bonds between the V4 states and that together with his counterparts from Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary, they were able to reach “positive conclusions”.
According to the Polish PM, one of the main concerns at the present are Russian strikes against Ukraine's critical infrastructure, which coupled with the onset of winter, may end up causing a new wave of refugees from Ukraine.
“The following months may be very, very hard, because after all, winter is coming and Russia is deliberately bombing energy infrastructure, depriving people in Ukraine of electricity, heat, and leading to a humanitarian drama,” said the Polish PM.
As Mr Morawiecki said, countries on the eastern flank of NATO have “opened their doors and hearts” to the refugees, but now it is time for the European community to help Central Europe in dealing with the possible crisis.
“Today we are warning and calling upon the European Commission to quickly undertake preventive actions, to act here and now, and not wait for what may happen in two or four weeks,” said Morawiecki, stressing that all V4 countries are of the same position on the matter.
The Polish PM was seconded by his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, who said that “if the war in Ukraine will last long, then the wave of migration will increase.
“Therefore, the EU should accept at least part of this burden,” said PM Orbán.
Weaponising mass movement of people has already been utilised by the Kremlin in its hybrid warfare against Europe. The Polish PM cited the 2021 crisis on the border with Belarus, which the Minsk regime had engineered on the behest of the Kremlin, as “a prelude to attack Ukraine”.
Speaking in a similar vein, PM Orbán pointed out that the V4 and the EU at large are also facing a similar challenge in the south, in the Balkans. V4 countries have pledged to assist Budapest in facing this challenge and closer co-operation is to be established with Western Balkan countries when it comes to border protection.
Assistance in dealing with the refugees from Ukraine and migrants arriving in Europe via the Balkan route are not the only matters in which the Central European countries of the Visegrad Group speak in a united voice.
The host of the summit, Slovak PM Eduard Heger, underscored that not only are V4 countries in full agreement on the need to help Budapest in dealing with migration but decisions have been made to send in services from other countries to help protect the Hungarian border. As he said, V4 countries provide mutual assistance to one another, and while Hungary is dealing with the security of its border, Slovakia is experiencing problems with healthcare, which other V4 countries are promising to help resolve by sending over medical personnel.
As PM Morawiecki said, “the high price for Russian gas is paid not only by the citizens of Ukraine, but also citizens of Poland, Slovakia, Czechia, and Hungary, by all Europeans”. He called on the European Commission to swiftly use the tools it has at its disposal, admonishing that the EU’s failure to do it thus far amounts to “deliberate procrastination” by Brussels, in this referring to the discussion to put a cap on natural gas prices.
The Polish PM summarised the outcome of the meeting as constructive and positive, saying that the V4 countries “always won when they stood together” when dealing with Brussels, hinting that a united front is necessary when facing other challenges that may present themselves.
“We are united in facing the great challenges ahead, the challenges that now surround us,” said Mr Morawiecki. “I am convinced, that thanks to that we can develop better answers to the challenges lying in the months and years ahead.”
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PM Morawiecki’s optimism was seconded by his fellow cabinet heads. Czech PM Petr Fiala commented that V4 collaboration “makes sense” and will be maintained. The Visegrad Group countries are furthermore appearing to gradually begin bridging their differences.
“We agreed that we will continue to support Ukraine militarily and materially, believing this is a step toward [helping Ukraine] repeal this Russian aggression,” said PM Fiala, adding that the V4 also want to provide long-term financial assistance to Ukraine, “although we differ on the practical implementation.”
Czech PM Petr Fiala likewise made reference to the energy prices, saying that “we want to strengthen the resilience of our energy systems and get rid of Russian sources.” Importantly, the Czech leader said that “we all agree on this”, meaning that Hungary, which has long maintained it needs cheap Russian energy resources to keep its economy going, may now have found a solution to wean off of them in the long term, possibly with the assistance of its V4 neighbours.