In the 25 years since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have developed an uneven set of relationships with Moscow. Slovakia, for example, suffered a history of brutal repression under communism, yet in recent years has strengthened its ties with Moscow.
In 2008, it was Robert Fico, Slovakia’s then (and current) Prime Minister, who openly supported Russia in the war with Georgia. Most recently, the Ukraine-Russia crisis risks driving a wedge between the countries of Eastern and Central Europe.
While Poland has demonstrated that it wants a clear dividing line between ‘Europe’ and ‘Russia’, Slovakia has been reluctant to accept economic sanctions, and the government has been pushing for dialogue instead.
Why has Slovakia been so reluctant to damage its ties to Russia during the Ukraine crisis? We put this question to Miroslav Lajčák, Deputy Prime Minister and Slovakia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. What would he say?
To get another perspective, we also put the same question to Edward Lucas, a senior editor at The Economist, responsible for coverage of energy, commodities and natural resources, and an expert on Central and Eastern Europe.
In his book The New Cold War, Lucas investigates some of the reasons why former-socialist states might be reluctant to distance themselves from Moscow. We asked him what he thinks is driving Russian-Slovak relations:
According to Lucas, Russia is using its “common Slavic history” with Slovakia – as well as its gas policy – as a political tool.
The Visegrád countries are all dependent on Russian gas, but Slovakia even more than the others. With Russian gas transported to Slovakia via Ukraine, Slovakia has been one of the EU Member State most impacted by the Russian-Ukraine conflict. And with the Nabucco pipeline cancelled and plans for the South Stream put on hold, it doesn’t look like Slovakia will have suitable alternatives anytime soon.
Earlier this year, the European Commission filed an anti-trust case against Gazprom, saying it is “concerned that Gazprom is abusing its dominant market position in upstream gas supply markets.”
In fact, it is estimated that Gazprom’s gas prices in some former socialist states is 40% higher than the market price.
To understand if there is a link between gas dependency and relations with Russia, we asked Slovakia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Miroslav Lajčák, about the impact of the Gazprom case on energy security in his country. What would he say?
We then put the same question to Edward Lucas. What impact does he think the case may have on Slovakia?
Has Slovakia been too reluctant to damage its ties with Russia following the Ukraine crisis? And, if so, is this because of economic dependency or due to their common heritage? Should Europe be worried? Let us know your questions and comments, and we’ll take them to policymakers for their reactions!