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Czech-Slovak joint cabinet meetings axed over Russia policy discord

Robert Fico
Robert Fico

The Czech government of Prime Minister Petr Fiala has scrapped a tradition of informal joint cabinet meetings with its Slovak counterpart, with whom it sharply disagrees over policy toward Russia, Politico reported on March 6.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate to hold intergovernmental consultations with the government of Slovakia in the next weeks or months,” Fiala told journalists after a cabinet meeting.

Read also: Borrell: EU to deliver over one million artillery shells by year’s end

The meetings - eight have been held since 2012 - are meant to showcase the warm relations between the neighboring countries, which were formed after the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

On March 2, days before Fiala canceled the informal retreats, Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanár met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Turkey. Fico reported that the two discussed “the possibilities that may arise at a planned peace summit in Switzerland,” and said the meeting with Lavrov expressed “our balanced and sovereign Slovak foreign policy towards all sides.”

Relations between Bratislava and Prague have grown frosty since Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico returned to power for a fourth term in October. While the Czech Republic has steadfastly supported Ukraine since the full-scale Russian invasion, and more recently canvassed its partners in the European Union to help buy hundreds of thousands of shells for Kyiv from around the world, Fico pledged during his campaign “not to send another bullet to Ukraine.” He also called on Kyiv to give up territory to Moscow to stop the war.

Read also: Latvia backs Czechia’s plan to buy ammunition for Ukraine

In late February, at an informal meeting of regional leaders known as the Visegrád Four, Fico and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban - who favor peace talks and blame Ukraine for the war – lined up against Fiala and his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, who both support Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

Last week, Fico noted the withdrawal of an Italian air defense system from Slovakia and asked who would protect the country’s nuclear reactors. Czech Minister for European Affairs Martin Dvořák shot back, “He should ask Putin, if they’re such great friends and it’s so necessary to rehabilitate [the Russian president], maybe Russia would offer its protection.”

Fico has previously amplified false Russian narratives, claiming that “the war began in 2014, when Ukrainian Nazis and fascists began killing Russian citizens in Donbas and Luhansk.”

He also believes that Ukraine should surrender part of its territory to Russia to stop the war, despite official Russian statements expressing their intent to conquer all or most of Ukraine’s territory, including the capital, Kyiv.

On Feb. 17, Czech President Petr Pavel said that Prague had found up to 800,000 artillery munitions abroad that could be transferred to Ukraine if other countries help with funding. Germany, France, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Belgium have agreed to contribute funds to finance the purchase.

On March 1, Czechia’s director for Defense Policy and Strategy, Jan Jires, told Bloomberg that Ukraine was set to receive the first batch of ammunition under the Czech-led initiative to purchase artillery shells from outside EU in coming weeks.

The EU will only supply Ukraine with 52% of the 1 million artillery shells promised by March 2024, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said on Jan. 31, adding that they will only be able to fulfil the commitment by Winter 2024.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine