The Visegrad Group (V-4) was formed on February 15, 1991, by Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia with the desire to eliminate the remnants of the Eastern Bloc in Central Europe and to overcome the historical animosities between the countries of Central Europe.
Following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into Slovakia and the Czechia, V-4 continued to exist with four members. The process of integration of these four states, which were members of the former Eastern Bloc, with the West took place simultaneously. In 1999, Poland, Hungary and the Czechia became members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), followed by Slovakia’s membership in 2004. The V-4 countries also became members of the European Union (EU) in 2004.
In addition to regional cooperation, the four member states have also acted together in international organizations such as the EU. However, this union was greatly damaged by the Moscow administration’s declaration of war against Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The main reason for this situation is the division between Hungary and Poland.
Relations on the Budapest-Warsaw line progressed quite well until the start of the Russia-Ukraine War, the two countries developed close cooperation within the EU, especially on irregular migration. However, the war has damaged the close cooperation between the two countries. Because Hungary stands out as the only member of the union within the EU that opposes sanctions against Russia. Therefore, the different attitudes of Budapest and Warsaw towards Moscow led to the deterioration of relations between the two countries.
The reaction of Slovakia, another member of the group, to the Russia-Ukraine War has been in a lower tone than that of Poland and the Czechia. Slovakia has stated that it will be adversely affected by the EU sanctions on Russian oil and it expected solidarity from the bloc to mitigate this situation.
The impact of the Russia-Ukraine War on the V-4 was not only limited to the deterioration of relations between Hungary and Poland, the Prague administration, which strongly condemned the Russian invasion, criticized Budapest for not participating on the energy sanctions against Moscow. Moreover, the Czech Foreign Minister suggested that the V-4 cooperation was weakened due to Hungary’s attitude towards the war in Ukraine.
As can be seen, there is disagreement among the V-4 member states over attitudes and sanctions towards the war. Therefore, the different policies implemented by the members of the group regarding Russia have been reflected in the domestic policies of the countries in a different way. For example, during the protest demonstrations in the Czechia on September 3, 2022, which were attended by approximately 70,000 people, the policies implemented by the government in the face of rising energy prices were criticized. However, it is also seen that similar protests have not taken place in Hungary, which oppose the imposition of sanctions on Russian energy. In this respect, it can be said that within the V-4, Hungary, compared to other members, has adopted an approach that pay regard energy security in relation to the Russia-Ukraine War and subsequent sanctions against Russia.
In addition to all these, it is also observed that social fragility is increasing in EU countries that criticize Hungary. Russia’s playing the energy card has increased the unrest in some societies in Europe, as can be seen in the case of the Czechia. In this context, it can be said that Hungary will be the state that will have the least problems on energy security among the V-4 members before the upcoming winter in Europe.
It can be said that within the scope of V-4, Poland and the Czechia pursue a more hawkish policy towards Russia, while Slovakia opposes the Russian invasion and avoids confrontation with the Moscow administration. Rather than characterizing stance of Hungary as pro-Russian policy, it is possible to interpret it through an approach that centers on energy security within the framework of its own national interests.
Although the Russia-Ukraine War led to the deterioration of relations between Hungary and Poland, it can be foreseen that the latest developments, especially in the EU centred, will lead the two countries to pursue a joint policy again. In this context, it is noteworthy that Poland has recently taken steps to improve relations with Hungary and announced that it will oppose possible EU sanctions against Budapest.
In summary, the more adversely the Russia-Ukraine War has affected the relations between the two countries, the more positive the EU-centered developments are likely to affect positively. Considering the recent developments, the meeting of the two states on a common ground can be considered as a necessity rather than a choice.
Consequently, it can be stated that the Russia-Ukraine War damaged the cooperation among the V-4 countries. Although the group does not have a common foreign policy, it is clear that until the Russia-Ukraine War, they had an attitude of acting together within the EU. The group, however, currently shows a fragmented structure. Moreover, it can be suggested that this will continue. In particular, Hungary’s opposition to sanctions against Russia is the main reason for the fragmentation in the group. It seems difficult for the four countries to return to the cooperation they had before the Russia-Ukraine War. However, the possibility of a probable rapprochement between Hungary and Poland should not be ignored.
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