Is Central Europe waking up from its pan-Slavic Russian fantasy?
The shocking revelation that Russian military intelligence officers from the GRU were involved in a 2014 explosion at an arms depot in the Czech town of Vrbetice is already sending earthquakes to Czech-Russian relations and diplomatic tensions are likely to continue. However, is this just a first reaction to the bombshell announcement or could this situation trigger a bigger shift in relations between the former Easern bloc countries of Central Europe and Russia?
Initially, the Czech Republic expelled 18 suspected Russian agents with diplomatic cover from Prague, and Russia expelled, in response to 20 staff from the Czech Embassy in Moscow. The Czechs stepped up and said that unless Russia rolls back the reciprocity move, they will demand parity in the number of diplomatic staff between the two countries.
The reaction and position of Slovakia and the other V4 countries are particularly interesting. Slovakia is one of the most pro-Russian countries in the region. According to a recent GLOBSEC report, 42% agree that Russia is a strategic partner and almost 80% think that “Russia is our traditional Slavic brother”.
And yet it was the Slovak Foreign Minister, Ivan Korcok, who launched a joint statement by the other three foreign ministers from Visegrad (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) condemning the attack on the Czech Republic and expressing their solidarity with the other members of Visegrad. . The fact that Hungary, known for its warm relations with the Kremlin, has joined the group is also highly symbolic.
In solidarity with the Czech Republic, Slovakia too expelled tThree Russian diplomats, who Slovak authorities said were using diplomatic cover to carry out espionage on Thursday, sent a very strong signal to Russia. This decision, the first expulsion of diplomats from any other country, resonated strongly in the Czech Republic and signaled the bond between the two countries.
When emotions subside and the world’s attention shifts elsewhere, would there be a lasting impact of this incident on Russia’s image in the region? Despite the 30 years that have passed since the fall of communism, Russia is, surprisingly, still seen in this part of the world as an important, if not strategic, partner. the Image of the report on Russia concludes that on average 30% of people living in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in the Western Balkans, still see Russia as a strategic partner.
More importantly, the perception of the threat from Russia is rather low – only 25% on average feel threatened. A instant survey conducted on April 19 revealed that the majority of Czechs perceive Russia as a threat, while last October this view of Russia was shared by only 43%.
So, is Central Europe finally waking up from its dream of a benevolent and powerful Slavic bear brother in the East?
There is certainly a section of the population that is deeply disturbed by the recent revelations, but pro-Kremlin voices – Russian politicians, disinformation outlets and official media – are working hard to shift the discourse from solidarity to denial and ridicule. . Dozens of comments and videos appeared to ridicule the Czech revelations, peddling various conspiracy theories and false narratives accusing the Czechs of acting like American puppets, despite all the evidence.
It seems that the expulsion of Russian diplomats is not enough to limit the Kremlin’s subversive influence in the region. The well-oiled and highly efficient ecosystem of political actors, media and economic interest groups should be given a closer look, as should the trip of two Russian “tourists” from GRU to Vrbetice.