BRATISLAVA, Dec. 2, 2014 (TSR) – Slovakia‘s Prime Minister Robert Fico on Tuesday warned that there is a 70% chance that the military conflict in Ukraine will escalate beyond, as it is a geopolitical clash between the USA and Russia, with the United States play the leading role in the region and Europe in the back seat.
“There are estimates that there is a 70-percent likelihood of a major military conflict erupting in Ukraine, and not only there,” Fico said at HN Club economic conference in Bratislava according to local media reports.
He added that “reliable and credible German sources” told him about the high chances of the conflict escalating into a broader war.
“Far be it from me to exaggerate, but I can confirm that I’ve had several noteworthy meetings lately that were confidential. The probability of a military conflict breaking out is at 70 percent, and I mean a big military conflict here”, stated the premier.
The Slovak Prime Minister Fico went on to describe that the conflict in Ukraine’s separatist regions is a geopolitical conflict between the USA and Russia, with the European Union playing a lesser role.
“The EU now plays a “third-class” role in the region”, Fico said.
“This is probably why it [the EU] will sustain major damage”, added the prime minister.
Fico also told a press conference after the EU summit on August 31 that even though he respects Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko he does not believe every word he says, referring to his statement that thousands of foreign troops have flooded his country.
“It is a conflict between Russia and the United States for influence over Ukraine,” Fico said, as quoted by the local press, suggesting that he has been in politics long enough not to believe what is being spread by propaganda.
Fico went on to urge the European Union countries to attempt to avert such a scenario and send out “peace signals”, or else the probability of a large armed conflict could become even higher.
“There’s a great deal of nervousness over this, so if there are still forces in Europe that are ready to act as a kind of peacemaker, then Slovakia must be on their side”, said the Slovakian premier.
Fico said that the recent developments in Crimea, which has been annexed by Russia, will need to be accepted, but he added that he can’t imagine another violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
“The annexation of Crimea is a done deal. No European leader seem to doubt this anymore”, the Slovak Prime Minister said.
“However, I cannot imagine further violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the 49-year-old leader continued.
Fico also said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s sudden change of attitude towards Russia came as a surprise, saying her tough stance clashes with a widespread impression in Germany that the sanctions on Russia have not solved anything.
“Regarding Russia, it is no secret that I have visited this country many times and that we are currently planning another visit on a governmental level,” Fico said.
“There are major economic projects we cannot overlook,” he noted as far as Slovakia’s interests are concerned.
Fico’s remarks immediately stinged the right-wing opposition.
Former defence minister Martin Fedor pointed out that questioning country’s commitment in the ongoing conflict was “foolishness” that could jeopardise the interests of the Slovak Republic.
“Of course, every conflict can escalate into a greater one,” he said.
MEP Ivan Štefanec (SDKÚ-DS/EPP) was also critical of the premier’s statements. “His words about alleged global conflict between Russia and USA are a dangerous simplification that obscures the fact that Russian soldiers, not American, are the ones currently occupying the territory of Ukraine.”
For Štefanec, the whole speech was meant at spreading false rumours.
In an interview with the leading Slovak daily SME, Alexander Duleba, a political analyst from the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, wondered why the Prime Minister had to cite unknown foreign sources, while the state intelligence service knows what is actually going on in Ukraine.
Duleba was referring to Fico’s earlier statement claiming that matters in Ukraine were not as clear as they appeared to be.
Taking the High Peaceful Road
In fact, Fico slammed European Union sanctions on Russia in August as “meaningless and counterproductive” and threatened to veto additional measures, highlighting the internal divide within the EU over its tough stance on Russia.
“I consider sanctions meaningless and counterproductive,” Fico told reporters after meeting fellow EU leaders in Brussels.
“Until we know the impact of the already imposed sanctions, it makes no sense to impose new ones,” he added.
At the time, EU leaders asked the European Commission, the EU executive, to draw up proposals for new sanctions on Russia over its action in Ukraine within a week, though they did not say when they could be implemented.
But Fico, whose country depends on Russia for its natural gas supplies, said he would fight sanctions that would harm Slovakia’s economic growth.
“Should there be proposals,” he said in Brussels, “I reserve a right to veto sanctions harming national interests of Slovakia.”
Even at a closed-door meeting in Bratislava with heads of government from the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, Fico was candid in saying that tougher EU sanctions would be “suicidal” and “nonsensical” and if it came to a new round of EU sanctions, he would defend Slovakia’s economic interests “to the last breath,” according to two sources with knowledge of the talks.
According to Fico, the sanctions against Russia are counter-productive and have led to escalated tensions, and this may make it more difficult to find diplomatic solutions.
Slovakia is not blocking the sanctions per se since the majority of the EU countries want them to be imposed. However, the Fico government is attempting to limit their scope.
As an advanced economy, Slovakia attaches great importance to the capital markets and does not agree to have sanctions imposed on Sberbank’s affiliates (Sberbank has a strong presence in Slovakia since taking over the Slovak division of Austria’s Volksbank).
Sberbank Rossii (“Savings Bank of Russia”), founded by Nicholas I of Russia in 1841, is a shareholder-owned bank with the Russian government in the majority, headquartered in Moscow. As of 2012 it was the largest bank in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the third largest in Europe. Both U.S. and EU imposed sanctions on Sberbank following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.
During the discussion about the third wave of sanctions, Fico said that the Slovak and Czech prime ministers have coordinated their positions. Both countries are particularly interested in the topic of dual-use goods which are exported to Russia (e.g. lathes).
According to Fico, the imposed sanctions on Russia have affected the Slovak agroalimentary industry through the “mass influx” of fruit and vegetables from EU countries.
Fico also criticised and slammed what he calls hypocrisy in some EU nations; France selling military ships to Russia, and western firms signing a deal on a pipeline from Russia to Austria.
Third, Slovakia strives for peace within and around them.
Slovakia is and wants to be a reliable member of the EU and NATO.
On financial issues, Slovakia is a trusted part of the European mainstream. It has supported deeper integration of the euro zone, and the creation of the banking union.
But they are also interested in proper relations with non-members of such organisations and outside its borders.
As a result of that mentality, instead of taking sides, the Slovakian government helps to keep lines of communication open between Russia and the West.
Fico believes that the EU should abandon the sanctions, thereby expressing its support for a ceasefire in Ukraine and should focus on backing efforts to forge a political solution to the crisis and to maintain an “open and intensive dialogue with Russia”.
Fourth, Slovakia is not a pushover nor Fico is a paranoid Warmonger.
Fico said he will not increase his country’s defense spending, despite pressures from US-NATO. Slovakia aimed to meet its commitments to NATO despite budget restraints, and that he could see its military training bases being used for exercises by foreign troops, as they have been in the past, he explained.
“I cannot imagine that there would be foreign soldiers on our territory in the form of some bases,” Fico told a news conference broadcast live on television when asked about the Obama plan in June.
Slovaks are sensitive to hosting any foreign troops because of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the subsequent two decades of Soviet presence in the country, which split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.
“Slovakia has its historical experience with participation of foreign troops. Let us remember the 1968 invasion. Therefore this topic is extraordinarily sensitive to us,” he explained.
Czech Defence Minister Martin Stropnicky caused a political storm in the Czech Republic last month when he used the same example to explain in a Reuters interview why his country was similarly wary of any foreign troop presence.
The Czech parliament approved a resolution following Stropnicky’s comments seeking to reassure allies that the Czechs were ready to fulfill their NATO commitments.
Fifth, Slovakia will help but won’t encourage co-dependency.
Slovakia has helped Ukraine more than any other EU country by opening the Vojany-Uzhgorod reverse gas pipeline on 2 September this year that will allow shipments of gas from Europe if Russia halts supplies.
In April, Slovakia and Ukraine inked a deal that will allow gas from Central Europe to reach Ukraine via Slovakia. In the same month, German energy firm RWE began deliveries of gas via Poland.
According to a BBC report, Slovakia will reinstate a disused pipeline that will be capable of supplying 3 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas a year to Ukraine.
Under that deal, RWE can supply up to 10bcm of gas a year.
The Vojany-Uzhgorod pipeline is to transport gas to Ukraine at a rate of 10 billion cubic metres per year. However, it will not be capable of pumping at that speed consistently and, thus, the actual volume delivered will be less according to local media.
Starting on March 1, 2015, the pipeline will be capable of maintaining that delivery speed on a permanent basis, officials claim. The guaranteed rate of delivery starting on October 1 will be at a rate equivalent to 6.4 billion cubic metres per year, Eustream spokesman Vahram Chuguryan wrote in a press release earlier in September.
Eustream estimated the costs of conducting the reverse flow via the Vojany-Uzhgorod pipeline at €20 million.
Along with gas transport, Slovakia has also assisted Ukraine in providing health care to injured Ukrainian citizens and supplying non-military technical devices.
But Fico said in March he would not be willing to provide cash for Ukraine to “sort out problems Ukraine has caused to itself.” He said the EU could provide funds.
Fico, a Neo-con headache
At the summit in Newport, Wales, September 4-5, the Slovak delegation attempted to present itself as a loyal ally by making an ambitious package offer to its fellow NATO members, even though in reality there are stark differences between Slovakia’s president Andrej Kiska and prime minister Robert Fico concerning the very essence of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and how to handle it.
President Kiska firmly believes that it is Russian troops who are fighting against Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. With that belief, it is expected that he would offer to establish a logistics centre in Poprad, and announced that Slovakia’s presence in the NATO command in Szczecin, Poland would be strengthened, offering trainings at Sliac airport and the Lest training centre in central Slovakia and a pledge not to make any cuts to the defense budget.
Kiska said Slovakia is also working on intensifying intelligence activities together with its Visegrad Group (V4) partners, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, in association with the situation in Ukraine, as quoted by TASR.
The former United States resident Kiska also stated that Slovakia would increase its defense budget from the level of 1.04% to 1.6% by 2020, which is still well below the 2 percent threshold pledged by NATO members. Of the total spending, 20 percent should go for the modernisation of forces.
The Slovak defense minister confirmed that commitment. However, it was challenged by Prime Minister Fico during the summit, who is opposed both to an increase in military spending and to the permanent presence of additional NATO forces in Slovakia, with sharp rhetoric.
Prime Minister Fico sees this entire situation as a geopolitical conflict between the US and Russia. In his opinion, the fact that the EU has become involved in this conflict has caused many small EU countries, including Slovakia, to suffer.
The Slovak president is taking a pro-American stance. For instance, Kiska supports Kosovo’s independence and is in favour of Slovakia diplomatically recognising Kosovo as an independent sovereign state.
It is important to note that NATO occupied Kosovo after the CIA supported the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), whose leaders now head the Kosovar government, was known for its extensive links to organized crime and the trade in narcotics.
On the other hand, the Slovak prime minister is critised that he is taking a pro-Russian stance, which he dismisses.
What is a nuisance to right-wing oppositions and American hawks is that in his own admission, Fico knows too well how U.S. destabilizations work, is having a dejá vu with Ukraine and won’t be fooled.
When he was in power for the first time he visited Muammar Gaddafi and openly supported Russia’s war against Georgia.
Georgia is located in the Caucasus, with a border on the Black Sea, and just like Ukraine and Crimea, the country is an important location to the West’s energy supply.
Just like Libya 2011, the US officials, this time by Asst. Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, were coordinating their actions on how to install a puppet government in Ukraine with the help of Neo-Nazis early this year.
Like Crimea and Donetsk that don’t want to be part of Ukraine, neither South Ossetia nor the other separatist region Abkhazia want to be part of Georgia.
Another thing that irks the hawks is that though the Slovak head of state is the president elected, which is elected by direct popular vote for a five-year term, most executive power lies with the head of government, the prime minister, who is usually the leader of the winning party, but he/she needs to form a majority coalition in the parliament.
Left-leaning attorney Robert Fico has been Prime Minister of Slovakia since 4 April 2012. Previously he was Prime Minister from 4 July 2006 to 8 July 2010. He has been the leader of Slovakia’s dominant SMER-Social Democracy party since 1999. He led it to a landslide victory in 2012 that allowed the party to govern alone — a first for Slovakia.
The prime minister’s say in these issues such as Ukraine is decisive, and that post is held by Robert Fico. Hence, Fico’s sharp rhetoric is backed by mandate, and with his strong convictions about preserving real peace, it means Slovakia, under his leadership, will not be easily persuaded by propaganda.
Perhaps this explains why his position was threatened and right-wing opposition was eager to remove him. But they couldn’t.
Last month, Fico survived a no-confidence vote after a record-long extraordinary parliamentary session lasting nearly 50 hours.
Fico remained in office after only 53 opposition members of parliament voted against him while the required number was at least 76.
The opposition claimed Fico’s government established a system that fosters corruption, among others.
It was mainly government members that addressed the house for the first six hours, with opposition lawmakers able to chip in only with two-minute comments.
In a speech that lasted almost an hour, Fico reminded the opposition of a string of scandals that emerged during the government of Iveta Radicova in 2010-12, which was largely made up of the current opposition.
Despite the attempt to remove him, Fico still has the mandate and U.S. continues to be frustrated with the internal division within EU and NATO.
Ukraine should not join NATO
Fico has also expressed his strong conviction that Ukraine should not join NATO because it is not prepared to enter and it also would be better for the region if the country remains outside the alliance.
“Given the strategic position of Ukraine and also considering what is happening there, I would consider it a big mistake if the country entered NATO,” he said while speaking on the public service Slovak Radio on September 6.
Fico was also quick to add that Ukraine absolutely does not meet the conditions for entering NATO or the European Union.
Ukraine’s position as a neutral country would secure what Fico called “a certain peace” in the region, also adding that “however, Slovakia cannot influence these things” since the United States is the decision-maker in his own admission.
“If the United States says Ukraine will be in NATO; then it will be in NATO,” Fico told Slovak Radio.