Visegrad Group debates Russia, defence budget

Russian threats to NATO and defence spending dominated Tuesday talks between the presidents of the Visegrad Group (V4) countries Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

The talks, held to mark the 20th anniversary of Poland's, Hungary's and the Czech Republic's NATO accession, took place at Prague Castle in the Czech capital.

Commenting on Russian threats to NATO unity, Polish head of state Andrzej Duda observed that Russia's contemporary conduct restored threats which were held to be eliminated with the fall of the Soviet Union.

"Unfortunately, the threats that enslaved us for over 40 years are now returning. In a slightly different form, but they are undoubtedly returning," the Polish president warned. According to Duda, Russia's behaviour warranted a response from the alliance, especially as many Russian operations were provocative and aimed at putting the NATO countries at odds with each other.

In this context, Duda highlighted Poland's recent passage of an act raising defence spending to 2.5 percent GDP by 2030. He added that he would like to see the 2.5-percent threshold reached by 2024, provided the country's economic situation permitted it. He also pointed to NATO's reinforcements of its eastern flank, and said this move ultimately ended the existence of a "Russian sphere of influence."

Slovak President Andrei Kiska remarked that Russia's aim was to undermine the unity of the NATO members, which was something Moscow feared. He added that this was being done by economic, diplomatic and propaganda means. Czech president Milos Zeman appealed to show no fear in the face of Moscow's provocations, and admonished that "who fears provocation, only shows their own weakness."

Zeman also underscored the importance of NATO's anti-terrorist operations, and suggested more NATO involvement in combating Islamic State.

Hungarian state head Janos Ader backed the EU's sanctions against Russia and gave his assurance of his country's compliance with them. He observed, however, that dialogue with Moscow was necessary to ease the current tension in Russian-EU relations.

Addressing the four presidents, NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller praised the V4 format, observing that it gave its member countries stability and success. Gottemoeller stated that NATO's doors stood open to new membership, and pointed out that the alliance was currently awaiting its 30th member, Macedonia.