Autor foto: Gov.cz

CEE Weekly Update: Putin Tightens Control over Manor Farm via Ukraine

CEE Weekly Update: Putin Tightens Control over Manor Farm via Ukraine

March 28, 2024

Author: Casimir Pulaski Foundation

CEE Weekly Update: Putin Tightens Control over Manor Farm via Ukraine


Autor foto: Gov.cz

CEE Weekly Update: Putin Tightens Control over Manor Farm via Ukraine

Author: Casimir Pulaski Foundation

Published: March 28, 2024

 I. Can’t Control Terrorism at Home? Just Blame Ukraine

George Orwell once summarised the politics of power consolidation in Animal Farm, a novel in which an animal rebellion drives out old systems of repression, only for them to be replaced by a new corrupt hierarchy dominated by pigs. The pig leader, Napoleon, eventually concocts a scapegoat out of Snowball for all the troubles that befall his new kingdom. A poorly constructed mill crumbles? Blame Snowball. Poor organisation brings low crop yields? Blame Snowball. Orwell was, of course, commenting on the USSR’s growing dictatorship in the 1940s. Orwell’s commentary on the USSR’s dictatorship in the 1940s remains relevant today in Russia, where Putin has crafted a similar narrative, with Ukraine as his “Snowball” scapegoat.

The latest in a series of issues plaguing Russia was the deadly terrorist attack on a concert hall outside Moscow on March 22. At least 137 people were killed, prompting mourning across the country.[1] Immediately, Russia’s government officials and media outlets blamed Ukraine, calling it the “link between British and American services.”[2] These intelligence services were also accused of the attack. US intelligence warnings about a potential terrorist attack in Russia this month were cited as evidence of foreknowledge and a desire to delegitimise Putin’s leadership.[3] Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev posted on Telegram, stating that if the attackers were, in fact, “terrorists of the Kyiv regime”, they and “their ideological masterminds” must be executed and repressed.

Russian news outlets continued to deny ISIS-K’s involvement even after evidence emerged implicating the Islamic State. One day after the attack, Putin repeated these anti-Ukrainian messages, alleging that the attackers were captured “while fleeing to Ukraine.”[4] As CEPA reports, the Islamist threat does not serve the Kremlin’s current ends as it is a decade-old issue in Russia. Instead, it is much more useful to make another “Snowball” scapegoat out of Ukraine to give Moscow more reason to bombard a state they have blamed for all of Putin’s inadequacies as Russia’s leader.


II. Another Missile in Poland

As Russia stepped up attacks on Ukraine, an escalatory issue arose when yet another missile breached Poland’s airspace on Sunday.[5] Polish authorities tracked the cruise missile’s presence and concluded that it showed no signs of targeting Polish infrastructure, so no escalation occurred between NATO and Russia. However, this incident is a reminder that border spillovers and technical accidents are ongoing byproducts of war. In these cases, the burden falls on Poland to interpret aggression and decide whether war-prompting red lines were crossed.[6]

Last week, Russia stepped up its attacks on Ukraine in the largest energy grid strike in over two years.[7] Moscow launched approximately 57 missiles and drones at critical Ukrainian infrastructure, reaching as far as Kyiv and western Lviv.[8] Simultaneously, Ukraine managed to hit Russia’s infrastructure in Crimea, striking the Russian Black Sea fleet’s communication centre and two Russian landing ships.[9] A third country was roped into the conflict on Sunday when a cruise missile entered Poland for 39 seconds.[10]

Russia’s strikes placed Poland on alert, prompting Warsaw to activate its F-16 fighter jets.[11] The Polish Armed Forces Operational Command announced that both “Polish and allied aircraft” were activated.[12] Polish Defence Minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz later stated that the intruding missile would have been shot down if there had been any indications that it was targeting Poland.[13] Polish authorities have said that they will demand an explanation from Russia. Polish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Pawel Wronski added that Poland is calling on Moscow “to stop terrorist attacks from the air……[and] to end the war and deal with the country’s internal problems.”[14] This latest border violation, though brief, underscores the persistent threat of escalation as long as the war and its inherent accidents endure.

It is worth noting that the Russian ambassador to Poland, Sergey Andreyev, did not appear at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs when summoned. So far, he has always attended such meetings, but this time, he claimed that there was no evidence implicating Russia’s missiles; thus, there is nothing for him to explain.[15] His absence sparked much discussion in Poland, and, according to Poland’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski, the ambassador has temporarily left the country.[16]


III. Polish-Czech V2 Meets B4 V4 Summit

Last Thursday, amid their diverging views on Russia’s aggression, the Visegrad Group (Czechia, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary) held diplomatic talks. The Visegrad Group has become a meeting ground for two separate blocs that hold and maintain two different truths about the war in Ukraine. Budapest and Bratislava see no military solution, while Warsaw and Prague hope that the military reinforcement of Ukraine will deter further Russian aggression.

The solidifying of two separate V2 alliances within V4 was evidenced by Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski’s meeting with his Czech counterpart prior to Thursday’s V4 summit. One of the main topics for Czechia’s foreign minister was Prague’s latest pledge of 800,000 artillery shells for Ukraine, which Sikorski deemed an “excellent idea.” He added that Poland will not only provide funds but also deliver the ammunition to Ukraine.[17]

Slovakia and Hungary’s ministers maintained that they are against sending weapons to Ukraine. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto reiterated that “Hungary has not and will not send any weapons to Ukraine,” while Slovakia’s foreign minister Juraj Blanar toed PM Fico’s argument that “the conflict doesn’t have a military solution.”[18] The stances of all four ministers appear unmovable as the two blocs emerging from the V4 format are further ingrained in their stance on the war.

The Slovak ministry still appears willing to revitalise and utilise the format for even the smallest agreements, but divisions remain apparent.[19] Even amid rising divisions, the foreign ministers emphasised that they had reason to continue their dialogue. As Czech Foreign Minister Lipavský mentioned, “I admit that we have not found a common position that the V4 could promote together for a long time. But that does not mean we should not meet.”[20] He added that the foreign ministers’ role is to “talk diplomatically” and “to look for the lowest possible common denominator.” The ministers were indeed only able to agree on the most basic common denominator of Russia’s aggression. Mainly, all four agree that it is, in fact, an aggression. Apart from that statement of the obvious, there is little more consensus.


IV. The Narrow Battle for the Slovakian Presidency

Pro-European former Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok won the first round of the presidential election in Slovakia with 42%. In a run-off, he will face Peter Pellegrini from a governing coalition who scored 37%. According to the polls, he was not expected to win the first ballot and remains the underdog for a run-off scheduled for the 6th of April. In third place, with a score of 12%, was Štefan Harabin, whose views are more aligned with Pelligrini and who was endorsed by Andrej Danko, leader of the Slovak National Leader’s Party (SNS)— a coalition partner in Fico’s government.[21] The changing factors are the number of abstentions and who the Hungarian minority will vote for. Taking everything into account, the final difference might be razor-thin.[22]

Korčok is an experienced diplomat, having served as the Slovak secretary of state, ambassador to Germany and the United States, and Permanent Representative to the EU.[23] He was in charge of Slovakia’s accession negotiations to NATO in 2003. In 2020, he was nominated for Minister of Foreign Affairs, where he served until September 2022 before resigning due to friction within the ruling coalition. He is running as an independent candidate, but he is endorsed by leading liberal parties such as the main opposition parties— Progressive Slovakia (the party of President Caputova), Freedom and Solidarity, and the Christian Democratic Movement.

Pelligrini’s HLAS is the most crucial party in the ruling coalition for Fico’s SMER. Having previously served as Prime Minister, he left the post for Fico with clear presidential ambitions set for 2024. If he does not win, friction may enter the coalition as the prominent leader might not be satisfied with the remaining role of Speaker of the National Council. Moreover, although the presidential role is marginal, the office can still block some legislation, such as Fico’s efforts to strengthen the government’s control over public media and relax anti-corruption regulations. The last time Fico lost power, his associates faced prosecution due to the assassination of a journalist who reported on his government’s corruption scandals. Changing the system so that this never happens again is the top priority for the term. President Čaputová is a blockade for specific reforms, so having Korčok in the office would make domestic plans more challenging for Fico.

According to Pelligrini, the future president “will either cooperate with the government or stop its activities that do not serve the people.”[24] The big issue and point of difference is also foreign policy. Although it is the government that is in charge of diplomacy, good personal ties of pro-Western Korčok would soften some of Fico’s anti-Ukrainian rhetoric and could help restore previously harmed bilateral relations with Warsaw and Prague.

Author: Casimir Pulaski Foundation’s team



[1] Graeme Baker & Robert Greenall, “Russian court charges four men with act of terrorism in Moscow attack,” BBC, March 25, 2024, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-68652380.

[2] Julia Davis, “Moscow Terror Attack: A Lie Too Good to Waste,” CEPA, March 24, 2024, https://cepa.org/article/moscow-terror-attack-a-lie-too-good-to-waste/.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Vanessa Gera and Tony Hicks, “Poland demands explanation from Russia after a missile enters its airspace during attack on Ukraine,” AP News, March 24, 2024, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-missile-airspace-violation-c9d2511f169e9f80a08082726c118114.

[6] Marina Miron, “NATO member Poland says Russian missile violated its airspace,” DW News, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRkXGMtV1hk.

[7] Pavel Polityuk and Gleb Garanich, “Russia stages major airstrike on Ukraine; one missile enters Polish airspace,” Reuters, March 24, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/kyiv-lviv-under-russian-air-attack-poland-activates-aircraft-officials-say-2024-03-24/.

[8] RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, “Russian Missiles Target Kyiv As Poland Claims Its Airspace Was Violated,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, March 24, 2024, https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-russian-missiles-strike-kyiv/32875176.html;  Pavel Polityuk and Gleb Garanich, “Russia stages major airstrike on Ukraine; one missile enters Polish airspace,” Reuters, March 24, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/kyiv-lviv-under-russian-air-attack-poland-activates-aircraft-officials-say-2024-03-24/.

[9] Mari Eccles, “Another major missile barrage batters Ukraine; Kyiv hits two Russian ships in Crimea,” POLITICO, March 24, 2024, https://www.politico.eu/article/russia-ukraine-attack-missiles-drones-kyiv-lviv-poland/.

[10] Vanessa Gera and Tony Hicks, “Poland demands explanation from Russia after a missile enters its airspace during attack on Ukraine,” AP News.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Vanessa Gera and Tony Hicks, “Poland demands explanation from Russia after a missile enters its airspace during attack on Ukraine,” AP News

[14] Heather Chen, Josh Pennington, Sophie Jeong and Maria Kostenko, “Poland demands explanation after accusing Russia of violating its airspace,” CNN, March 24, 2024, https://edition.cnn.com/2024/03/24/europe/poland-activates-aircraft-russia-attacks-lviv-intl/index.html.

[15] Aleksandra Krzysztoszek, “Russian ambassador to Poland refuses to explain the missile incident”, Euronews, March 27, https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/russian-ambassador-to-poland-refuses-to-explain-missile-incident/

[16] Marcin Kozłowski, “Sikorski o ambasadorze Rosji: Z tego, co słyszę, już opuścił nasze terytorium”, Gazeta Wyborcza, 27 March, https://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/wiadomosci/7,114884,30837830,sikorski-o-ambasadorze-rosji-z-tego-co-slysze-juz-opuscil.html

[17] AP and Euronews, “Visegrád Group still deeply divided on sending arms to Ukraine,” Euronews, March 21, 2024, https://www.euronews.com/2024/03/21/visegrad-group-still-deeply-divided-on-sending-arms-to-ukraine.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Aneta Zachová and Natália Silenská, “V4 Group to hold diplomatic talks despite diverging views on Russia-Ukraine,” Euractiv, March 20, 2024, https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/v4-group-to-hold-diplomatic-talks-despite-diverging-views-on-russia-ukraine/.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Tom Nicholson, “Slovak president election: Pro-EU diplomat tops coalition stalwart in first round”, POLITICO, March 23, https://www.politico.eu/article/coalition-stalwart-edges-pro-eu-opponent-in-first-round-slovak-presidential-ballot/

[22] Natália Silenská, “Slovak presidential election pits pro-Western diplomat against ex-PM”, Euroactive, March 22, https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/slovak-presidential-election-pits-pro-western-diplomat-against-ex-pm/

[23] Ivan Korčok, GLOBSEC, https://www.globsec.org/who-we-are/our-people/ivan-korcok

[24] Aleksandra Krzysztoszek and Natália Silenská, “Słowacja: Ivan Korčok wygrywa pierwszą turę wyborów prezydenckich”, Euractive, 24 March, https://www.euractiv.pl/section/demokracja/news/slowacja-ivan-korcok-wygrywa-pierwsza-ture-wyborow-prezydenckich/