The recent visit of the new Czech President Petr Pavel to Poland in the middle of March has clearly shown that there is a new common understanding and possibly also future appetite to do more together in relations between Czechia and Poland.
After years of Miloš Zeman ambivalent position on Russia and China, the new Czech head of state brings new Euro-Atlantic confidence and fresh wind in perceiving challenges coming from both authoritarian powers and looking for new solutions to shared problems, which might be very much to Poland’s liking.
As general and former head of the Military Committee within NATO, Petr Pavel logically put the emphasis on security and defence policy and response to the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the West, which threatens both Czechia and Poland alike.
It is the context of ongoing Russian military threat as well as new composition at the highest level of Czech and Polish politics, which should be used to facilitate closer relations between both countries.
Poland and Czechia yesterday and today
It is clear that the upcoming months will be immensely hot in Polish politics, the ruling party is neck-on-neck with the opposition coalition, and thus there is a real danger that most of the foreign and security policy measures will be adjusted for campaign purposes.
On the contrary, what is necessary is to not only continue dialogue on security and defence, but turn the discussion into practical steps and closer cooperation where there have been significant gaps in the past.
Also due to the missing trust, Poland has in the past largely pursued an autonomous course of action in many areas, including investment and modernisation of its armed forces, taking military posture as well as looking for allies outside of the region of Central and Eastern Europe, mostly to the United State and United Kingdom.
By that Poland had not fully utilised the potential of its closest neighbours but also overlooked some of the profound changes that happened in Prague since December 2021 when the government of Petr Fiala entered into office. And while there were big hopes for cooperation articulated from Prague, after a year and half not much has changed and many levels of bilateral cooperations are still unused.
However, especially for some projects, including the flagship Three Seas Initiative, it is not possible for Poland to always take the leadership on its own without allies and friends that would fight for the same goal and support stronger regional cooperation, including in fostering closer relations with Ukraine that needs the West’s help as much as ever.
Now, there is a time to change that and both presidents, Petr Pavel and Andrzej Duda, might have the key to these new potential.
Bilateral relations in the future
Since the foreign and security policy area lies in portfolios of both presidents, even if being in a shared competence with the government, the presidents may and should lead the way in promoting closer cooperation and practical projects promoting deeper resilience of both countries towards the Russian aggression.
The Czech President has recently opened the topic of strategic communication, which is the missing link of the governmental approach towards Russia as well as towards its own citizens. The area of fight against disinformation and hybrid threats as well as cybersecurity could become one of the pillars of the new quality of bilateral ties.
Nevertheless, there is much more to be discussed also in the area of conventional warfare, which the ongoing Russian aggression put very much back on the table. More exercises, closer relations between the Czech and Polish armed forces as well as risk management in the context of the Russian war could be another ones of those, as the recent situation around the village of Przewodów showed us.
Both countries also suffer from the same problems, including societal turbulence caused by inflation, higher socio-economic costs as well as influx of Ukrainian refugees. These factors could radicalise parts of the society that might at one point turn against Ukraine, which would be against both of the national interests.
This is even more the case when we look at the challenges faced by Ukraine, which needs the Western support and especially the backing from the CEE, which is still fragmented and disunited, – espeically when one takes into account the position of Hungary.
In all these cases, the presidents with the help of both governments should do practical measures putting Czechia and Poland closer together and look for new ways and ideas how to implement that in practice.
Now is the moment to act and do more for our own security as well as the eastern flank of both EU and NATO, for which both countries could achieve much more together.
Author: Pavel Havlicek, Research Fellow at the Association for International Affairs (AMO)