The anatomy of Slo­vak rus­sophilia

How Rus­sia is build­ing a net­work of in­flu­ence in Slo­vakia

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Olha Vorozh­byt

How Rus­sia is build­ing a net­work of in­flu­ence in Slo­vakia

In mid-July, the Slo­vak me­dia re­ported that a group of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and en­trepreneurs headed by in­de­pen­dent MP Peter Marček was go­ing to visit Crimea on 1-4 Au­gust. More­over, they wanted to travel to the oc­cu­pied penin­sula from Moscow, which is con­trary to Ukrainian leg­is­la­tion. Ukrainian Am­bas­sador Yuriy Mushko warned about the con­se­quences of such a trip, stat­ing that the del­e­gates who travel to the Crimea through Rus­sia will most likely be banned from en­ter­ing Ukraine in the fu­ture. He also ad­vised them to avoid mak­ing ap­pear­ances that could be used for pro­pa­ganda pur­poses.

Even the head of the Slo­vak par­lia­ment An­drei Danko who, if we track his state­ments and ac­tions, also has a rather pro-Rus­sian po­si­tion on many is­sues, de­cided to re­act to the warn­ings of the Ukrainian am­bas­sador. The speaker and head of the right-wing Slo­vak National Party, which for some time was a ju­nior part­ner in a gov­ern­ment coali­tion with rul­ing party “Di­rec­tion – So­cial Democ­racy”, is quite a fre­quent guest in Moscow. On a re­cent visit there, he waxed lyrical about Slavs and Rus­sian icons, em­pha­sis­ing that "We, small peo­ples, can only turn to the great pow­ers – with­out their help we are un­able to achieve peace."

In a post on Face­book, Danko de­manded that For­eign Min­is­ter Miroslav La­jčák re­call the Ukrainian am­bas­sador be­cause of his warn­ings to Marček. "If any cit­i­zen, never mind a deputy of the National Coun­cil of Slo­vakia, wants to go some­where, no am­bas­sador will tell him whether he should do that or not," wrote the politi­cian. In ad­di­tion, Danko did not re­act at all to a rude and un­eth­i­cal com­ment un­der this post from Rus­sian diplo­mat Dmitry Ko­valkov. Op­po­si­tion MPs have sug­gested send­ing the lat­ter out of the coun­try for such un­wor­thy be­hav­iour.

As for Marček him­self, as noted by po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Pavol De­meš in a com­ment to Slo­vak web­site noviny. sk, this MP has never showed much in­ter­est in for­eign pol­icy. How­ever, a video taken in the air­port be­fore his de­par­ture to Crimea nev­er­the­less ap­peared on his Face­book pro­file. He did in­deed travel to the oc­cu­pied penin­sula. Ac­cord­ing to Marček, his del­e­ga­tion in­cluded another 4 par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and 10 en­trepreneurs. Slo­vak me­dia has re­ported that it is un­known who fi­nanced the diplomats' trip to Crimea.

On the eve of the visit, the odi­ous politi­cian also made a com­ment to Rus­sian news­pa­per Izves­tia stat­ing that he con­sid­ered Crimea to be Rus­sian. This po­si­tion does not co­in­cide with the of­fi­cial po­si­tion of the Slo­vak For­eign Min­istry, nor that of some of Marček's par­lia­men­tary col­leagues. More­over, in the sit­u­a­tion de­scribed above, there were also MPs who ex­pressed their in­dig­na­tion at the ac­tions and state­ments of this politi­cian.

How­ever, ac­cord­ing to sur­veys, the level of Rus­sophilia in Slo­vakia is the high­est among the Viseg­rád Group, which is a very dis­turb­ing trend for a coun­try that is Ukraine's im­me­di­ate neigh­bour. For ex­am­ple, in last year's sur­vey of Slo­vaks by the In­ter­na­tional Repub­li­can In­sti­tute, the ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents (75%) stressed that Rus­sia should be seen as a part­ner in the Euro­pean se­cu­rity sys­tem and should be re­turned into Euro­pean se­cu­rity struc­tures.

More July events in Slo­vakia were another alarm bell not only for Ukraine, but also for the EU. The in­fa­mous biker group Night Wolves has opened its own base in Slo­vakia in the small town of Dolná Krupá near the cap­i­tal Bratislava.

The Night Wolves, along with their leader, nick­named the Sur­geon, are close to Vladimir Putin, and mem­bers of this group also par­tic­i­pated in the an­nex­a­tion of the Crimea and hos­til­i­ties in the Don­bas on the side of the in­vader. The area that the Moscow bik­ers call their Euro­pean base looks sim­i­lar to a mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity and pho­tos taken from the air show that mil­i­tary ex­er­cises are tak­ing place there.

Jour­nal­ists who man­aged to ob­tain pho­tos of the base say that there is mil­i­tary equip­ment and tanks on its ter­ri­tory. This hard­ware be­longs to the Slo­vak Min­istry of De­fence and was leased to the Night Wolves by the chair­man of the Slo­vak In­sti­tute for Mil­i­tary His­tory. The lat­ter has al­ready been brought to jus­tice for these ac­tions.

It has been stated that the ter­ri­tory on which the mil­i­tary base is lo­cated be­longs to Jozef Ham­balek, a close as­so­ciate of former In­te­rior Min­is­ter Robert Kal­iňák. He heads the Slo­vak branch of the Night Wolves. Ham­balek, like ex-min­is­ter Kal­iňák, is also an ar­dent biker. His nick­name is Džono and on the Honda Tun­ing

HOW­EVER, AC­CORD­ING TO SUR­VEYS, THE LEVEL OF RUS­SOPHILIA IN SLO­VAKIA IS THE HIGH­EST AMONG THE VISEG­RÁD GROUP, WHICH IS A VERY DIS­TURB­ING TREND FOR A COUN­TRY THAT IS UKRAINE'S IM­ME­DI­ATE NEIGH­BOR. MORE JULY EVENTS IN SLO­VAKIA WERE ANOTHER ALARM BELL NOT ONLY FOR UKRAINE, BUT ALSO FOR THE EU

web­site he re­calls that he and Kal­iňák rode all around Slo­vakia for 10 days in 1999. It is im­por­tant that this in­for­ma­tion about Kal­iňák and Ham­balek can be found on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion site ak­tu­al­ity.sk, co-au­thored by Ján Ku­ciak, whose mur­der sev­eral months ago brought tens of thou­sands of Slo­vaks to the streets.

Amer­i­can mag­a­zine Newsweek re­ports, cit­ing the Slo­vak Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs, that gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives are con­cerned about the pres­ence of the Night Wolves in Slo­vakia.

How­ever, they go on to say that mem­bers of this group have not done any­thing il­le­gal yet. Yes­ter­day, Slo­vak pres­i­dent An­drej Kiska spoke about his con­cern around the pres­ence of the Night Wolves. "Their founder is on the sanc­tions list and can­not travel to the EU. These are not innocent mo­tor­bike lovers, but a tool of the regime that par­tic­i­pated in an­nex­ing a part of Ukraine, which is a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law," said the Slo­vak pres­i­dent. In his opin­ion, the Euro­pean head­quar­ters of the Night Wolves in Slo­vakia is a se­ri­ous se­cu­rity risk for the coun­try.

Twit­ter users shar­ing im­ages of the base are con­cerned and have com­pared the pres­ence of the "bik­ers" to the build-up to the oc­cu­pa­tion of Ukrainian ter­ri­tory. Slo­vak an­a­lysts, in par­tic­u­lar Daniel Kráľ, ar­gue that the launch of the afore­men­tioned base could give new im­pe­tus to the sup­port of the far-right in Europe. One way or another, this is another open­ing Rus­sia has found to spread its ex­pan­sion­ist pol­icy to­wards the West.

The "Wolves" in Bratislava. Slo­vak Pres­i­dent An­drej Kiska con­sid­ers the Rus­sian bik­ers to be a se­cu­rity risk to his coun­try

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