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Ultimately, the war in Ukraine increased the political influence of the Central and Eastern European states, especially because of their uncompromising stance towards Russia. The war also strengthened calls for EU and NATO enlargement. Third: it weakened the power of France and Germany.
This is how the influential American newspaper The New York Times recently wrote about the new geopolitical situation in Europe.
From the very beginning of the occupation to the present, he has defended Central European pressure to help Ukraine. This was evident, for example, in the constant pressure on Germany to allow the export of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and donate them to Kiev.
According to the NYT, the war is accelerating a shift in the European balance of power from “old Europe” to “east and north” towards newer EU members.
“While the old Europe retains its ties to Moscow, the new members have raw memories of the Soviet occupation and unwillingness to cede some of their sovereignty to Brussels,” the NYT wrote.
The shift of Europe’s center of gravity further east was noticed in the autumn by the British liberal weekly New Statesman. “While the states of Central and Eastern Europe are at the center of a major crisis for the first time since 1989, they are also leading the European response to it,” the magazine said.
He recalled that the Central European region accepted most of the nearly eight million Ukrainian refugees and encouraged aid to Kiev.
The cabinet had no choice now, and Chancellor Olaf Scholz made another mistake in communication. This is how German newspapers evaluate the federal government’s decision to send tanks to Ukraine.
Quick help to Ukraine, but…
But can it really be said that Central Europe has become a new “powerhouse”?
According to Milan Nič, a Slovak expert on Central Europe at the German Foreign Policy Council, such a thesis is false.
“It is true that in the question of the American-led response to the war in Ukraine, Central and Eastern Europe took the lead in principle; mainly Poland and the Baltic countries. Part of our region’s growing soft power was the successful Czech presidency,” said Seznam Zprávám Nič.
But he adds that the region is not uniform in a single breath and that a common platform or concession lists from Western Europe on other issues are not ready.
Vít Dostál, executive director of the International Association for Problems, considers Central and Eastern Europe’s military assistance to Ukraine also necessary.
“Other countries that were waiting until then and were not so active also started. Ukrainians say that the siege of Kyiv was saved by Polish tanks,” recalls the analyst. “So the thesis about the eastward shift of Europe’s center of gravity is correct. But I am not sure if it is prescribed in a broader pan-European understanding of Central European empowerment in other European agendas,” Dostál adds.
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Last spring, the Ukrainian army desperately lacked the Soviet-caliber fuel and ammunition it needed to defend itself against the Russian occupying forces. Rescue then came from an unexpected side: from Bulgaria.
Does Poland use its “five minutes”?
Experts agree that Poland has been the most visible and powerful country in helping Ukraine from the very beginning. As soon as the Poles decided on the first sanctions, they immediately put the Germans under pressure, but according to experts, Warsaw was not able to use its influence potential.
“Poland was on horseback at the time, but only about that. But for the rest of the year, Poland has shown that it can’t turn that capital into something else,” thinks analyst Milan Nič.
According to him, this is primarily due to the policy of the national-conservative government of Poland’s current Law and Justice Party (PiS) and its disagreements with the EU over the rule of law and thus the struggle for funds from the EU bailout fund.
“Moreover, Poland has dismissed Konrad Szymański, the most talented EU-speaking secretary of state,” Nič recalls. According to him, his successors are fighting, “insulting” the EU and EU institutions, but they do not understand how the Union works. They did not turn Poland’s better position to the benefit of the whole region or Warsaw.
“On matters of the essence of the functioning of the EU, Poland is simply weak and will not be able to persuade others – unlike France, Germany or the Netherlands -” says Nič.
Vít Dostál reminds us of the Polish pressure to supply Ukraine with European tanks (more on that here, for example). “If the Poles had not started to take the initiative, the tanks would not have headed towards Ukraine. But I think the Poles again exaggerated this and used it for internal affairs, just like the Patriots,” he said.
It refers to the Polish-German controversy over Berlin’s proposal to provide its own American Patriot anti-aircraft system to protect Polish borders. The impetus for this was the fall of a rocket on the Polish village of Przewodów last November, two Poles were killed at the scene. Warsaw first gave its approval to the German system, but later withdrew its approval to renegotiate with Berlin.
“But I’m not so sure whether Poland’s initiative and leadership in helping Ukraine fits in with the broader pan-European understanding of empowering Central Europe on other European agendas,” Dostál said.
About Polish pressure on Germany
The German Bundeswehr has begun shipping Patriot air defense systems to Poland. Polish PM calls for more military support to Kyje in Berlinva.
Berlin continues to come under criticism for allegedly not helping Ukraine defend itself against the Russians. Germany’s position in Europe is mainly driven by Poland.
According to Milan Nič, we are now awaiting the outcome of the Polish parliamentary elections to be held in the autumn. “If Poland elects a government that is not in conflict with the European Commission and other EU institutions, our region will become stronger and be able to form larger coalitions,” the analyst said.
Pavel makes the Czech Republic visible
Nič and Dostál talk about the Czech Republic’s EU presidency last year helping to improve the region’s “smeared reputation”.
And the newly elected Czech President Petr Pavel has now brought attention to the Czech Republic.
He was actively engaged in foreign policy and gave interviews to a number of major world media. For example, he told the BBC that Ukraine deserved to join NATO after the war with Russia was over.
According to analysts interviewed by Seznam Zprávy, the election and emergence of Pavlo will strengthen the Czech Republic’s position. “The Czech Republic will be more visible. Pavel will be a respected voice. During his presidency, the Czech Republic showed its ability to find a common position and consensus, and this is very important for the future,” thinks Milan Nič.
Vít Dostál believes that Pavel had an influence on the image of the Czech Republic represented abroad. “The few foreign texts in which Pavel shows himself as a thinker about international politics and security in the context of publishing corresponding views in a Western European language are certainly helpful,” he says.
Czech Republic and Taiwan
President-elect Petr Pavel spoke by phone with the Taiwanese president after the election. The phone call immediately angered Communist China, which was also featured in the media.
According to him, it will be very important how the elected president communicates with other statesmen, especially those from Western Europe. “I admit that I missed this in his contacts until now. There are Poles, Slovaks, Baltics but for example Pavel needs to go to Kiev, for example (by French President Emmanuel) Macron,” Dostál adds.
Chosen Petr Pavel is probably planning a trip to Kiev right after his trip to Bratislava and Warsaw. But he has to go to see President Volodymyr Zelensky not with Macron, but with Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová.
Łukasz Ogrodnik, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Relations (PISM), said, “Overseas travel plans from the start show a focus on strengthening regional and security cooperation in the context of Russian aggression.”
According to Ogrodnik, the Czech elections will have another impact on the region. “It will intensify the gap in the Visegrad Group between Hungary on the one hand and the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia on the other,” wrote Ogrodnik for Seznam Zprávy.
Source: Seznam Zpravy
I am Joel Fitzgerald, a news website author for The News Dept. I have worked in the media and journalism industry for over 10 years and specialize in world news. My articles have been featured in prominent publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, where I am an expert contributor on global affairs.