A militarised Visegrad group?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Poland's announcement that it will head a new battlegroup of the Visegrad Group underscores the country's military leadership in the region and is likely to pose a new challenge for Russia, argues global intelligence company Stratfor.

This analysis was authored by the global intelligence company Stratfor.

"Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich said on 12 May that Poland will head a new battlegroup of the Visegrad Group (V4) — the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. The decision was made at the V4 defense ministers' meeting in Levoca, Slovakia, on 12 May.

The battlegroup would become operational and be placed on standby in the first half of 2016, Klich said. The ministers also agreed that the V4 militaries should hold regular exercises under the auspices of the NATO Response Force, with the first such exercise to be held in Poland in 2013.

The decision to set up a V4 battlegroup is the first concrete step toward the militarisation of the loose regional grouping that has had something of a renaissance in recent years. STRATFOR forecast that the common threat of a Russian resurgence in its post-Soviet periphery would push the V4 members toward greater collaboration in military affairs, but the 12 May meeting is the first indication that such collaboration is occurring.

The V4 initially was set up to help the former communist Central European states with their transitions to democracy and free-market capitalism, with the express goal of gaining membership in the European Union and NATO. Following their successful integration into both — all four had joined both alliances by 2004 — the V4 lost its coherence.

However, with Russia's resurgence in its post-Soviet sphere of influence, especially its 2008 intervention in Georgia and repeated demonstrations that it would not hesitate to use its energy exports to Central Europe for political purposes, the logic behind the V4 has strengthened.

Yet the only clear interaction among the V4 countries at the military and security level was a memorandum signed in September 2010 on air force training cooperation.

For all four countries, a coherent Europe-wide security alliance anchored by a strong US presence is preferable to any regional grouping. But the latest NATO Strategic Concept, created at the end of 2010, shows an alliance lacking in coherence.

For the V4, the main problem with NATO is that not all European states share their level of concern regarding Russian intentions on their eastern borders. Breaking off into regionally focused security groups with common security interests therefore makes sense.

The avenue for military cooperation the V4 has chosen is the EU battlegroups concept. Thus far, the concept has not been particularly effective, with the only significant grouping being the Nordic Battlegroup. Nonetheless, the Nordic Battlegroup is significant for a reason. Its development was driven by a regional security concern: Russia's intentions in the Baltic region. A V4 battlegroup would have a similar logic.

Furthermore, Poland's assuming a leadership role is a key issue. One of the V4's problems is that thus far it lacked a clear leader. However, Poland is in a good position to lead the V4; it is set to take the EU presidency in June and has indicated that one of its main priorities during its six-month leadership of the union will be enhancing EU military capabilities. Also, of all the V4 countries, Poland has the closest military relationship with the United States, giving it access to considerable resources in terms of training and multinational coordination.

Russia will not be pleased with this development. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is in fact making an impromptu visit to Bratislava on 12 May, ostensibly to attend Russia's ice hockey world championship quarterfinal game against Canada, but is staying to meet with Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic on 13 May. During his visit, Putin could mention Russia's concern with the militarisation of the V4 and could well suggest ways in which Moscow will look to counter the development."

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