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Tensions rise between Slovakia and Russia over Crimea op-ed

Bratislava, Slovakia – During the weekend, the Slovak Foreign Ministry summoned Moscow’s ambassador in Bratislava Alexej Fedotov in a sign of escalating tensions between Slovakia and Russia.

The tensions arose after Slovakia’s State Secretary of Defence Róbert Ondrejcsák published an op-ed (in Slovak) to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion and annexation of Crimea and the start of the Ukraine conflict.

Published in the Sme daily on February 26, the piece, entitled “Five Years since Crimea: The War in Europe is not taboo” criticized Russia’s military attack against Ukraine. “Technically speaking, Russia carried out a military operation against Ukraine in February 2014, first on the Crimean peninsula. It invaded Crimea by using military force and subsequently annexed it”, the Slovak state secretary for Defence wrote.

“Firstly, in Russia’s strategic documents, the West, NATO and the EU are enemies,” Ondrejcsák continued. “Secondly, in political statements, we are enemies. Thirdly, in Russia’s military exercises, we are the main enemies and they train offensive operations against us.”

The Russian embassy in Slovakia issued a sharp response to those statements on Facebook, arguing that “the state secretary, using his own fabrications and opinions, describes Russia and Europe as ‘enemies’. This is really dangerous”, before denying its involvement in Ukraine and labeling his claims as typical propaganda clichés.

The Russian diplomatic representation in Bratislava concluded its response with a direct attack against Ondrejcsák: “We think while such an officer is in the management of the Defense Ministry, the Slovak public cannot, indeed, feel safe”.

According to reports, the Russian Embassy asked the Sme daily to publish its own response to the minster’s op-ed, a request that was turned down by the editorial board because the text was “misleading and contained untrue claims” and “degraded to personal attacks”, according to chief-editor Beata Balogová.

“Fortunately, we do not live in the times before 1989 when the Russian/Soviet Embassy dictated who could say, or write, what in Slovakia”, Róbert Ondrejcsák immediately pointed out in response, adding: “I am the official representative of Slovakia, state secretary at the Defense Ministry of the Slovak Republic, not of the Russian Federation”.

In a statement, the Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry stood by M. Ondrejcsák and stressed that “it is unacceptable for the [Russian] embassy to publicly comment on and evaluate a representative of a country”.

The Foreign Ministry also tried to smooth the rough edges, highlighting its desire to continue, despite the rising tensions, developing bilateral relations between Slovakia and Russia, seen as a key partner for many (last year, Slovakia was one of the only EU countries not to expel Russian diplomats over the Skripal poisoning case).

The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, distanced itself from the controversial opinion piece of its junior minister, billed by a ministry spokesman as the state secretary’s “personal and political opinions in the name of Most-Hid” – a government coalition partner, and representative of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.

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