East EU Split on NATO Troops as 1968 Invasion Remembered

The Czech Republic and Slovakia don’t need foreign NATO troops on their soil as sought by other east European nations at a time when the conflict in Ukraine deepens, according to their prime ministers.

Slovakia, which borders Ukraine, rejects any deployment on its territory because of memories of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion that crushed the “Prague Spring” loosening of restrictions on freedom, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said yesterday. The neighboring Czech Republic, Slovakia’s federal partner up to 1993, also doesn’t need external military presence, Premier Bohuslav Sobotka said June 3.

The position of Slovakia and the Czech Republic echoes that of Hungary, where Soviet forces helped crush an anti-Communist uprising in 1956. Their position runs contrary to other former eastern communist states of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia which have asked for more North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces to fortify their defense in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“I can’t imagine that foreign soldiers would be on our territory in the form of some kind of bases,” Fico said. “I can’t imagine that missile-defense systems operated by foreign soldiers would be here.”

Both Fico and Sobotka said their countries haven’t been asked to host NATO units from other nations. Sobotka said the Czech security situation doesn’t require such a move.

Economic Sanctions

Fico opposes the tightening of economic sanctions by the U.S. and Ukraine’s European Union allies. He says doing so would cut Slovak economic growth to 1 percent next year, compared with the 3.1 percent of growth the government forecasts now. The two nations get most of their gas and crude supplies from Russia.

Fico echoed Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky, who alluded three weeks ago to the 1968 invasion. Sobotka criticized Stropnicky May 13 for saying that the memory of the Soviet-led invasion remains a “psychological problem” when debating the presence of foreign soldiers in the Czech Republic.

“The brutal aggression of the Warsaw Pact can’t be compared with NATO’s effort to ensure security for its members,” said Martin Butora, Slovakia’s former ambassador to the U.S. and adviser to President-elect Andrej Kiska.

The U.S. will bolster its military presence in Europe through a $1 billion initiative, President Barack Obama said June 3, unveiling a program that is in direct response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the stoking of unrest in Ukraine.

Poland and the U.S. will discuss how to convert the current U.S. troop rotation in Poland into a permanent presence, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said today on Polish Radio One.

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