The Visegrád Four: From Troubled To Broken – Analysis


By Robert Beck

(FPRI) — Since the Foreign Policy Research Institute published “The Visegrád Four: Disunity in Central Europe” on February 23, 2024, the group of Central European nations has experienced a complete breakdown in relations. Despite efforts to display some semblance of cooperation in support of Ukraine at a meeting of the Visegrád 4 (V4) prime ministers in Prague on February 27, 2024, visceral disagreements at the summit and subsequent events have left the V4 irrevocably ruptured. 

The collapse comes on the heels of a slow but steady degradation of relations over the previous two years between the four countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. The core area of dispute—their disparate views on Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine—has been gradually building to a boiling point, particularly after the return to power in Bratislava of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico in October of 2023. Since then, the Slovak leader and his Hungarian soulmate, Viktor Orbán, have openly and repeatedly challenged European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) support to Ukraine while stretching the bonds of V4 harmony to the breaking point. However, the wheels completely came off the V4 unity train in the aftermath of the prime ministers’ gathering in the Bohemian metropolis. 

Acrimonious Press Conference

The aforementioned V4 leaders’ council was an attempt to ameliorate some of the growing rancor within the group between the pro-Ukraine block, the Czech Republic and Poland, and the Ukraine skeptics, Hungary and Slovakia. At the press conference following the consultations, the leaders agreed that “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a flagrant violation of international law and that Kyiv needs help.” That statement, however, proved to be the only positive rhetoric that emanated from the meeting.

While Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk pressed for more military aid to Kyiv, both Robert Fico and Viktor Orbán were explicit in their criticisms of Western policy toward the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The intragroup divide over the war spilled out in the press conference as Prime Minister Tusk called Russian President Putin a war criminal. In response, Prime Minister Orbán proclaimed, “Concerning who is to blame for the war, that will be decided following the conflict.” 

Contrasting Post-Summit Visits

During their visit to the Czech capital for the talks, Hungary’s Orbán and Slovakia’s Fico were met with vocal protestors in the center of Prague, many taunting the Slovak leader with chants of “Fico, go back home to Russia!” This was partly in response to a Fico speech on the second anniversary of the beginning of the war in which he claimed that Ukrainian neo-Nazis were partly to blame for the conflagration in Ukraine. These comments were, according to multiple press reports, “shocking” to both Prime Minister Fiala and his Polish counterpart. 

In the immediate aftermath of the fractious summit, Donald Tusk visited Hradčany, the majestic seat of the Czech president overlooking the Vltava river, for a one-on-one meeting with the current resident of the palace, President Petr Pavel, a staunch supporter of Ukraine’s fight against Moscow.  

Conversely, in a deeply symbolic gesture, Viktor Orbán and Robert Fico shunned the sitting Czech president, instead making a pilgrimage to the Prague office of the former president Miloš Zeman, the veritable godfather of Central European Russophilia. Though details of that session were not revealed, it is safe to assume that the discussions were not conducive to mending V4 fences. 

Czechs Freeze Government Contacts with Bratislava

Any expectations within the group of a cooling-off period were dashed less than a week after the Prague negotiations when Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanar met his Russian peer Sergey Lavrov on March 2 on the sidelines of a diplomatic forum in Antalya, Turkey. Robert Fico defended the meeting, stating that the tête-à-tête “was an example of our balanced and sovereign” foreign policy.

Prague viewed the rendezvous through a less positive lens, taking the extraordinary step on March 7 of freezing regularly scheduled Czech-Slovak governmental meetings. The rupture in relations between Prague and Bratislava, arguably once the closest allies of any two countries in the EU, represents the lowest point in bilateral relations since the “velvet divorce” in the early 1990s. Prime Minister Fiala, in announcing the decision, simply opined that “we don’t consider it appropriate that we engage in joint meetings with the Slovak government” because of the stark differences in the two countries’ foreign policies. 

Two Rival Camps

In the interim, neither Robert Fico nor Viktor Orbán have moderated their pro-Russian rhetoric, with the latter boldly predicting the upcoming victory of the Right in European parliament elections in June and the US presidential election in November. For his part, the Slovak Prime Minister, in response to Prague’s suspension of governmental consultations with Bratislava, accused the Czechs of supporting war in Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, Prague is leading an effort, supported by eighteen countries, including Poland, to purchase up to 800,000 artillery rounds for Ukraine from suppliers outside of Europe. The V4 is thus neatly divided into two rival camps, with Prague and Warsaw firmly supporting Western efforts regarding the war. At the same time, Budapest and Bratislava represent the only EU member states openly pandering to Moscow. Consequently, V4 unity now lay in tatters with no short-term prospects of meaningful cooperation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.

  • About the author: Robert “Bob” Beck served overseas for nearly 30 years, as a member of the US foreign policy community, in embassies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He has a BA in Soviet and Eastern European Studies from the University of Maryland and an MA in International Relations from Boston University. 
  • Source: This article was published by FPRI

Published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute

Founded in 1955, FPRI ( is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to bringing the insights of scholarship to bear on the development of policies that advance U.S. national interests and seeks to add perspective to events by fitting them into the larger historical and cultural context of international politics.

One thought on “The Visegrád Four: From Troubled To Broken – Analysis

  • April 7, 2024 at 2:23 am

    Support Ukraine for How Long? Naysayers have openly started as expected among the V 4 countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. The Slovak leader and Hungarian Viktor Orbán, have openly and repeatedly challenged EU and NATO support to Ukraine. In November whoever gets elected in the US, Trump or Biden is further going to increase the voices of dissent among nation members of EU – NATO for their continued support to Ukraine.


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