by William Nattrass
Friday, 18
March 2022
Dispatch
16:00

Eastern Europeans are getting hawkish on Ukraine

Citizens are pushing their leaders to stand up to Russia's aggression
by William Nattrass
Protesters in the Old Town square in Prague. Credit: Getty

The Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia made a risky visit to war-torn Kyiv this week, kept a strict secret until they were already in Ukraine. Their bravery was applauded when the news became public, but concerns were also raised about the trip’s capacity to bring the West a step closer to joining the conflict. The question of what would have happened if one of these NATO leaders had been caught in the crossfire by Russian troops was left unanswered.

The trio took pains to portray themselves as active wartime allies, attending a war-room meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky while posting pictures of themselves poring over maps of Ukraine. They looked, to all intents and purposes, keen to become involved in the war — and although none have yet broken ranks on NATO’s rejection of actual military intervention, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki today announced that he will propose sending a peacekeeping mission into Ukraine at a NATO summit next week.

It might seem surprising that countries which remember suffering at the hands of Russia — and which would see themselves as the Kremlin’s next potential victims if Ukraine falls — should be so bellicose. Yet this new hawkishness isn’t limited to Eastern European politicians — it extends to public attitudes too.

In the Czech Republic, applications to join the army reserves have increased tenfold since the war in Ukraine began. Meanwhile, an acquaintance who frequents shooting ranges in Prague tells me he’s seen a major surge in interest in such pursuits since the invasion. Czech weapons sellers have reported a spike in sales, as well as increased registrations for firearms training courses. And at the political level, the Ministry of Defence has received a boost in its budget and there’s pressure to complete long-running arms procurement programmes.

War in Eastern Europe has clearly brought home the importance of self-defence, but there’s something else at work here too. This new hawkishness is now turning into action. Upon his return, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala immediately called for the West to ship more anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine. Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger’s decision meanwhile not to join the risky expedition attracted stern criticism and he was forced to apologise for his absence.

Interventionist impulses in the Czech Republic have been further channelled into directly funding the Ukrainian war effort. A fundraiser set up by the Ukrainian Embassy in Prague allows ordinary people to contribute to the purchase and delivery of weapons from Czech arms manufacturers. It’s being portrayed as a “sponsor a donkey” type participation scheme, only for anti-tank missiles and small arms. Hundreds of millions of Czech koruna (around £20 million) have already been donated, and the Ukrainian ambassador claimed Czech weapons bought through the scheme are already being used on the front line.

Inevitably, in this climate, calls are also growing for more direct intervention, with demonstrators in Prague calling for the implementation of a no-fly zone over Ukraine on Tuesday. A senator attending the event described imposing a no-fly zone as “our moral duty,” while another speaker argued the step should be taken regardless of whether NATO is drawn into the conflict, claiming the West needs to “stop being afraid of Putin”.

However unrealistic, such calls evince a growing sense among Eastern Europe’s other Slavic nations that, like it or not, they are already implicated in the war in Ukraine. These countries have long lived with fear and suspicion of Russian aggression — now it’s a reality, they’re keen to get on the front foot.

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Jeffrey Chongsathien
Jeffrey Chongsathien
3 months ago

Can we put some substance behind this article… What percentages of these populations are we talking about here? Do these countries have the same virtue-signalling, vaccuous, morally bankrupt idiots that the UK has? How many are deploying to Ukraine to fight?

Last edited 3 months ago by Jeffrey Chongsathien
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago

So unless the Poles etc volunteer en masse to fight the Russians, you have no time for them?

You don’t you tell us what YOU think should be the response to the Russian aggression. It’s not an easy call, is it? Are ‘vacuous, morally bankrupt etc etc’ people in the West just people you don’t happen to agree with?

The proportion of ANY population, ever, who volunteer to fight in a war in another country is pretty tiny, so what that proves I don’t know. But that the Eastern Europeans are taking an anti Russian line is interesting.

Jacob Mason
Jacob Mason
3 months ago

I would like to know which eastern European nations have air forces that could actually challenge the Russians…

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Jacob Mason

All the ones in NATO could, and if Russia gets bogged down in Ukraine for too long they might not have much of an Air Force left

Sean Meister
Sean Meister
3 months ago
Reply to  Jacob Mason

There’s only one and it’s on the other side of the Atlantic. These NATO-aligned Eastern European nations are just doing their bidding of their American masters.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 months ago
Reply to  Sean Meister

Say that to their faces. You’ve never lived next door to an enormously powerful country with a history of invading and enslaving you.

Last edited 3 months ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  Sean Meister

This is one of the most ill-informed comments ever made on this forum! I know some people have an almost unhinged anti-Americanism, but Poland under its current administration simply doing what America under Joe Biden tells it? You must be having a laugh.

Big picture here, of recent would be hegemonic powers, the Soviet Union (killed millions), Nazi Germany (killed millions), Maoist China (killed millions), supporting the United States (which did not!) for all its faults should be a no-brainer.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 months ago
Reply to  Jacob Mason

Judging by the abjectness of the Russian army and air force, I reckon most East European nations would be beginning to fancy their chances.

Andrew F
Andrew F
3 months ago
Reply to  Jacob Mason

Are you saying that UK has, or France or (lets have a lough, Germany) ?
This is the purpose of NATO, common defence.
No individual country apart from USA can take on Russia on its own.

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
3 months ago
Reply to  Jacob Mason

The Russian airforce does not seem very impressive, given it is incapable of gaining air supremacy even over Ukraine. It appears they are incapable of actually flying effective SEAD missions.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
3 months ago

This is pretty much what we should expect at this point in the war from just about all European nations.
Who wants to be on the side of an incompetent war-criminal who’s losing?
Given the failure of Putin’s offensive on all fronts, it’s a combination of fear, and desiring to be on the winning side.

Last edited 3 months ago by Martin Logan
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

Your two explanations are contradictory. If Putin is obviously going to lose there is no fear factor. In fact, sadly, the Russians have a lot more force they can deploy, including the destruction of many more entire cities.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
3 months ago

Does being a member of NATO mean that you are not free to fight anyone of your own volition?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago

The Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia made a risky visit to war-torn Kyiv this week”
The purpose of their visit was to draw NATO into the theatre, just like the reason Poland wanted to supply MIG aircraft via a USA base in Germany.
But we can’t get involved any further than we are. Ukraine is the equivalent of the Spartans at Thermopylae, and we’ll have to accept their sacrifice for our long term good – western unity, re-arming, etc in anticipation of the long term cultural conflict with China.

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

We have to accept Ukraine’s willingness to sacrifice their lives by supplying them with more anti-tank weapons & drones than the Russians have tanks and artillery pieces. Never forget that the Russian economy is smaller than Italy, so they cannot keep endlessly building $10m tanks when they are being killed by $2m Bayraktar drones or $200k Javelin ATGWs or $20k NLAWs.
The Spartans died at Thermopylae but the Greeks did end up winning that war.

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
3 months ago

It might seem surprising that countries which remember suffering at the hands of Russia — and which would see themselves as the Kremlin’s next potential victims if Ukraine falls — should be so bellicose. “
As the risk of stating the obvious, “suffering at the hands of Russia” is exactly *why* they are so bellicose.

Sean Meister
Sean Meister
3 months ago

The proof is in the pudding. Ukraine has called on foreign volunteers to fight the Russians. So, is the appetite for war in Prague genuine? If so when can we expect the Czech Legion to arrive in Ukraine? How about a revival of the famous Latvian Rifles? Or is this all just sabre-rattling to earn some “good boy” points with the Americans?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Sean Meister

Russia has called in fighters from Syria and Wagner so what’s the difference?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 months ago
Reply to  Sean Meister

You try living next door to Russia. My friends in Estonia are genuinely frightened of Putin.

Andrew F
Andrew F
3 months ago
Reply to  Sean Meister

Article does not say that Czech citizens are training to fight in Ukraine.
They are getting weapons training and signing up for sort of Home Guard.