Hello and welcome back for another briefing from MapInfluenCE! 

In review from the busy weeks of February: V4 countries consider Chinese and Russian vaccines, European foreign ministers discuss Russia’s recent actions, Hong Kong police fail to purchase weapons from Czechia, the fight over the Dukovany nuclear power plant enters another stage, and much more.

Leaders of the V4 countries have pledged their willingness to support the rollout of coronavirus vaccines regardless of geopolitics at the grouping’s meeting in Krakow. However, there is no escaping political concerns, even on this issue of public health.

After visiting Hungary to learn from its experience with Chinese and Russian vaccines, Czech Prime Minister Babiš embarked on a similar mission to Serbia. Babiš has made a series of contradictory statements on the use of vaccines not yet approved by the European regulator EMA, but as of now it seems that Czechia will not, in fact, go the “Hungarian way”. Still, the office of the Czech President is reportedly busy making use of its contacts in Russia to acquire the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

As a new paper by MapInfluenCE project leader Ivana Karásková and Veronika Blablová shows, the debate so far in the Czech Republic has largely focused on Sputnik V, while Chinese vaccines have not been debated as a serious option. This may soon change, however, as China’s trusted interlocutor and well-connected businessman Jaroslav Tvrdík says he might become involved in acquiring the vaccine from China. This comes after China‘s Xi offered Chinese vaccines to CEE nations at the 17+1 summit earlier this month.

In Slovakia, embattled Prime Minister Igor Matovič caused a stir with his commitment to circumvent the EU authorization process and secure Sputnik V vaccine for the country, despite objections from the ruling coalition partners. Matovič claims that Sputnik V’s use would boost the willingness of the Slovak population to take the jab and accuses his critics of politicizing the issue. However, in Slovakia and beyond, the actual capacity of Russia to deliver Sputnik V in the promised quantities is in serious doubt.

Meanwhile, Hungary has become the first EU country to approve the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, as  planes with Russian and Chinese vaccines are now landing in Budapest and Prime Minister Orbán forges ahead in his unique vaccination campaign. As of now, the most muted debate is in Poland, where the government seems content to wait for the European regulator.

  • The EU charts new course on Russia policy. The EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting featured Russia and EU eastern policy prominently on the agenda. The EU foreign ministers gave a green light to prepare sanctions against several regime officials connected to the arrest and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny. For the first time, the EU will be making active use of its global sanctions mechanism targeting human rights violations. The Council meeting was also important in terms of designing the future EU course of action on Russia, which will be guided by containment of Russian disinformation and cyber warfare, punishment for dereliction in areas of democracy, human rights and international commitments (such as the ECHR rulings on Navalny) and selective engagement based on EU strategic interests. The EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell also spoke about ongoing insolation of Russia and the increasingly authoritarian nature of the regime in the country. On the EU side, there is a clear change in rhetoric and preparation for the long-term rivalry with Moscow. In the upcoming weeks, more discussions on Russia are going to take place, culminating in a European Council on March 23, which will have Russia as one of the main items on the agenda once again. Yet, as argued by the foreign ministers of Poland and Ukraine in their joint op-ed, cancelling the Nord Stream 2 project would go much further in terms of making EU’s Russia policy work than any discussions.

  • No Czech firearms for the Hong Kong police. The Hong Kong-based Apple Daily informed about the alleged plans of the Hong Kong Police Force to acquire firearms from Czechia, specifically the arms manufacturer Česká Zbrojovka. According to the story, the Hong Kong Police Force had lost its traditional suppliers in the United States and elsewhere due to the international reaction to the last year’s imposition of the National Security Law in the special administrative region and was now looking for new suppliers. With low trust in Chinese-made firearms, Czech firearms seemed a viable alternative. However, in comments for the Czech media, the representatives of Česká Zbrojovka, as well as the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, rejected the idea that any deal was in process and denied that it was discussed in the first place. According to the Ministry, Czechia extended its arms embargo on China to also cover Hong Kong as a part of the EU coordinated response to developments in Hong Kong last summer. In 2019, some two million CZK of firearms were sold from Czechia to Hong Kong. The story, no matter the accuracy of the original reporting, shows that while the EU has often been criticized for inaction over Beijing’s transgression on Hong Kong’s autonomy, some of its actions have had real consequences.          
  • The battle for Dukovany rages on. The heated discussion about the construction of the Dukovany nuclear power plant in Czechia continues. In a special session of the Chamber of Deputies last Friday, the discussion about the low carbon energy transition law that provided also for the launch of the controversial tender was stalled by the intervention of opposition MPs. While the government made a concession to the opposition by vowing to exclude China from the tender a few weeks ago, Russia’s Rosatom would still be able to participate. This is deemed as an unacceptable security risk by the opposition and has also been warned against by the Czech security community. Prime Minister Babiš has recently largely avoided the issue and seemed willing to postpone the tender until after the October elections. However, Babiš faces pressure from his political ally President Miloša Zeman, adding intrigue to the issue. In a recent statement, the President's ‘expert team’ voiced its support for the opening of tender procedures without excluding any potential bidders. However, with the low carbon energy transition law hitting a law in the Parliament, the time is running out for the proponents of the tender.
  • In her piece for CEPA, Ivana Karásková argues that CEE nations can become a powerful ally for the Biden administration in confronting Beijing’s overtures on the continent (read here).

  • MapInfluenCE Russia research coordinator Pavel Havlíček argues in his piece for the German Marshall Fund that after High Representative Josep Borrell‘s trip to Russia, the EU’s foreign policy is in for a reckoning (read here).

  • The 17+1 was a flop for China‘s Xi, but it also showed that the CEE countries are not powerless when confronting Beijing, argues MapInfluenCE analyst Filip Šebok in a piece for our sister project CHOICE (read here).

  • The EU’s decision to conclude the CAI negotiations with China betrayed Brussel’s continued belief in the folly that it is possible to compartmentalize economic and political ties with Beijing, argues MapInfluenCE analyst Alicja Bachulska (read here).

  • Filip Šebok argued for a positive agenda in the Transatlantic approach towards China in the NATO2030 debate organized by the Atlantic Forum (watch here).
  • MapInfluenCE analyst Matej Šimalčík provides an in-depth analysis of the updated Slovak law on critical infrastructure for our sister project CHOICE. Matej finds the law  necessary to avoid risky foreign investment, but considers the law flawed in its current form (read here).

  • Fillip Šebok commented for Czech daily Aktuálně.cz that while scandal-burdened Czech MEP and head of the China-EU Friendship Group in the European Parliament Jan Zahradil may not be the most important Beijing’s interlocutor in Brussels, China still needs the likes of him to support the ratification of CAI (read here).

  • Filip Šebok commented on why China is welcome as a partner in the Balkans for the South China Morning Post (read here).

Do you like our newsletter? Is there something you would like us to improve or is there something we are missing? Hit us up with your suggestions. Feedback is always welcome!

Best regards

Filip Šebok
Project Manager of MapInfluenCE


Newsletter editor: Filip Šebok

Contributions from: Pavel Havlíček

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE








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