PULASKI COMMENTARY: Czech Republic’s Strategic Partnership with Ukraine: Lessons Learned and the Path Forward (Tomáš Dvořák and Pavel Havlíček)

PULASKI COMMENTARY: Czech Republic’s Strategic Partnership with Ukraine: Lessons Learned and the Path Forward (Tomáš Dvořák and Pavel Havlíček)

Enhancing Defence Cooperation

The recent announcement of the Czech Republic’s ongoing military assistance to Ukraine highlights the growing importance of defence cooperation between the two countries.

With a new commitment of up to 700 million CZK (around 30 million EUR), the aid package will support Ukraine primarily with the infantry fighting vehicles BMP-2, modernised T-72 tanks1, large-calibre ammunition, electronic warfare and ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) and mobile anti-drone air defence2. Another form of assistance focuses, among other things, on the training of specialized military personnel3.

This support is discussed and coordinated with the Ukrainian side on a weekly basis and is implemented by combining military donations, government funds, crowdfunding, and commercial supplies to maximize its impact. All of these efforts demonstrate the Czech Republic’s commitment to promoting regional stability and countering Russian aggression.

As the conflict in eastern Ukraine persists and security challenges remain high, cooperation between Ukraine and Czechia in the defence sector is more important than ever. The Czech production capacity in air defence and ammunition, presents an opportunity for collaboration.

The Ministry of Defence has stated that assistance in this area is actively being promoted, and discussions are underway to create a joint Czech-Ukrainian production cluster. The possibility of the delivery of private sector companies is also being explored, expedited by the Czech state.

Such collaboration would not only benefit the two countries involved but could also have wider positive security implications for the region. The current aid package is a clear example of the Czech commitment to strengthening its partnership with Ukraine.

Infrastructure and education investments fuel economic development

By joining the EU in 2004, the Czech Republic benefited from the EU’s political stability, which helped to strengthen democracy, economy and the rule of law. For Ukraine, pursuing closer ties with the EU could offer similar benefits, but first it needs to overcome some of the deep structural challenges.

Among the most important seems to be the current Ukrainian economic situation, and pre-war investment concentrated mostly around Kyiv and the richer regional capitals.

Before the EU accession, the Czech Republic faced similar challenges, the lessons learned can be transferred at least partly, namely, by the focus on infrastructure development, education and training, entrepreneurship at local and regional level, use of funds strategically, addressing corruption and political instability.

The Czech Republic recognized the importance of investing in infrastructure to attract investment in poorer regions. By improving roads, rail links, and other infrastructure, the country was able to make it easier for businesses to transport goods and access markets. This helped to spur economic development in these areas.4

Alongside infrastructure investments, the Czech Republic made substantial efforts in education and training programs to cultivate a proficient workforce and extend support to small businesses. These initiatives proved instrumental in tackling the scarcity of skilled labour and fostering a favourable small business environment in economically disadvantaged regions, thereby enhancing their appeal to potential investors.5

By providing access to financing, training, and other support, the country was able to help SMEs to grow and create jobs. Ukraine can draw valuable lessons from this experience as it seeks to address its own structural challenges and pursue closer ties with the EU.

Czech leading role in the CEE

In several respects, Czechia has been among the leading voices supporting Ukraine in its post-war reconstruction as well as modernisation and adoption to the EU’s standards along the lines of building back better.

On 11 January, the Government appointed a new special envoy for reconstruction of Ukraine, Tomáš Kopečný, who has been instrumental in putting Czechia on a map of actors serious about Ukraine’s success.

He could already benefit from the overly beneficial picture of Czechia in Ukraine, which has been established over 2022 thanks to the government’s commitment and leadership in backing the country at war.

The Czech PM Petr Fiala has been in the first delegation of European politicians visiting the besieged Kyiv together with his Polish and Slovenian counterparts. And the Czech government visited Kyiv again in the autumn when conducting a series of bilateral meetings, first of this kind among the European nations.

In addition, in autumn, the government designed and approved a flexible financial program for humanitarian, stabilisation and reconstruction needs of Ukraine, which over the period of three years is supposed to deliver 1.5 billion CZK, around 60 million USD until 2025.

Even if not so significant in the overall number, Czechia showed the example that similar activities are possible, similarly in the military area, with Czech tanks, helicopters or artillery being delivered to the Ukrainian partners as one of the first from among the EU member states.

However, the challenges keep being paramount, which is why the Czechs not only started looking for additional help and internationalisation of the support, including during their Council of the European Union Presidency, but also invested heavily in bilateral development of mutual relations.

This is key also for sharing their know-how on the process of enlargement, conducting reforms and transforming the country, for which it has particularly well-designed programmes, including the Transitions operated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responsible for sharing the country’s experience from transforming into liberal democracy and market economy. This could be particularly of value in the area of judiciary, anti-corruption or media, which Czechia has strong and positive experience with.

What is also significant is the knowledge of the enlargement process, through which Czechia together with other CEE countries went through during 1990s and early 2000s, and with which Ukraine has been struggling when trying to adapt to the EU’s acquis.

Finally, Czechia has been one of the leading voices supporting Ukraine on its Euro-Atlantic path, which has been articulated by Czech politicians and government representatives again in the run up to the NATO Summit in Vilnius.

That’s why it is important not only to provide Ukraine with the robust enough security guarantees against Russia in the future, but also for its own sake when finally realising that it needs to also contribute to the collective security and protection of the eastern flank of the EU and NATO.

Author: Tomáš Dvořák and Pavel Havlíček

1 As part of a trilateral project involving the United States and the Netherlands, a total of ninety tanks are presently being delivered. Data: Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic.

2 As a collaborative venture with the Netherlands, the project will entail the utilization of adapted Toyota off-road vehicles outfitted with a pair of rapid-fire machine guns designated as Viktor. Data: Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic.

3 Mainly as a part of the EU Military Assistance Mission in support of Ukraine (EUMAM)

4 Thanks to the modernization of transit railway corridors funded by the EU, the travel time for long-distance transportation in crucial domestic routes has been reduced by approximately 3 hours over the past 23 years. This significant improvement is attributed to the reconstruction of 1,045 kilometres of railway track. Data: Ministry of Regional Development CZ

5 Between 2007 and 2013 alone, 8,454 projects were funded to support small and medium-sized enterprises. Thanks to the support of European funds, 531 inventions and patents were registered and granted and 51 business incubators were created. Data: Ministry of Regional Development CZ