Defence minister Lubomir Galko announced today that the 200 or so Slovak peacekeeping troops based in Cyprus as part of the UNFICYP mission should be withdrawn.
Galko will put his motion to the government with the justification that based on a strategic analysis the future benefit of having the Slovak armed forces based there is minimal, as the skills and experience gained by the soldiers is incomparable to EU and NATO missions, for instance.
Galko feels that having 200 peacekeepers in such a small country is senseless, and he also thinks that the ten years the permanent mission has been present there is more than long enough. He backed his argument by saying how Hungary had just 88 soldiers there, Poland only 15 and the Czech Republic a mere 10 soldiers there, while all the countries have much bigger populations than Slovakia.
Another argument put forward by Galko was the actual costs of having the soldiers based in Cyprus, which came to EUR 8.6 million last year alone (the UN reimbursed EUR 3.4 million of this). Minister Galko said he was aware of the importance of the mission in Cyprus, but with a tight budget the department of defence could not afford it. He would have nothing against having soldiers there if money were found outside his department.
Galko wants Slovakia to concentrate its military presence more on the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and the ALTHEA mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, part of which Slovakia now commands. Foreign affairs minister Mikulas Dzurinda reacted to Galko’s statements, saying they were inappropriate and amateurish.
Galko’s demands come as speaker of the Cyprus parliament, Marios Garoyian, is on an official visit to Slovakia to rally support for Cyprus’ demands for EU support. Earlier in the week Garoyian expressed his gratitude for Slovakia’s military presence in his country, but maybe he spoke too soon.