(Reuters) – At the start of this week, while the European Union’s major powers were keeping up the pressure on the Kremlin over its intervention in Ukraine, Miroslav Lajcak, the foreign minister of EU member Slovakia, headed to Moscow.
There, without fanfare, he met Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister who days earlier had threatened to fly over a NATO state in a bomber jet and who under EU sanctions is banned from entering any country in the bloc.
The meeting with Rogozin came several weeks after Slovak diplomats in Brussels had tried and failed to have Rogozin’s name kept off the EU’s sanctions list, three EU diplomats told Reuters, though the Slovak government has disputed that account.
This special relationship with Rogozin is part of an awkward balancing act by Slovakia: preserving the economic benefits of being close to Russia while also belonging to a European Union set on punishing the Kremlin for annexing Ukrainian territory.
Slovakia is not the only country with torn loyalties: EU diplomats say Cyprus, Bulgaria and Hungary are particularly ambivalent about the bloc’s tough line on Russia over Ukraine.