Slovakia’s new populist Prime Minister Robert Fico said Thursday that he “informed” the European Union’s executive of his decision to stop military aid to Ukraine, the first such Western reversal of backing for Kyiv.
On Thursday, Fico said he had spoken to the head of the European Commission about his government’s move at a meeting before the bloc’s summit in Brussels.
In a Facebook post, Fico said Ursula von der Leyen respected “the sovereign right of member countries to support Ukraine militarily or not, and she appreciated our position on humanitarian aid.”
Earlier on Thursday, Fico told MPs that the country would “no longer supply weapons to Ukraine”, but would still supply humanitarian aid to its war-torn neighbour.
“I will support zero military aid to Ukraine… An immediate halt to military operations is the best solution we have for Ukraine. The EU should change from an arms supplier to a peacemaker,” he added.
Russia immediately dismissed the impact Slovakia’s decision to halt military aid to Ukraine would have on the 20-month-old conflict.
“Slovakia did not have such a big share in the supply of weapons, so it will hardly affect the entire process,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, when asked about Bratislava’s decision.
Asked by AFP for a reaction on the decision, the foreign ministry of Ukraine declined to comment.
Bratislava’s previous pro-Western government had shown strong support for Ukraine.
The Central European country of 5.4 million people was notably the first NATO nation to deliver fighter jets to its war-torn neighbour.
According to the German-based Kiel Institute, Slovakia had pledged 680 million euros in total government support to Ukraine through July 2023.
That puts Slovakia among the countries with the largest government support to Ukraine by GDP (0.65 percent), behind Norway, the Baltic states, Denmark and Poland.
– Symbolic value –
However, Fico’s party won last month’s general vote on pledges to end military help for Ukraine, raising concerns about cracks in Western support for Kyiv.
Slovak political scientist Branislav Kovacik told AFP that Ukraine “will not miss the volume (of aid) provided by Slovakia” but added that “any loss in unity and support has symbolic meaning”.
Ukraine’s once close ties with fellow neighbour Poland have also recently plunged.
Following his party’s victory, Fico said, “the people in Slovakia have bigger problems than (dealing with) Ukraine” and called for peace talks as “further killing will not help anyone”.
In the run-up to last month’s Polish general election, Warsaw said it would restrict arms deliveries to Kyiv as it needed to build up its own army.
A very public diplomatic row ensued, with Polish President Andrzej Duda comparing Ukraine to a “drowning man” who risked dragging his rescuers into the water.
Speaking at the UN at the time, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of some EU countries “feigning solidarity” and thereby “indirectly supporting Russia”.
Fico also expressed opposition to sanctions against Russia.
“I will not vote for any sanctions against Russia unless we see analyses of their impact on Slovakia,” he said.
“If there are to be such sanctions that will harm us, like most sanctions have, I can see no reason to support them.”
– Shaking hands with Putin –
Fico spoke a day after his three-party coalition government was appointed.
It includes Fico’s left-wing Smer-SD, the far-right and pro-Russia SNS, and Hlas-SD, a breakaway party from Smer.
SNS shares Fico’s staunch anti-refugee stance and populist leanings.
Its pro-Russian chairman and former parliamentary speaker Andrej Danko said in July that Russian-occupied territories were not “historically Ukrainian”.
He is infamous for shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin, taking a selfie with Russian State Duma Chair Vyacheslav Volodin, and addressing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as “my dear friend”.
Slovakia is one of the most pro-Russian countries in the European Union, according to the Bratislava-based Globsec think tank.
“Respondents’ belief that Russia was responsible for the war in Ukraine stood at only 40 percent, with most falling prey to disinformation narratives, blaming Ukraine or the West,” it said in a 2023 report.
By contrast 71 percent of respondents in the Czech Republic blamed Russia for the conflict.