(Bratislava) The parliamentary elections in Slovakia at the end of September could see this EU member country change course on Ukraine, analysts say, with polls suggesting victory for the party of Robert Fico, a populist favorable to the Kremlin.
So far, the pro-Western government in Bratislava has demonstrated strong support for its eastern neighbor Ukraine which is fighting a Russian invasion.
Slovakia, a Central European country of 5.4 million inhabitants, was notably the first NATO member to deliver combat planes to Kyiv – Soviet-designed MiG-29s.
However, polls indicate that the early elections of September 30 will be won by Robert Fico’s Smer-SD, which does not hesitate to make comments repeating the official rhetoric of the Kremlin.
“The war in Ukraine began in 2014 when Ukrainian fascists killed civilian victims of Russian nationality,” he said in a video, repeating Russian claims.
Mr. Fico, who also pledged to “immediately cease all deliveries of military aid to Ukraine”, opposes Kyiv’s candidacy for NATO and denounces EU sanctions against Russia.
“I do not exclude pro-Russian changes in the direction of our foreign policy if Smer-SD manages to form a government,” political analyst Juraj Marusiaka told AFP, adding that in this case Slovakia could get closer to Hungary, whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban is the leader most favorable to the Kremlin within NATO.
If Mr. Fico becomes prime minister, it will be a return to the political scene, as the 58-year-old previously held the position before falling from grace.
Prime minister between 2012 and 2018, Mr. Fico was ousted by anti-government protests that erupted after the assassination of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée.
The journalist was investigating the murky ties between businessmen, politicians and other high-ranking officials.
The opposition then won the 2020 legislative elections, giving birth to an anti-corruption government that demonstrated unwavering solidarity with Ukraine.
However, infighting within the coalition led to the fall of the government last year and early elections.
Smer-SD is now leading the polls with 20% of the vote despite accusations of corruption, Mr. Fico and his interior minister having been indicted last year for forming an organized criminal group.
Led by Michal Simecka, vice-president of the European Parliament, the liberal Progressive Slovakia party came in second with 15% of the vote.
The left-wing Hlas-SD party of Mr. Fico’s former ally, Peter Pellegrini, is third with 14%.
Mr Fico did not rule out the possibility of a post-election coalition deal with the far-right Republic party, which currently occupies fourth place with 8%.
Political unrest and infighting have exhausted many voters who now lean towards parties such as Smer-SD and République.
Mr. Fico’s rhetoric against Ukraine also resonates with his fellow citizens. Slovakia is one of the most pro-Russian countries in the EU, according to the Globsec think tank.
“The rate of respondents who believe that Russia is responsible for the war in Ukraine is only 40%”, compared to 85% in Poland and 71% in the Czech Republic, we can read in its 2023 report.
“Most (of the others) fall prey to disinformation, blaming Ukraine or the West,” Globsec adds.
Russophile has a long history in Slovakia, according to Veronika Golianova, an expert on hybrid threats and conspiracy theories.
“It dates back to the 19e century, at the beginning of the building of the Slovak nation during the time of Austria-Hungary,” she said.
“By emphasizing belonging to Slavic nations, nationalists distinguished themselves from Hungarians and Germans, while Russia was idealized as protector of all Slavs,” according to her.
According to political analyst Grigorij Meseznikov, there is also a “nostalgia for the communist regime”, as “many Slovaks believe they had a better life during the Soviet era”.
This makes the country a fertile ground for disinformation networks that spread fake news and pro-Kremlin speech.
“Up to 20% of Slovak Telegram’s content comes directly from Russian-language sources,” the majority of which is propaganda, says Daniel Milo of the Interior Ministry’s Center for Combating Hybrid Threats.
“For Russia and Russian propaganda, Slovakia is relatively easy prey,” emphasizes Mr. Meseznikov.