Slovak president suspends military aid to Ukraine

Slovak president suspends military aid to Ukraine
Slovakia has been one of the strongest supporter of Ukraine's defence against military aggression, being among the first countries to deliver anti-missile systems, offensive heavy weapons such as tanks, as well as military fighter jets. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews October 6, 2023

On the advice of President Zuzana Caputova, Slovakia's technocratic government has suspended the country's military aid to Ukraine pending the formation of a new government following last weekend's election,  won by Robert Fico's populist leftist Smer party, which campaigned against further military support to Kyiv.

Slovakia has been one of the strongest supporter of Ukraine's defence against military aggression, being among the first countries to deliver anti-missile systems (the S-300), offensive heavy weapons such as T-72 tanks, as well as the MiG-29 fighter jets. 

However, Smer made Ukraine an issue in the election campaign, arguing that the aid merely prolonged the war, and calling for peace talks now. Fico, a former Communist party member who has often parroted Kremlin talking points, built on longstanding Slovak affinity for Russia, which is reflected in opinion polls. Fico promised his voters “not a single more bullet for Ukraine.”   

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova, another strong supporter of Ukraine, said that, though she supported aid to Ukraine, the results of the election must be respected.  

Caputova’s spokesperson, Martin Strizinec, stated that the president agreed that “it is necessary to respect results of the elections and to wait for the outcome of the talks on the new government going on these days”.

Some political leaders, including leftist Hlas party leader Peter Pellegrini, who is the kingmaker after the election, have argued that Slovakia has nothing else to give to Ukraine as it has largely depleted its stocks already. 

“I think it [military stocks] won’t be a subject of political debates in Slovakia anymore,” Pellegrini told media on Sunday, October 1.

However, following Wednesday’s cabinet session, the country's technocratic Minister of Defence, Martin Sklenar, said "our forces have a large amount of equipment and armour, which any government could consider as a form of support of Ukraine”.  The next round of aid could include ammunition for tanks T-72 and other ammunition, daily DennikN stated.  

On Monday, October 2, Fico was given two weeks to form a new cabinet and is in talks with his former party and cabinet colleague Pellegrini, who came third with his breakaway Hlas party.

Smer and Hlas would need either ultranationalist SNS or the Christian democrat KDH to form a majority-backed coalition.

“We have not yet reached a point in which I, as a [party] chairman, together with deputies, would propose to enter into a coalition with Smer,” Pellegrini told media on Thursday, October 5, adding that such a discussion is not anywhere close to reaching such coalition agreement.

Pellegrini did not rule out the option of entering into coalition with second-placed liberal party Progressive Slovakia, KDH and neoliberal SaS. He signalled that in either case, Hlas would want several ministries and possibly also the post of prime minister for Pellegrini.

Fears abound that Fico and SNS would pursue their tough rhetoric on military aid for Ukraine also while in the government, but local analysts argue that with Pellegrini in the coalition, the rhetoric would be toned down.

“Fico won’t be able to form the government without Pellegrini,” Senior Fellow at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association Alexander Duleba told bne Intellinews. “If he [Fico] forms it [government] with Pellegrini, his real policy will be different than the pre-election rhetoric,” Duleba added.

Duleba reiterated that “Fico won’t stop the business cooperation with Ukraine in military area” such as the ammunition production and export to Ukraine.        

Caputova appointed a technocratic cabinet led by Ludovit Odor in May as the previous interim cabinet of Eduard Heger collapsed amid a wave of cabinet members' resignations. Odor’s cabinet did not win backing in the parliament in June.

Caputova has since then faced criticism from Fico and other opponents of military aid to Ukraine, who have been arguing that a technocratic cabinet should not be passing decisions over the country’s military aid.