Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has found an ally in a neighbouring country.
On 25 October, a new government was sworn in in Slovakia, headed by the leader of the Smer-SD party, Robert Fico. This will be Fico’s fourth term as prime minister. The new coalition includes, in addition to Smer-SD, another openly pro-Russian party, the Slovak National Party, and the moderate pro-Western Voice.
Fico's election as prime minister poses a risk for Ukraine (as he promises to halt military assistance for Kyiv) and for the EU (as he supports Orbán in "protecting the sovereignty" of European countries from Brussels' demands). However, even in light of the above, one may have expected that the new government would not be inclined to engage in conflict.
But not this time – the cabinet appointments suggest the opposite.
Key ministerial positions in this government have been given to individuals known for their criticism of EU policies, including those relating to Ukraine. To what extent will Slovak policy change? Are there members of the new government who prefer to maintain constructive relations with Ukraine?
President Makes Concessions
The most surprising and disappointing outcome was the final decision taken by President Zuzana Čaputová. The list of candidates for ministerial positions had been submitted to her the previous week. She promised to use her veto power to prevent the appointment of those who could not perform their ministerial duties.
Later, it became known that Fico planned to nominate Juraj Blanár, a politician from his inner circle known for openly anti-Ukrainian statements, as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The question arose: would President Čaputová veto all these appointments, or only some of them?
However, almost no one expected the final outcome – she approved all the proposed candidates, except for the candidate for Minister of the Environment, Rudolf Huliak. This was surprising, as most experts believed that candidates who currently face charges or are under investigation (primarily, Robert Kaliňák) would also be vetoed.
Rudolf Huliak had made a series of scandalous statements, such as that his first official visit would be to Moscow to apologise for supplying weapons to Ukraine. He also announced his country's exit from the EU and NATO.
Simultaneously, the Slovak National Party, which nominated Huliak to this position, organised massive rallies in his support in front of the presidential palace. Huliak's controversial statements became a sort of diversion – by agreeing to withdraw his candidacy, the new coalition obtained President Čaputová's approval for the other appointments. This marked Robert Fico's first significant victory after the parliamentary election.
Ukraine: Between Bad and Worse
"I am looking forward to the new government's work. The thing is, Fico announced that only the supply of weapons would be frozen, while humanitarian aid projects and participation in Ukraine's reconstruction would continue. We have interesting ideas about this, and we will see if the new government sticks to these promises," said Alexander Duleba, a senior fellow at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association.
So, what should Ukraine expect from Fico's government?
All Slovak ministries that are important from Kyiv's perspective have gone to members of Smer-SD. Given the current grain crisis, the Ministry of Agriculture becomes particularly important. Its head, Richard Takáč, also appointed from the Smer-SD party, has promised to make the EU review its agricultural policy. Therefore, it is likely that the compromise reached between Ukraine and Slovakia regarding grain and other agricultural exports will be cancelled by the new government.
However, it is the persons who hold the posts of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence that are of utmost importance for Ukraine.
The Ministry of Defence will be led by Robert Kaliňák, who in Fico's previous government was the Deputy Prime Minister and also headed the Ministry of the Interior. Under the quota system for the allocation of portfolios, the post of Minister of the Interior went to the Voice party; however, for Fico, it seemed important to appoint Kaliňák [to a cabinet post – ed.].
His appointment is, in part, a response to his opponents, as Fico deliberately ignores the fact that Kaliňák is a subject of several investigations related to his previous government posts. "He does not have any bias against Ukraine, which is common among many Smer party members. He is a pragmatist, and most importantly, he is interested in favourable relations with the US. This makes us think that he will not suspend arms transfers and that contracts for the sale of weapons to the Ukrainian Armed Forces will be maintained," a high-ranking Slovak official explained anonymously.
The post of Minister of Foreign Affairs was assigned to the openly anti-Ukrainian Juraj Blanár. Previously, Fico had tended to appoint a career diplomat to this position, and this step was seen as an unwillingness to confront the European institutions. The appointment of Blanár indicates that Fico plans, from the first days of his government, to enter into conflict with Brussels and, of course, with Kyiv.
However, there is a chance that the worst-case scenario can be avoided. An person interviewed by European Pravda underlines the appointment of Marek Eštok as the Deputy Foreign Minister – a professional diplomat who has also worked at the embassy in Ukraine.
"Blanár's previous statements were terrible, but we cannot rule out that, given his lack of diplomatic experience, he will rely on his deputy. The important thing here is that this deputy is Eštok, who knows your country and clearly understands who the aggressor is and who the victim," explains a Slovak official.
Nonetheless, one should not place too much hope in this happening.
Much depends on whether Blanár will appoint his advisor, Eduard Chmelár, a neo-Trotskyist political scientist who praises Putin and hates the West and Ukraine.
Government of Vengeance
"You will hear the Slovak voice from the Slovak government and ministries; you will see the implementation of Slovakia's sovereign foreign policy, you will see professional work," Robert Fico announced at the first meeting of his new government.
There are no great expectations of economic success from the new government. After all, this is Fico's fourth term as prime minister, so one can look at his previous terms to predict how his new government will work.
We can identify two main goals of his prime ministership: to close criminal cases against Fico's subordinates (which eventually would have resulted in charges against him as well) and to seek revenge for his previous humiliating dismissal as prime minister (he resigned due to massive protests triggered by the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak).
To carry out this vengeance, he entered into a coalition that resulted in his party being expelled from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats – an alliance of left-wing forces in the European Parliament, membership in which gave Fico political respectability.
And now, when there is nothing left to lose, the new head of the Slovak government is returning to power those who have been accused of various crimes. He often does this deliberately, simply to demonstrate his new capabilities to Slovak society.
The priorities of the new government's work will not be economic reforms, but rather a fight against the judiciary, freedom of speech, and civil society organisations –
all of which reforms Viktor Orbán successfully implemented in Hungary.
"Fico has returned to power to take revenge on the civil sector, through which he lost his premiership last time. To prevent the European Commission from interfering with these changes in the country, he will blackmail it with his country’s veto rights, including on issues relating to support for Ukraine," predicts Alexander Duleba.
European Pravda, editor