The unity of the Western position in confronting Russia is threatened

The unity of the Western position in confronting Russia is threatened
The unity of the Western position in confronting Russia is threatened

Governance crisis in Slovakia: The unity of the Western position in confronting Russia is threatened

The Slovak Republic has been experiencing, for many months, a governance crisis worrying the West. The coalition government headed by Edward Heger collapsed, after Parliament passed a vote of confidence in it last December 15, by a majority vote (75 out of 150 deputies voted in favor of no-confidence), so Heger (47 years) remained at the head of a caretaker government, from which he submitted his resignation. Finally, as the country prepares for early elections.

And the President of Slovakia, Susanna Caputova, decided to go to early elections next September 30 instead of February 2024, knowing that parties sympathetic to the Kremlin, and benefiting from the decline in the economy and the high cost of life, may be able to lead the scene again.

Heger’s government collapsed last December, due to disagreements between the parties in it, and after the liberal “SAS” party (the Freedom and Solidarity Party that withdrew from the government last September) joined the leftist opposition with a request of no confidence in Heger’s government, which was behind Igor Matovic. Chairman of the powerful Olano (Ordinary Citizens – centre-right) party within the coalition, in 2021 (Matović became Minister of Finance in Heger’s government after 2021).

Finally, the crisis worsened, with Heger’s request, on May 7, of the country’s president to relieve him of his duties, with successive ministers in his caretaker government stepping down, the latest of which was Foreign Minister Rastislav Kaeser.

This crisis, which has been going on for months in Slovakia, has become worrying the West at a very sensitive time when it is engaged in an indirect confrontation with Russia, whether in Ukraine or at the level of sanctions.

Economic crises and corruption in Slovakia

Slovakia (a member of the European Union and NATO) has been experiencing major and successive political crises for years at the level of governance, with the European Union accusing this small country in central Europe, which joined the union since 2003, of being unable to combat corruption and the influence of the business and finance alliance class. , and the fight against an oligarch (a minority of businessmen and money that enjoys political influence) accused of practicing violence to reach its goals.

The European Union accuses Slovakia of being unable to combat corruption and the influence of the business and financial alliance class

Against the background of corruption, Heger finally resigned, leaving his position to the deputy governor of the Slovak Central Bank, Ludovit Odor (46 years old), after discussions broke out in Bratislava about corruption scandals, and leaked recordings of agreements between the oligarch class and politicians.

In this context, the assassination of young journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, by a hired killer in 2018 returned to the fore, during Kuciak’s investigative work on what was later called the “Gorilla” scandal, in which politicians, officials, and businessmen were accused of receiving and paying bribes to secure contracts.

Europe, which closely watched the economic “boom” in Slovakia, remained apprehensive about the tendencies of the political class in this country, some of which are accused of maintaining an alliance of corruption and oligarchy, since its separation from the Czech Republic (on January 1, 1993), with which it previously formed the state of Czechoslovakia. In the Eastern Bloc (and has been in the Soviet orbit since the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968). 

Going back a bit in the chapters of the current crisis, former Prime Minister Robert Fico, of the “Smir” party, was forced to resign from his post, in 2018, on the impact of the mass demonstrations that took place in the country after the killing of the journalist Kuciak, and the accusation of the Fico coalition Standing behind the assassination and the latter’s relationship with the rampant corruption in the country.

Some politicians in Slovakia sympathize with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including Fico, who is accused of corruption and of having benefited from the confusion of the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall to establish a network of interests, in cooperation with the ruling men in the Russian Kremlin.

The recent political crisis and disagreements between the poles of Heger’s government, who has Western leanings in Bratislava (withdrew at the beginning of this year from the Olano party and established a new party, the Democrats), especially disagreements with some ministers close to him following the outbreak of a new scandal related to European Union funds and the interests of some private companies, prompted He stepped down from the scene, after describing what his country is going through as an expression of a “dangerous, chaotic crisis.”

The law no longer allows a man to patch up his government with new ministers, replacing the ministers of agriculture and foreign affairs who resigned on suspicion of corruption and money manipulation. Several media reports spoke of Heger’s start, before stepping down, to prepare for the upcoming elections.

The war in Ukraine has added to Slovakia’s woes, with soaring inflation and calls for a return to cheap Russian energy supplies

The war in Ukraine exacerbated the suffering of Slovakia, as inflation recorded the highest European rates last February, by more than 15 percent. Under the weight of the living crisis and Kiev’s continued support, political voices have risen, supported by popular protests since last fall, calling for a return to cheap Russian energy supplies and non-compliance with European sanctions.

For the Europeans, the danger of Slovakia going after the upcoming elections to a new turn, far from the West, is also linked to other European cases, such as Hungary and western and northern European powers, which have begun to show their dissatisfaction with the price paid by their countries in the context of Western sanctions on Moscow, and the continued support of Kiev financially. And militarily.

Thus, the upcoming (early) elections are supposed to be a test of the unity of the European Union’s positions, and whether they will cause a rift in the alliance that has existed since February 24, 2022, the date of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and this includes working under the umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Slovakia is a member. After politicians in this country expressed their desire to stop supplying weapons to Ukraine through their country.

Although the specter of corruption and the murder of journalist Kuciak haunted the party of former prime minister Fico, the discontent in the street presented another opportunity for the party to play the card of the financial-economic crisis, and to present the Samir party as a savior for the country.

This is in addition to the fact that opinion polls give him and the “Hallas” party, which was founded by dissidents from “Smir”, about 17 percent each, which opens the way for a ruling coalition led by Fico and his ally from “Hallas”, Peter Pellegrini, with the support of small parties. , including left-wing critics of the West.

A test of the unity of the positions of Europe and NATO

The upcoming elections in Slovakia will be a test for the European Union and the unity of its policy towards Russia. The outcome in Slovakia will be closely watched by Washington and NATO, as fears grow of a crack in the pro-Ukraine alliance.

Although Slovakia is a small country of about 5 million people, it was actively involved in providing Kiev with Soviet-era weapons systems, including S-300 missile systems, amphibious fighting vehicles and about 13 MiG-29 fighters.

Bratislava recently pledged to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to hand over 30 T-72 tanks to Kiev. In addition, since last February, Slovakia has been hosting for free German “Mantis” air defense systems, under the pretext of “protecting the eastern border” bordering Ukraine, with a length of about 100 kilometers.

Slovak Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad acknowledged that these systems will remain permanently in his country. This, of course, is again another blow to the desires of the Russians to keep the specter of “Atlantic” weapons away from them, as the alliance is strengthening the deployment of its weapons near Russia, from Finland to the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and eastern and southeastern European continent, which undermines Putin’s demands to return to what was. The situation was before NATO’s eastward expansion, which, of course, was rejected by the alliance’s axis.

Even if Slovakia’s contribution to the war effort in Ukraine seems to be much less than Poland and the Baltic states, as the largest contributors on the continent level compared to the size of their countries and the gross domestic product, the country has great importance in the path of Western weapons flowing to Ukraine.

For example, Britain recently sent through Slovakia a batch of self-propelled howitzers, and the country hosts German armor repair workshops and Ukrainian weapons.

Under the Czech leadership, Slovakia hosts a new multinational NATO combat group that includes about a thousand soldiers, in addition to the transformation of this country in recent years into a major incubator for German industries, including heavy ones, thanks to the quality and cheapness of labor.

Practically, what worries the Western alliance is that at the European level, concern is escalating that Slovakia will form a government after the elections that will repeat the scene of the current confrontation between Hungary led by the far-right nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, and the institutions of the European Union, or at the level of NATO alliances in the face of Russia. .

Fico promised voters that if he wins the election, he will stop the flow of arms to Ukraine

The former Prime Minister Fico, who is strongly returning to competition, does not hide his positions rejecting the Western alliance, nor does he hide his closeness to Russia. The 58-year-old man headed a government from 2006 to 2010, then returned from 2012 to 2018, with controversial positions regarding his relationship with the Kremlin, and regarding NATO forces, especially German ones, as “Nazis”, and he was accused, after the Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of semi-autonomous Crimea in 2014, the leadership in Kiev as “fascist”, and responsible for the Donbass war.

Fico recently reaffirmed these positions, when he promised crisis-ridden voters that if he won the election, he would stop the flow of arms to Ukraine. He even pledged to veto European sanctions on Russia. He also blamed the European Union for the disruption of gas and oil supplies from Russia. And those positions he shares with Orban, which expands the European fear of the formation of an alliance of countries inconsistent with the policies of Brussels.

Hard rhetoric about Ukrainian refugees

The issue of refugees also stands out in this crisis, after the Slovak political forces took a hard line in 2015 towards refugees, and they have now begun, with the efforts of the “Smir” and Fico party to restore power, to charge the street against about 115,000 refugees from Ukraine, blaming them for the economic crisis in Ukraine. country.

These campaigns chime with polls showing growing anti-Ukrainian sentiment. A survey conducted last March by the European Eurobarometer showed that 44 percent of Slovaks believe that Ukrainian refugees have made their country a worse place to live in, and 57 percent of them blame Ukrainians for weakening their economy.

In the end, if Slovakia goes to vote for parties close to Moscow, and Fico returns to power, this could once again pose a real challenge in the relationship between the “old Europe” and the new one.

The insistence of politicians at the level of Hungarian Prime Minister Orban not to adhere to strict sanctions policies against Russia will, with Slovakia’s accession to him, widen the scope of those who reject confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe.

It is true that the President of Slovakia is today a liberal, pro-Western lady (Cabotova – elected in 2019), and she is known for her fight against corruption, as in this country there are parties that tend to keep heading west, but nothing is guaranteed in politics. Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania to a certain extent are accused of pursuing conservative nationalist policies that run counter to the foundations of membership in the European liberal club.

In addition, the political and economic crises, and the expansion of anti-Western rhetoric, are ultimately in the interest of Russia, albeit in the short term. Note that the Russian discourse against the West resonates in countries in the Balkans, such as Serbia, and in the countries of western and northern Europe, with ultra-nationalist parties and a hard-line traditional left that is skeptical of Western policies, not only regarding the Ukrainian issue and its increasing cost, but in general in facing the European cost of the alliance. With Washington’s policies, whether it is related to Russia or China, and other issues that worry some of the streets of the old continent.

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