Bratislava, Slovakia – Former Prime Minister Robert Fico led a charge against Ukraine on Sunday, calling for Slovakia to stop all aid to its eastern neighbour.
“Ukrainians never helped us,” Fico said during a TV debate over the weekend. “Ukraine blatantly lied to us in 2009 when we needed gas, and the government of Julia Timoshenko did nothing,” he added in reference to the 2009 Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis.
Fico takes aim at Ukraine and Zelensky
Since the start of the Russian invasion, the controversial former Prime Minister, who stepped down in 2018 in the wake of journalist Jan Kuciak’s murder, has repeatedly downplayed Russia’s actions while attacking Ukraine and its Western allies.
Last week, Fico left the Slovak Parliament at the start of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to Slovak lawmakers, accusing him of “lying on a daily basis and harming the interests of Slovakia.”
Opposed to further EU sanctions against Moscow, Fico compared NATO forces being deployed in Slovakia to Nazi troops and insisted Slovakia should not provide military or financial help to besieged Ukraine.
Prime Minister Eduard Heger, on the contrary, has emerged as a key and vocal ally to the Ukrainian nation’s struggle, and last month visited Kyiv to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky as part of an EU delegation.
The Slovak government is however seeking an exemption – along with countries like Hungary and Bulgaria – from an EU embargo on Russian oil and gas imports.
Refugee crisis sows division in Central and Eastern Europe
Fico further suggested his Smer party would be open to forming a coalition with the far right and pro-Russian Republika movement, and recently called Slovakia’s liberal and pro-Western President Zuzana Caputova an “American whore.”
Fico was recently charged by Slovak prosecutors for creating a criminal group when he was Prime Minister from 2012 to 2018. While his former Interior Minister Robert Kalinak was also charged and taken into custody, Fico escaped arrest due to his parliamentary immunity.
Observers suggested Fico – as well as other populist figures across Central and Eastern Europe – could be trying to instrumentalise growing resentment towards Ukrainian refugees in the region, while tapping into strong anti-American and anti-NATO sentiment in Slovakia.
Nearly three months after the start of the war, over 6.2 million Ukrainians have fled the country to seek refuge mostly in neighbouring countries. Poland has welcomed more than half of them, with hundreds of thousands settling in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, and Romania.
Local officials and frontline volunteers across the region have long warned that a protracted refugee crisis would put an unsustainable strain on neighbouring countries and risk alienating local populations in the long run.