Thursday, February 22, 2024

Slovakia, a small Eastern European nation that has been in the forefront of sending arms to Ukraine, announces that it will halt all military aid to its embattled neighbor. This policy shift may not affect the balance of forces on the battlefield, but it does deliver a symbolic blow to Kyiv, especially as parts of Europe are growing weary after 20 months of war.

Robert Fico, Slovakia’s newly appointed prime minister, declared his support for nonmilitary aid to Ukraine but stated that he will not support any military assistance. This makes Slovakia the first country among those that have supplied weaponry to Kyiv since the outbreak of the war to suspend such aid. However, Slovakia’s commercial defense contracts with Ukraine for Slovak-made artillery and defense systems are expected to continue.

It remains unclear whether Slovakia will continue to serve as a transit route for weapons supplied by other Western countries. While Poland has been the primary transit country for such shipments, Slovakia has also been utilized to deliver weapons from the Czech Republic and other countries.

Mr. Fico, who visited Brussels for a summit of European leaders, chose not to speak to journalists. Ukrainian officials have not yet made any public comments regarding Mr. Fico’s announcement.

Mr. Fico, a former prime minister, won a narrow victory in recent general elections after promising not to provide any ammunition to Ukraine. His Smer party, which initially leaned left but later embraced right-wing views on immigration and cultural issues, aligned with pro-Russian forces during the campaign due to the remarkably pro-Ukrainian positions of his political rivals.

Slovakia was the first country to dispatch air-defense systems to Ukraine under a previous liberal and centrist government led by opponents of Mr. Fico. It also played a leading role, alongside Poland, in advocating for increased Western military assistance. However, Slovakia’s stock of expendable weapons and warplanes has been largely depleted by deliveries to Ukraine.

The Kremlin, which often highlights any signs of waning support for Kyiv, responded with unexpected restraint to Mr. Fico’s pledge, stating that Slovakia’s contribution to Ukraine’s arms supplies was relatively small and would have minimal impact on the overall process.

Slovakia previously sent S-300 air-defense missiles and some Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine, but these shipments have been overshadowed by what the United States and other countries have provided. From Moscow’s perspective, it is more important to watch whether Slovakia will join Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, in blocking European Union sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Orban recently met with President Vladimir V. Putin in China, breaking ranks with other EU leaders. However, being wary of standing alone against more powerful European countries, Mr. Orban has mostly gone along with European sanctions, despite having the ability to veto them and his penchant for bombastic denunciations of the bloc’s policies.

During his meeting with the parliamentary committee, Mr. Fico indicated that he would not support proposed new sanctions, which are strongly endorsed by Baltic nations. He also expressed opposition to anything that would harm Slovakia. However, support for new sanctions is already weak in many other countries as well.

Tomas Dapkus contributed reporting from Vilnius, Lithuania, and Pavol Strba from Brussels.

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