Despite strong assurances of support for Ukraine from the White House and from European Union officials meeting in Kyiv this week, analysts told NBC News that, as a cost-of-living crisis continues to bite the continent, political parties taking a more Russia-friendly stance on the war are making gains across Europe.
“Parties like SMER were able to use this nationalist populism to create the assumption that by being pro-Ukrainian you are actually taking support from Slovakia. I think that this had an impact — this narrative was really resonating very, very well,” said Dominika Hajdu, policy director at GlobSec, a Bratislava-based think tank.
GlobSec conducted a poll in March that found 51% of Slovaks thought the West generally, or Ukraine itself, was “primarily responsible” for the war. Half of respondents saw the United States as a threat to its security, an increase from 39% in 2022.
Slovakia borders Ukraine to the west and has been a major military donor, providing air defense systems and its entire fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets. With a population of 5.4 million — less than Kentucky — Slovakia is the sixth-biggest provider of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine as a proportion of its GDP.
But that could soon change.
Fico, 59, a former two-time prime minister, won the election partly by promising that “not a single round” would be sent to Ukraine under his watch. Humanitarian aid will continue, he said, and tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees will remain in Slovakia, but the military assistance will end.
In 2022, inflation in Slovakia rose to over 12% amid huge energy price rises, sparking protests — an economic trend Fico says is partially due to the huge financial support for Ukraine.
“We are prepared to help with the reconstruction of the state, but you know our opinion on arming Ukraine,” he said Sunday at a news conference.
“We think as a political party that we have to call for peace,” Katarína Roth Neveďalová, a SMER lawmaker in the European Parliament, told BBC News on Tuesday. “We feel that attacking from one side and still talking about Putin as a dictator or whatever is not helping the conflict.”
The election also comes two weeks before the Christian nationalist government in Poland hopes to win a third term on Oct. 15 — as Warsaw’s staunch support for Ukraine also shows signs of eroding.
The country’s foreign minister was notably absent from the gathering in Kyiv this week and told Polish TV that his no-show was due to a “downturn” in Polish-Ukrainian relations. Last month Poland said it would stop arming its neighbor over its anger at cheap Ukrainian grain flooding its agricultural markets.