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Slovakia says Russia interfered in vote won by Ukraine sceptic

By AFP
October 03, 2023

BRATISLAVA: Slovakia on Monday accused Moscow of interfering in its election at the weekend that was won by a populist pledging to end military help for Ukraine.

Robert Fico was tapped on Monday to form a new government after his party finished first on a platform that raised concern about cracks in Kyiv´s Western support. Slovakia alleged meddling following pre-election remarks by Moscow´s foreign intelligence service director claiming Slovakia´s pro-Ukraine centrist party were “US proxies” and said Washington had increased “interference” Slovakia.

That party, Progressive Slovakia, finished second with 18 percent of the vote to Fico´s Smer-SD´s 23 percent in the polls.

“We consider such deliberately disseminated misinformation to be inadmissible interference by the Russian Federation in the electoral process in the Slovak Republic,” Slovakia´s foreign ministry said in a statement. The foreign ministry in Bratislava in response on Monday summoned a Russian embassy official and called on Moscow to “stop disinformation activities aimed at Slovakia”.

Moscow rejected the accusations made by the Slovak government, saying “we do not interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries and we do not engage in regime change.” During the campaign, the 59-year-old Fico vowed that Nato member Slovakia would not send “a single round of ammunition” to Ukraine and called for better ties with Russia.

Earlier in the day Slovakia´s liberal president Zuzana Caputova tasked former prime minister with forming a new government, stressing the need “to respect the result of democratic elections.”

“I understand that the election results are associated with various concerns for many people,” Caputova said. Fico´s party won 42 seats in the 150-member parliament -- and is now forced to find coalition partners for a majority. Hlas-SD, which emerged in 2020 as a breakaway party from Smer, is a potential partner with 27 seats.

Under Slovakia´s constitution, there is no deadline for forming a new government. But the president is required to call the first session of parliament within 30 days after the official election results are published.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Fico said “Slovakia and the people in Slovakia have bigger problems than (dealing with) Ukraine”. He added Ukraine was “a huge tragedy for all” and called for peace talks as “further killing will not help anyone”.

But Ukraine´s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Monday that Kyiv respected the “choice of the Slovak people”. He said it was “too early to say how the election result will affect Slovakia´s position,” adding that Kyiv can “draw the first conclusions” after a coalition is formed in Slovakia.

Fico previously called for “good relations with every country in the world, including the Russian Federation”. But on Monday, the Kremlin rejected a characterisation of the Smer-SD party as pro-Russian.

“We are facing a situation in which any politician who is inclined to think about the sovereignty of his country and defends the interests of his country, is considered pro-Russian. This is absurd,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. Analysts have said a Fico government could radically change Slovakia´s foreign policy to resemble that of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Orban himself congratulated Fico on X, formerly Twitter, “on his undisputable victory at the Slovak parliamentary elections”. “Always good to work together with a patriot. Looking forward to it!” Orban wrote on Sunday.