Slovak PM Robert Fico has repeatedly said that Russia's war against Ukraine is not our war, and that Slovakia would not send a single bullet to Ukraine (Photo: council.europa.eu)
Anyone claiming to know where Robert Fico’s government will lead Slovakia is being, to put it mildly, rather audacious.
At this stage, we simply don’t know. What we do know is that he leans towards Russia in its conflict with Ukraine. Fico has repeatedly said that Russia’s war against Ukraine is not our war, and that Slovakia would not send a single bullet to Ukraine. At the European Council meeting, Fico joined ranks with Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.
Should the ambitions of Fico and Orbán prevail in the EU, the demise of Ukraine would soon follow, as Western assistance is crucial to helping Ukraine continue its counter-offensive against the Russian invader.
What makes the situation even more serious is that the burden of aid for Ukraine has gradually been shifting from the shoulders of the USA to those of Europe. This is not only because of recent grumblings by US House Republicans over aid to Ukraine.
US distracted by China
Nor is it because of the potential victory of Donald Trump in the upcoming 2024 presidential election. It is due to a host of other geopolitical developments, the most prominent of which is China’s ongoing quest for global dominance; in the economic and technological spheres as we know, but also in military terms.
In the recent past, China ‘pacified’ Hong Kong without any problems. The Asian superpower is now openly threatening a military invasion of Taiwan. China has built artificial islands in the South China Sea to serve as bases for potential military operations. China’s dominance in that region is a red line for the US and its allies in the South China Sea, which the Americans will not allow China to cross.
Measures which the US will be forced to take to counter that challenge have been and will continue to be a financial burden for America.
Already, the Obama government adopted a doctrine saying the US could not afford to wage two wars at once. One war is already ongoing in Europe. China is threatening a second one. And this is not considering regional wars, such as in Israel, which could potentially break out into a wider conflict.
Someone will therefore have to take up the task of arming and assisting Ukraine. The EU has already granted Ukraine candidate status. At the beginning of November, the European Commission decided to recommend that European leaders launch EU accession talks with Ukraine. The die is cast.
Or, is the situation radically different? Should the EU — following the example set by Orbán and Fico — halt all military aid to Ukraine? What would this mean for Ukraine, for the EU, and what would it mean for Slovakia?
As mentioned above, for Ukraine, an end to EU assistance means military defeat and being subdued by Russia. For the EU, it would result in a tremendous loss of credibility, the lengthening of its external borders, and a greatly increased risk of another conflict with Russia.
The final loser would be Slovakia, unquestionably. Orbán, who keeps making provocative statements about the injustice of the Treaty of Trianon, and who roams through southern Slovakia as if he were at home, would receive a significant boost to his expansionist appetite. The revisionism simmering in the heads of some on either side of the Danube would gain a new impetus.
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Does Robert Fico realise what ‘game’ he has kicked off?
One might say this is nothing new, that Fico is, in his own way, a cynical and cunning person, who knows how to act in the national interest. His calculation would look like follows: ‘I will play peacemaker at home, but I will not block aid to Ukraine in the European Council. After all, we need the money from the Recovery Plan and EU funds now more than ever.’
However, Fico will not get away with such contrivance for long. This is because pressure on the EU to help Ukraine will only increase rather than decrease, both economically and militarily.
Fico will have only two options: to either join in, or to find himself as a fare dodger on the train. But Europe will not tolerate such fare dodgers, as a matter of principle. Fico would thus become a threat to Slovakia’s anchoring in the Euro-Atlantic economic and security space.
Finally, the key question: can the EU afford to let Ukraine be subdued by Russia?
Only Ukraine itself can decide when and under what conditions will the war end. The EU can only decide how much, or possibly under what conditions, it will help Ukraine. The key strategic objective for the EU, for Europe and for the democratic world should be to prevent Ukraine from losing this war. The EU should provide aid to Ukraine to the extent that will, as a minimum, prevent the Russian flag ever flying over Kyiv.
This strategic focus of the EU, Europe and the West should be communicated to the Kremlin in such a way as not to leave Moscow even the slightest space to doubt that the Western community really means what it says. In such a case, the Kremlin strategists will also do their math and determine that, over 10 years of war, it won’t be Russia that will seize Ukraine, but China that will seize Russia.
It is high time, not only for Fico and his coalition partners, but also for Slovak nationalists to realise that any display of compliance or even understanding towards Moscow constitutes, in fact, a threat to what Fico calls the “national-state interest of Slovakia”. For the sake of Europe at large, let’s hope they realise this sooner rather than later.