Thursday, May 30

Slovakia Appears Set to Join the Putin Sympathizers After Election

The victory of Robert Fico, a former prime minister who took a pro-Russian campaign stance, in Slovakia’s parliamentary elections is a further sign of eroding support for Ukraine in the West as the war drags on and the front line remains largely static.

Slovakia is a small country with historical Russian sympathies, and the nature of the coalition government Mr. Fico will seek to form is unclear. He may lean more toward pragmatism, as Italy’s far-right prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, has done since her election last year. Still, the shift in Slovakia is stark: It was the first country to deliver fighter jets to Ukraine.

The election results come as disquiet over the billions of dollars in military aid that the West has provided to Ukraine over the past 19 months has grown more acute in the United States and the European Union, with demands increasing for the money to go to domestic priorities instead.

House Republicans declined to meet with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, in Washington last month, and tensions between Kyiv and the White House over Ukrainian military strategy have surfaced. In Central Europe, once the core of fierce anti-Russian sentiment among fearful frontline states that endured decades of harsh communist rule as reluctant members of the Soviet bloc, the war is now viewed with greater nuance.

Mr. Fico’s victory, taking about 23 percent of the vote on a platform that included stopping all arms shipments to Ukraine and placing blame for the war equally on the West and Kyiv, is a case in point.

He laced social conservatism, nationalism, anti-L.G.B.T.Q. rhetoric and promises of generous welfare handouts into what proved to be an effective anti-liberal agenda, especially in small towns and rural areas.

“The wear and tear from the war is more palpable in Central Europe than Western Europe for now,” said Jacques Rupnik, a professor at Sciences Po university in Paris and an expert on the region. “Slovakia demonstrates that the threat at your door does not necessarily mean you are full-hearted in support of Ukraine.”

A Globsec survey in March of public opinion across Central and Eastern Europe found that 51 percent of Slovaks believed either the West or Ukraine to be “primarily responsible” for the war. Mr. Fico, who served for more than a decade as prime minister until 2018, played off this sentiment.

He adopted some of the rhetoric of Hungary’s pro-Russian prime minister, Viktor Orban, who has resisted the overwhelming Western position on Ukraine that Russia’s brutal invasion of the country was a flagrant violation of international law that must be resisted in the name of liberty, democracy and the sanctity of national sovereignty.

“Fico was inspired by Orban, but does not have the same deep ideological roots, and is more of a pragmatist,” said Ludek Sekyra, a Czech businessman who chairs the Sekyra Foundation, a supporter of liberal causes. “He has been adept in exploiting unease over the vast influx of Ukrainian refugees, small-country resentment of the European Union and Russian sympathies that do not exist in the Czech Republic.”

On Monday, Slovakia sent its foreign minister, Miroslav Wlachovsky, to a European Union meeting in Kyiv intended to demonstrate enduring support for Ukraine. The gathering of foreign ministers was the first of its kind to be held outside the bloc, said Josep Borrell Fontelles, its top diplomat.

The presence of Mr. Wlachovsky appeared to signal continuity, at least for now, in Slovakia’s position with respect to the war. How much that will change will not be clear until a government is formed.

A possible coalition with another former prime minister, Peter Pellegrini of the social democratic Voice party, which won almost 15 percent of the vote, may increase the likelihood of pragmatism from Mr. Fico, who was responsible for Slovakia’s adoption of the euro and has shown strong pro-European sentiments in the past.

With Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia all showing significant sympathy for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the tides have shifted in this part of Europe. Even Poland, an ardent supporter of Ukraine that has taken in more than 1.5 million refugees from there during the war, recently decided to close its border to low-price Ukrainian grain imports.

The governing hard-right nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) in Poland is in a tense electoral standoff this month against the liberal opposition. Although the country’s de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczynski, remains staunchly anti-Russian, his nationalism and conservative values mesh with Mr. Orban’s and Mr. Fico’s. A PiS victory would undermine European unity further as the war shows no sign of a possible resolution.

Mr. Kaczynski opposes the kind of European political, military and economic integration of which President Emmanuel Macron of France is a fierce advocate. There has even been murmuring of a possible Polish exit from the European Union — a far-fetched notion but one suggestive of the European tensions that the war has begun to feed.

Even in Western Europe, a recent German Marshall Fund survey found that support for Ukrainian membership in the European Union stood at just 52 percent in France and 49 percent in Germany. In Germany, only 45 percent of respondents favored Ukrainian membership in NATO.

Still, overall, the survey found that on both sides of the Atlantic, some 69 percent of people favor financial support for Ukraine’s reconstruction, while countries including Britain, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Lithuania showed strong support for the Ukrainian cause across the board.

“More and more, we are hearing a clear message to Mr. Zelensky: Please cut a deal with Putin,” said Mr. Rupnik.

After the immense sacrifice of the Ukrainian people in defense of their country against a flagrant Russian aggression, that, however, is the thing most difficult for Mr. Zelensky to contemplate, let alone pursue.

That a country on the Ukrainian border should now have voted for a man who has said he will “not send a single cartridge” of ammunition across that border can only increase the pressure on Ukraine’s leadership.

It also poses evident problems for a European Union already worried that Donald J. Trump may retake the White House next year, and facing internal divisions that a Polish election may sharpen further.