Europe

Slovakia’s Leader Keeps Campaign Vow to Halt Arms Deliveries to Ukraine

Slovakia, a small Eastern European nation that has been in the vanguard of sending arms to Ukraine, says it is halting all military aid to its embattled neighbor, a policy shift that is unlikely to change the balance of forces on the battlefield but that delivers a symbolic blow to Kyiv at a time of growing fatigue in parts of Europe after 20 months of war.

Slovakia’s newly appointed prime minister, Robert Fico, announced on Thursday in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, that while he supported “comprehensive” nonmilitary aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia, “I will be supporting zero military aid to Ukraine.”

That would make Slovakia the first among those countries that have sent weapons to Kyiv since the war broke out to say it would stop. Slovakia’s commercial defense contracts with Ukraine for Slovak-made artillery and other defense systems, however, are expected to continue.

Mr. Fico, who made his remarks to a parliamentary committee on European Union affairs, did not say whether Slovakia, which shares a border with Ukraine and has rail and road links to the country, would continue to serve as a transit route for weapons supplied by other Western countries. Poland has been the main transit country for such shipments, but Slovakia has also been used to deliver weapons from the Czech Republic and some other countries.

Mr. Fico, who later visited Brussels on Thursday for a summit of European leaders, declined to speak to journalists. Ukrainian officials did not immediately make any public comments about Mr. Fico’s announcement.

A pugnacious former prime minister, Mr. Fico eked out a narrow victory in general elections last month after campaigning on a promise “not to send a single cartridge” of ammunition to Ukraine. His Smer party, which started out on the left but increasingly embraced right-wing views on immigration and cultural issues, aligned with pro-Russian forces during the campaign, largely in response to the exuberantly pro-Ukrainian positions of his political rivals.

Supporters attend the Smer-SD party election campaign rally in Nitra, Slovakia, last month.Credit…Martin Divisek/EPA, via Shutterstock

Slovakia was the first country to send air-defense systems to Ukraine under a previous government led by Mr. Fico’s liberal and centrist opponents, and it led the way, along with Poland, in pushing for greater Western military assistance. But with its stock of dispensable weapons and warplanes largely depleted by deliveries to Ukraine, Slovakia has little left to give.

Moscow, which usually crows over any sign of waning support for Kyiv, responded with uncharacteristic restrain to Mr. Fico’s pledge. Dmitry S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said Slovakia’s share of arms supplies to Ukraine was “not really that big, and, therefore, this decision will barely affect the whole process.”

Slovakia sent S-300 air-defense missiles and some Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine last year, at a time when others were still debating what to do. But these deliveries have been dwarfed since by what the United States and other countries have sent.

More important, from Moscow’s perspective, is whether Slovakia might join Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, to block European Union sanctions against Russia.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately make any public comments about Mr. Fico’s announcement.

Breaking ranks with other leaders in the bloc, Mr. Orban met this month with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in China. But wary of standing alone against bigger, more powerful European countries, Mr. Orban has mostly gone along with European sanctions despite having the power to veto them and a taste for bombastic denunciations of the bloc’s policies.

In his meeting on Thursday with the parliamentary committee, Mr. Fico indicated he would not support a proposed new round of sanctions, which are backed strongly by Baltic nations, and would oppose anything “that will harm us.” Support for new sanctions, however, is already weak in many other countries, too.

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

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