Slovak liberals pledge to keep support for Ukraine after election

By Jan Lopatka

(Reuters) – Slovakia’s liberal Progresivne Slovensko (Progressive Slovakia) party will maintain the country’s support for Ukraine in line with European and NATO partners if it wins power in an election later this month, its leader said.

Progresivne Slovensko leader Michal Simecka cast the Sept. 30 election as a decision between continuity and a sharp change if former prime minister Robert Fico’s SMER-SSD party forms the next government. Fico has promised a policy U-turn.

“It would mean a turn to the east (Russia), and a threat of Slovakia’s isolation,” Simecka, 39, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“While (Hungarian Prime Minister) Viktor Orban has been a lone Trojan horse of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin in Europe, there is a real threat the Robert Fico would be his partner if he wins.”

Slovakia, which neighbours Ukraine, has sent an air defence system, MiG-29 fighter planes and other military aid to Kyiv in response to the Russian invasion.

The country’s centre-right cabinet fell apart last year and a technocrat government has been in power since May to steer the country to election, maintaining the foreign policy course.

“I appreciate the clear geopolitical line of support for Ukraine, joining the common European positions. We would maintain continuity,” Simecka said.

“We would be open to further support for Ukraine in any practical way,” he said, although most big-ticket items the country could spare have been sent already.

Fico, on the other side, has pledged to end military aid to Ukraine and his party wants an end of hostilities and a diplomatic solution – which Ukraine rejects while Russian forces hold Ukrainian territory.

Progresivne Slovensko, together with a coalition partner, won the 2019 European Parliament election in Slovakia with 20.1% of the vote, but narrowly failed to win parliamentary seats in national elections a year later.

It has been running second behind SMER-SSD in the latest opinion taken poll by Focus agency in August, with 15% versus 20% for the frontrunner.

No party is expected to win a majority, and who forms the next cabinet may be determined by the performance of a handful of small parties, from liberal to pro-Russian nationalist, who will form coalitions with larger forces.

Simecka said his party, a strong backer of a human rights agenda including same-sex marriage and transgender rights, would not work with Fico and two far-right formations, but otherwise it was open to cooperation even with conservative parties with conflicting priorities.

“For me the priority is preventing Robert Fico from forming a government,” Simecka said. “You have to make compromises. That is what we will go with into post-election talks.”

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka in Prague; Editing by Angus MacSwan)