Ukraine is at risk of losing its Eastern European ally

The pro-Ukrainian front has seen ominous cracks in recent weeks, as Kiev risks losing two Eastern European countries that once fervently supported them.

Opposition politician Robert Fico and his Social Democratic Party (SMER) won the general election last weekend in Slovakia and will likely form a coalition government to take power. Mr. Fico, a left-wing populist, campaigned on a promise to end military support for Ukraine and oppose Western sanctions targeting Russia.

Mr. Fico's victory sent a worrying signal to Ukraine. Slovakia was one of the first NATO member countries to provide military aid to Ukraine. Bratislava was also seen as a bulwark in logistical support efforts for Kiev during the conflict with Moscow.

However, the return of Mr. Fico, who has repeatedly expressed his pro-Russian views during his previous two terms as prime minister, could cause this support base to collapse.

During the election period, Fico blamed Ukraine for the war with Russia. The former prime minister of Slovakia said "Ukrainian fascists" prompted President Vladimir Putin to launch hostilities, echoing the Kremlin's message.

Mr. Robert Fico, leader of the Social Democratic Party, spoke at a press conference in the capital Bratislava on October 1. Photo: Reuters

Observers believe that after Mr. Fico comes to power, his government will likely turn its back on Ukraine and move closer to Russia.

"We are ready to help Ukraine rebuild the country, but will not change our stance on arms aid," Mr. Fico said after the election, adding that he would also seek to launch Russian peace talks. - Ukraine.

In addition to providing military aid, Slovakia has also accepted more than 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. However, the Slovak people are increasingly divided about the war. Polls show that the Slovak public has a balanced view of who is responsible for the conflict, including Russia, the West and Ukraine. In Slovakia, pro-Russian sentiment is not a new phenomenon and many people have long held positive views of Moscow.

"Most Slovaks, including Fico's voters, are most likely making decisions based on economic concerns," said Alena Kudzko, vice president of policy at the GLOBSEC think tank in Bratislava. . "The most convincing explanation that Mr. Fico gives is that if the war in Ukraine can be stopped, the situation will be better for both Slovakia and Ukraine."

Fico is considered a potential ally of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a right-wing leader who also has a friendly stance towards Russia. Because both Slovakia and Hungary are members of the European Union (EU), their stance will likely have a major impact on the bloc's policy to support Ukraine, because all EU decisions must be based on consensus.

Located on the northern border of Slovakia, Poland has also been an ardent supporter of Ukraine since the early days of the conflict. However, that attitude has changed somewhat as Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party prepares for elections in mid-October and wants to win as many votes as possible from voters.

To attract support, PiS does not hesitate to point its attack at Ukraine. Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski criticized Ukraine's killing of Poles during World War II as "even worse than the German genocide". Local officials of the PiS party also made anti-Ukrainian comments on social networks.

The far-right party Alliance for Freedom and Independence, with which PiS is likely to have to cooperate after the next election, openly calls for sending Ukrainian refugees home. But observers say the most worrying thing is that solidarity with Ukraine is at risk of a sharp decline as anti-migrant calls are increasingly supported in Polish public opinion .

Piotr H. Kosicki, associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, USA, said that many Poles believe that their level of support for Ukraine has "reached a threshold" and needs to stop, especially when it comes to relations. The two countries escalated tensions over the grain issue.

The European Union (EU) in May allowed five members including Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia to ban imports of Ukrainian wheat, corn, rapeseed oil and sunflower seeds, but allowed Ukrainian agricultural products too context for export to other places, including EU countries. The ban expires on September 15.

However, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia announced they would continue to unilaterally maintain restrictions on Ukrainian grain, despite calls from the EU and protests from Kiev. Warsaw explained this decision to protect the interests of Polish farmers.

In a speech to the United Nations last month, President Volodymyr Zelensky said some European countries "pretend to be united on the political stage, but in fact indirectly support Russia". PiS party officials were indignant at the Ukrainian leader's comments, criticizing Kiev for being "ungrateful".

PiS will likely win the election, causing the rift between Poland and Ukraine to deepen. This trend is worrying for Kiev, according to observers.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky in Granada, Spain on October 5. Photo: AFP

The war in Ukraine has had economic consequences across the continent. Inflation and high energy prices cause difficulties for people in many countries. In that context, parties with populist, far-right and pro- Russian policies are gradually rising through elections. Jen Kirby, an analyst for Vox , warned that what happened in Poland and Slovakia could be a harbinger of political difficulties with Ukraine in the near future.

"The fatigue called Ukraine will be evident throughout Europe," Kudzko said. "After many years of economic hardship, people in many countries seem to have reached the point of tolerance."

President Zelensky's recent trips to the United Nations, the United States and Canada to consolidate Western support after a lackluster counterattack from the summer did not achieve the expected results.

Support for Ukraine is gradually drying up in both its Eastern European neighbors and the powers across the Atlantic, at a time when Kiev desperately needs strong support, according to associate professor Piotr H. Kosicki.

"Whether this comes from Poland's anti-immigrant groups, Slovakia's pro-Russia groups or Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Hungarian nation, it is less important than the bottom line that Ukraine's days of international solidarity are gradually gone," Kosicki said.

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