Slovak president warns election campaign may dent public support for Ukraine
(Reuters) - Public support in Slovakia for aiding Ukraine against Russia's invasion could suffer as the country heads into an early election in September and disinformation harms the debate, President Zuzana Caputova said on Monday.
Slovakia, an eastern flank NATO member that borders Ukraine, has been a staunch backer of Kyiv under a centre-right government, which fell at the end of last year and whose parties, polls show, have fallen behind former prime minister Robert Fico's Smer-SD party that has opposed more military aid.
The country has taken in tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Ukraine, provided weapons and sent its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine's military last week, the first country to provide such weaponry.
However, public attitudes differ, with a poll by Globsec think-tank showing in December that 39% of Slovaks thought NATO and the United States were responsible for the war in Ukraine. Support for NATO is lower in Slovakia than in most other member states, the military alliance's research shows.
Fico, who has said "Ukrainian fascists" started the war in 2014 and there was no way Ukraine could take back Crimea annexed by Russia, has been a beneficiary of public scepticism.
Without mentioning Fico directly, Caputova said on Monday that the country's foreign policy orientation might be at stake in the upcoming election and called on officials to work on maintaining support for its aims.
"There is a growing gap between decisions made by the state based on our values and national interests, and the stance of citizens," she told a conference. "I am afraid that the starting election campaign will not help to improve this."
Caputova said today's situation could be potentially like the end of the 1990s when Slovakia missed the first wave of NATO expansion because of a government under former prime minister Vladimir Meciar that was seen as a potential security risk.
The political scene has become increasingly fragmented since the middle of last year, with ruling parties squabbling amid a crisis caused by high energy prices and inflation.
Nine parties stand a chance of winning seats in September, according IPSOS polling agency. However, even if Fico scores the highest number of votes, he may find it difficult to find coalition partners beyond the far-right Republic party.
(Reporting by Robert Muller, editing by Jason Hovet and Christina Fincher)