Europe’s outliers on Ukraine temper their anti-aid rhetoric

MILAN and WARSAW, Poland — Recently elected leaders in Slovakia and the Netherlands are tempering the anti-Ukraine rhetoric that

Europe’s outliers on Ukraine temper their anti-aid rhetoric

MILAN and WARSAW, Poland — Recently elected leaders in Slovakia and the Netherlands are tempering the anti-Ukraine rhetoric that elevated them to victory during their campaigns, as the stakes of antagonizing their Western allies by halting military support to Kyiv are too high, experts say.

Following the September victory of the Russia-friendly party of Slovakia’s new Prime Minister, Robert Fico, concerns emerged regarding the fate of Bratislava’s supply of military aid to Ukraine.

The Slovak authorities have donated, among other things, MiG-29 fighters, mine clearance systems, air-to-air missiles, ammunition and self-propelled artillery to their invaded neighbor.

Shortly after it was sworn in, Fico’s new Cabinet rejected the outgoing government’s latest draft of military supplies to Ukraine, which planned to send rockets and further ammunition to the embattled country.

Regardless of the politician’s tough pre-election narrative of “not a single round” for Ukraine, his flagship electoral slogan, Bratislava has yet to halt its defense cooperation with Kyiv.

During a NATO meeting held last week, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba thanked his Slovak counterpart Juraj Blańr for his government’s continued involvement in helping Ukraine repel Russian forces.

“I am grateful to my Slovak counterpart for confirming that defense industry cooperation among our companies will continue, and that the repair hub in Slovakia [to service Ukrainian weapons] will also maintain operations,” Kuleba said, as quoted in a statement released by his ministry.

Blanár made similar remarks, noting that the Slovak government “will continue to support Ukraine,” and is “looking for ways to continue training Ukrainian soldiers.”

Local media have also reported that Ukraine has also shown an interest in acquiring more Slovak-made Zuzana 2 self-propelled howitzers manufactured by Konstruka Defense, of which Slovakia has already delivered eight.

Experts explain that these developments suggest that the Fico government will likely strive to balance the pro-Moscow sympathies of his voters against the broader expectations of Slovakia’s allies.

“For Fico to satisfy some of his domestic promises, it is in his interest to shift more towards the mainstream privately and elevate his values as a reliable player in Brussels with other leaders so he can cash in later more pressing priorities,” Roger Hilton, defense fellow at the Bratislava-based think tank GLOBSEC said. “These may include unlocking EU funds or getting a greater say in other policy areas like migration.”

Moreover, the seemingly contradictory rhetoric, compared to that of the election campaign, should be taken with the caveat that Slovakia doesn’t possess many of the weapons Ukraine wants, Hilton added.

“Making this shift in private is even easier for the government on the NATO level, when you consider that Slovakia has very little transformation stock left to provide Ukraine. … Fico can walk back his campaign talk without fear of having to give up anything in public,” Hilton said.

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders won the largest number of seats in the country’s parliament last month, sparking similar fears as Fico’s victory of a potential abrupt end to Ukraine aid.

Since the election, Wilders, whose past praise of Vladimir Putin has earned him a reputation of a Kremlin-friendly populist, has launched talks with other parties to form a coalition cabinet.

The politician has said he is willing to compromise and tone down some of his more extreme policies as to gain greater support from other parties, according to a report from the Financial Times.

Forming a new government promises to be lengthy as well as complex process, and ultimately may result in Wilders not becoming prime minister, as the ruling party has declined to form a coalition with the PVV under his leadership.

“Should Wilders become part of any new cabinet, it could impact assistance to Ukraine. The PVV is against the sending of F-16s for example, arguing that doing so detracts from the defense of the Netherlands,” Davis Ellison, strategic analyst at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies said. “There are quite possibly some very real implications coming from this election.”

Other experts are more confident about the future of Dutch military assistance to Kyiv, as they argue a majority of parties are in favor of its continuity.

“The only two political forces, including the PVV, which intend to halt the delivery of weapons and ammunition to Kyiv represent 40 out of the 150 seats in the lower chamber, [as such] it’s unlikely that other parties will accept the PVV’s intent to stop these,” Dick Zandee, head of the security and defense program at the Dutch think tank Clingendael Institute said.

Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.

Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.

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