By Alicia Curry, Multimedia Producer
Slovakian's will journey to the ballot box this weekend in parliamentary elections that could be "worrying for Ukrainians" as a Putin supporter leads in the polls.
On last Saturday, former Prime Minister Robert Fico - described as a "perennial in Slovak politics" - intends to make his re-emergence under his party, Smer.
He served two terms in office, from 2006 to 2010 and 2012 to 2018.
His legacy is embroiled in a number of scandals, including the infamous murder of a journalist and his fiancée in 2018, which led to an investigation exposing connections between top-level politicians and organized crime.
But despite a controversial past, Fico is tipped to take 20% of the vote, making a comeback highly plausible.
This could have heavy geo-political ramifications, with an election campaign that has taken a pro-Russian approach. And as one of Ukraine's staunchest allies, what could a win for Fico mean for the war?
Why could Slovakian people be turning their backs on Ukraine?
The timing of the election is crucial to determining the key policies which will dictate voter choice as apathy towards the war continues to grow.
Professor Tim Haughton, an expert in Central and Eastern European politics from the University of Birmingham, explained that had the election been held at the beginning of the war, it's unlikely the rhetoric would have been as 'anti-Ukraine' as it is now.
Disinformation from Russia's non-mainstream media is also fuelling a polarisation from Ukraine in part of the electorate.
"There has been a narrative pushed through channels which aren't heavily regulated, such as Facebook and Telegram, which depicts Ukraine as the aggressor," Prof. Haughton told ITV News.
He added that propaganda also questions the role of international actors and suggests that the conflict is a proxy war for the United States using Ukrainian territory.
Fico's campaign has mirrored this discourse by openly condemning Western intervention and blaming the US for the war, even labelling Slovak president Zuzana Caputoza as an "American agent".
“The war in Ukraine didn’t start yesterday or last year. It began in 2014, when the Ukrainian Nazis and fascists started to murder the Russian citizens in Donbas and Luhansk,” Fico told cheering supporters last month.
However, Prof. Haughton stresses that it will be domestic politics that mobilises voters as the cost-of-living crisis, high inflation and Ukrainian grain crisis foster discontent.
What would a Fico victory mean for Ukraine?
Slovakia's government has offered consistent support and military hardware to Ukraine since the war began, but Fico has said arms supplies will be completely halted if he wins.
He has also threatened to block a Ukrainian bid to NATO and, in a pro-Putin move, has encouraged a settlement between the two nations.
"He's trying to push peace, but peace at this stage would involve a permanent loss of territory for Ukraine," Prof. Haughton explained.
"A Fico win would be a worrying development for Ukrainians. Morale will undoubtedly take a hit if you're in a prolonged conflict and a neighbouring state, particularly one that has taken a number of refugees, turns in the other direction," he added.
How could the Slovakian election impact the world view of the war?
Beyond the material impact on Ukraine, the election will be significant for the wider world, with a Fico win sending a message to the Kremlin, Washington DC and other Western capitals that "the tide could be turning."
"It's more symbolic than anything else," Prof. Haughton explained.
"The fact that Fico may take a position which is closer to someone like Viktor Orban in Hungary, strengthens the voices within the Western alliance against more active involvement in Ukraine."
How likely is it that Robert Fico will win the election?
While Smer is currently leading in the opinion polls, Slovakia's partisanship is weak and any real loyalty among voters is fickle, making it difficult to predict.
Fico's disgraced past is also suspected to alienate younger voters, who are instead forecasted to turn to the Progressive Slovakia (PS) party which is underpinned by a socially-liberal and economically reformist approach.
Slovakia’s proportional representation electoral system could equally water down a Fico victory, through a coalition or stop his win entirely.
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