The Slovak government’s decision to expel three Russian diplomats as a sign of solidarity towards the Czech Republic has revealed a split between Slovak parties with strong ties to the Biden administration and opposition parties which are pro-EU but who also seek good relations with Moscow.
The expulsion of Russian diplomats comes days after the Czech government itself has decided to expel 18 diplomats in response to the findings of an investigation into a 2014 explosion of a munition storage facility near the border with Slovakia.
According to Czech investigators, there is proof that the incident, which claimed the lives of two people, was perpetrated by members of Russia’s intelligence services.
Although Slovakian interests have not been directly affected in the 2014 incident, the government in Bratislava has decided to show solidarity with their Western neighbors and expel three of the Russian Embassy staff. Russia has promised to “react” to the decision.
The relationship between the two countries has been strained in the past weeks ever since the arrival of Russian manufactured Sputnik V vaccines resulted in the removal of Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič from office. The vaccine scandal on the one hand, and the expulsion of diplomats on the other, however, reveal the existence of an internal struggle between the pro-Russian and pro-Western political forces in the country. The current coalition government consisting of four parties, two of which (SaS and Za Ludí), can be classed as strongly pro-EU and ideologically aligned with the current Democrat administration of President Joe Biden. Opposition parties such as the Social Democrats of former Prime Minister Robert Fico (SMER-SD) and the newly formed party of another former prime minister, Peter Pellegrini (Hlas-SD), are regarded as generally pro-EU but also seeking good relations with Moscow in the name of pan-Slavic nationalism.
After the news about the expulsion of three Russian diplomats broke in Slovakia, former Prime Minister Robert Fico organized a press conference in which he accused the government of Eduard Heger of being led by the nose by the current US administration.
In his view, it was no coincidence that the US Ambassador to Slovakia, Bridget A. Brink, had visited Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová only days before two significant policy decisions which, according to Fico, prove that Slovakia is following direct orders from Washington. The first of these was the decision to expel Russian diplomats from the country that Fico believes is meant to please the current US administration. The second was an announcement, according to which the US-based Media Development Investment Fund, a media conglomerate close to US financier George Soros, announced the acquisition of a controlling stake in one of the largest Slovak daily newspapers, SME.
The expulsion of Russian diplomats came as a surprise to many commentators in Slovakia, precedents for such serious diplomatic acts justified on the basis of “solidarity” are few and far between in peacetime. Yet, in Fico’s view, Heger and his coalition partners looked like “rain-soaked mice” during the press conference in which they announced the expulsion.
“And they knew the reason why. Because they are following American orders,” added Fico.
Fico has also pressed that the government has not presented any proofs or even a justification for the expulsions. He has also pointed to the fact that the European Union has not yet taken an official stance regarding the 2014 incident in Czechia and concluded by saying that “this is not a Slovak government, but a government of American agents.”
The reason why Fico’s opinion matters is that if polls are correct, after the next elections he has a fighting chance to be a member of the next Slovak government together with SMER’s sister party, Peter Pellegrini’s HLAS-SD. In a press statement, HLAS-SD have also expressed their “surprise” at the expulsion of Russian diplomats. Although the statement expresses solidarity with the Czechs, they stress that the decision should have been preceded by a discussion in the national assembly and coordinated with other EU partners.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš had expressed his gratitude over the Slovak’s act of solidarity.
“Thank you very much. I appreciate this huge gesture and the stance taken by the Slovak Republic very much,” he tweeted. He has also thanked the three Baltic states, who have subsequently also decided to expel Russian diplomats regarding the 2014 explosion. To date, Poland, Bulgaria and Ukraine have also followed suit.