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Slovakia’s new government rejects aid for Ukraine

RIGA, Latvia — The new left-populist government of Slovakia, a country neighboring Ukraine that had been one of its staunchest supporters, on Wednesday rejected a proposed package of military aid for Kyiv, fulfilling a campaign promise by Prime Minister Robert Fico to halt assistance in the war against Russia.

The blocking of the roughly $43 million aid package, which was to include rockets and ammunition, is unlikely to change Ukraine’s battlefield capabilities significantly. But the government’s decision, issued at a cabinet meeting, is a first concrete sign of growing fatigue among Kyiv’s supporters in NATO as Russia’s invasion nears the two-year mark.

Fico and his far-left Smer party ran a campaign focused on promises to end military assistance, with Fico arguing that “the people in Slovakia have bigger problems.” The stance was echoed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has remained Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally among European Union leaders.

“I will support zero military aid to Ukraine,” Fico said in late October following his party’s victory in a national election on Sept. 30. “An immediate halt to military operations is the best solution we have for Ukraine. The E.U. should change from an arms supplier to a peacemaker.”

The aid package, proposed by the previous caretaker government, included air defense system rockets and millions of rounds of small arms ammunition, according to the Slovak Defense Ministry.

Until now, Slovakia had been among Ukraine’s strongest backers and had previously approved 13 assistance packages totaling more than $700 million.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a think tank based in Germany, that put Slovakia among Ukraine’s top supporters — ahead of even the United States and Britain — as measured by donor countries’ gross domestic product.

Slovakia was the first NATO state to send Ukraine fighter jets, sending Kyiv 13 Soviet-era MiG-29 planes to help the Ukrainian military offset Russia’s far greater air superiority.

Russia has previously dismissed Slovakia’s impact on support for Ukraine, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying, “Slovakia did not have such a big share in the supply of weapons, so it will hardly affect the entire process.”

Ukraine’s relations with another key supporter, Poland, have soured recently because of a dispute over grain exports. In September, Polish President Andrzej Duda compared Ukraine to “a drowning person clinging to anything available.”

Kyiv has also been rattled by Republicans in Washington who stripped $6 billion in aid for Ukraine proposed by the Biden administration from a short-term budget bill in early October, raising doubts about the durability of U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense.

With international attention diverted largely to Israel’s war in Gaza, tensions have risen in Kyiv, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been working to shore up global support. On Tuesday, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican proposal to provide U.S. military assistance to Israel separately from aid to Ukraine.

But in a bright spot for Kyiv, the European Commission on Wednesday recommended opening formal membership negotiations with Ukraine provided that it meets remaining conditions related to fighting corruption and curtailing oligarch power. The proposal marked a crucial milestone in Ukraine’s quest to become a member of the E.U.

The 27 E.U. heads of state are expected to make a final decision next month. If they support the bid, the process could still take more than a decade but would confirm support for Kyiv in E.U. capitals.

“This is a strong and historic step that paves the way to a stronger E.U. with Ukraine as its member,” Zelensky said on social media. The commission also recommended opening membership talks with Moldova and granting official candidate status to Georgia.

Ukraine’s wish to join the E.U. is at the root of the Kremlin’s war. In late 2013, then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, at Moscow’s urging, broke a promise to sign political and economic agreements with the E.U., which sparked the Maidan Revolution. Yanukovych abandoned his post and fled to Russia, prompting Moscow to invade and illegally annex the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made a surprise visit to Kyiv to discuss the country’s economic recovery. He emphasized that the Biden administration remains committed to helping Ukraine and is striving to uphold bipartisan support for further assistance.

“It’s always been not just possible, but necessary, for a country like the United States to pay attention to many things at a time, to do many things at a time,” Buttigieg said. “And all of the efforts that the U.S. has underway with regards to the Middle East, I believe, are part of the same story of global engagement and in no way at the expense of our continued rock-solid commitment to Ukraine’s success.”

Buttigieg said he was in Kyiv to “deliver on a top ask” by appointing an infrastructure adviser to the country, who will “provide technical assistance on project delivery as part of the country’s rebuilding efforts.”

“It’s one of countless ways the U.S. continues to stand with the people of Ukraine for the long haul and ensure its connection to the world,” Buttigieg tweeted.

While Ukraine is struggling to sustain support in the West, Putin is working to strengthen his ties with his most powerful ally, China.

In a meeting with a senior Chinese general, the Russian leader on Wednesday hailed the growing military ties between the two countries. Beijing has emerged as Moscow’s key political and economic lifeline, helping Russia weather the political isolation and the economic punch of Western sanctions.

“Our contacts in the military and military-technology spheres are becoming a matter of no small importance, a matter of increasing significance,” Putin told Gen. Zhang Youxia, who is also vice chairman of Beijing’s Central Military Commission.

Putin, echoing his constant criticism of the West, insisted that Russia and China are not building “any military alliances based on Cold War patterns.” Instead, he said, their cooperation is a “serious factor in stabilizing the international situation.” Putin accused Washington and the West of trying to “create a tense situation in the Asia-Pacific region … guided by their selfish interests.”

“We see all this, and together with our friends, including primarily from the People’s Republic of China, we react to this calmly, carefully and strengthen our defense capabilities, including through joint naval and air exercises,” Putin said.

Anastacia Galouchka in Kyiv and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga contributed to this report.


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