PRIME Minister Robert Fico remains firm in his criticism of the tit-for-tat sanctions that the European Union and Russia have imposed on one another. Fico called the sanctions “senseless” and a threat to Slovakia’s economy on August 9, drawing criticism from members of the opposition and local media. The adoption of sanctions that damage the whole region is shortsighted, he said one week later, adding that he is not going to change his position.

“Slovakia is a member state of the EU, we want to be sympathetic players, but it does not mean that we will go to the slaughterhouse as lambs,” Fico said on August 19, as quoted by the SITA newswire, adding that he belonged to the group of prime ministers who already at the first round of Russian sanctions expressed clear objections, “not to talk about the second round of sanctions”.

Yet, Fico is not isolated in his criticism of the EU’s approach to Russia. His Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, who is facing massive criticism over his statements wishing to abandon liberal democracy in Hungary, spoke in a similar voice, suggesting that through the sanctions the EU is harming itself. Czech President Miloš Zeman was also critical.

Just days after the EU and the United States imposed targeted sanctions against Russia, Moscow imposed a one-year embargo on food imports from the EU, the United States, Australia, Canada and Norway on August 7. The Ukrainian parliament passed a law on August 14 to impose sanctions against Russian firms and individuals who support or finance separatists in eastern Ukraine.

After meeting with representatives of Slovakia’s major gas utility Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel (SPP) and pipeline operator Eustream on August 14, the prime minister said that “if there is a conflict, it should be addressed by other methods rather than senseless three-sided sanctions, which harm the economies of everyone”, as reported by SITA.

However, when asked on August 16 whether he knows of any alternatives to the sanctions against Russia for its policies in Ukraine, Fico offered no specific answer, only saying that Ukraine is disintegrating.

“Where and when did sanctions help which country,” Fico responded, adding that the role of politicians in a crisis situation is to start negotiating and seek solutions.

Slovak President Andrej Kiska, however, suggested that when international or human rights are being violated the democratic world must take strong, effective measures.

Sanctions by the EU might mean certain economic loss, but one must be prepared to accept this loss while “trade interests must not be placed above basic values of freedom and democracy”, the TASR newswire quoted from Kiska’s Facebook profile on August 15.

According to Kiska, Slovakia has suffered twice in the past when it became a pawn in a game involving larger neighbours.

“In 1938, [European] powers decided to hand Czechoslovakia over to Nazi Germany, which thus gained momentum for further expansion, and in 1968 nobody defended us against the communist Soviet Union,” wrote Kiska, adding that Slovakia should be at the forefront of those calling on democratic countries to adopt a joint course of action. “If words are not enough, appeals must be given more weight by introducing economic sanctions, if necessary, against countries that want to expand, dictate and menace others.”

The Slovak government agreed to the sanctions during negotiations led by Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák. Former foreign affairs minister Eduard Kukan of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) also noted that EU sanctions against Moscow are the result of complicated talks, and Slovakia just like all other member states, agreed to these sanctions.

Call for unity

Fico however called earlier in August for unity across the political spectrum in association with the sanctions, using the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) as a pretext.

Just as was the case during the SNP in 1944, when everyone stood together united, regardless of whether they were leftists or rightists, so it is necessary now for politicians in the opposition and governing party to unite and protect the interests of Slovakia with respect to the senseless EU sanctions against Russia that endanger the Slovak economy, Fico said on August 9.

Despite Fico’s appeal, the opposition parties are far from enthusiastic about joining him in condemning the sanctions. The tradition of the SNP is exactly what the sanctions of the EU are directed against: a state that violates the freedom of other nations, said František Šebej, head of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee and a member of the Most-Híd party.

“If we were to unite around SNP values we would join forces against Russia and not take the role of bootlickers to Putin’s regime,” Šebej added, as quoted by the Sme daily.

Šebej said he considers Fico’s claim to be the reaction of a man sitting outside the standard values of European policy.

Fico’s statements have angered the opposition, with SDKÚ caucus head Ľudovít Kaník saying that Fico has always behaved like a Russian agent and saboteur within the EU, and called it a leftover from his communist-party career.

The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the party which recently helped Smer amend the country’s constitution, said it supports a strong level of sanctions, which are already having a real impact on the Russian economy.

Former two-time prime minister and foreign affairs minister Mikuláš Dzurinda (former SDKÚ) also commented on Fico’s statements, saying that in this ongoing conflict, Fico is leaning towards Moscow.

“Fico has for many years been limping on one leg,” Dzurinda said in an interview with Sme on August 12. “I would expect a different stance from a prime minister: making an effort to have good relations with both Russia as well as Ukraine.”

As for Fico’s comment on the “senseless sanctions”, Dzurinda suggested that over the years he has witnessed statements on international politics that were intended for the domestic political environment. The problem, however, is when these statements go against the objective interests of the country, he explained.

Dzurinda added that instead of a logical stance, trying to engage in mediations and negotiations between Ukraine and Russia in the conflict, Fico evidently sides with Russia.