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Making weapons, forging discord

Fico’s plan to make weapons for Russia can only further distance Slovakia from Western partners.

PM Robert Fico (Source: SITA)

In March 1991, then-PM Vladimír Mečiar –fighting for re-election – returned from a visit to the Soviet Union with a prize for Slovakia’s newly decimated arms industry. "We had secret talks with Soviet generals, and they agreed that the weapons that used to be made in Martin under license, could continue to be made," he boasted.

Last week, PM Róbert Fico – fighting for re-election – returned from a visit with Russia with a strikingly similar proposal. In an interview with the Russian news agency TASS, Fico claimed he was in talks with Russian President Vladimír Putin to have Russian weapons manufactured in Slovakia.

Nothing came of Mečiar’s bluster, just as no contracts will come from Fico’s dangerous adventurism. Slovak arms makers have said that re-jigging their factories to make Russian weapons would be prohibitively expensive, and that in principle they would not risk the opprobrium of their Western customers by working for NATO’s chief strategic opponent.

But Mečiar’s chest-thumping was merely ridiculous, the feckless improvisation of a man for whom "lying was standard operating procedure", and whose country was not yet a speck on the horizon of Western integration. Fico, on the other hand, proposes to upend Slovak foreign policy and undermine the Western security alliances we have painstakingly forged over the past quarter century.

To be sure, other politicians have been guilty of capricious electioneering. In June 2006, a week before elections, then-Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš announced an improbable 430 million euro investment in Spišský Hrhov by unknown American financial group Simonstein and Henricks – who were then never heard from again. But the price tag back then was only investment stimuli offered to charlatans, and covered by our own state budget. Not foreign policy stimuli negotiated with an aggressive EU antagonist.

Nor is this just another pre-election gambit to win votes. Fico’s agenda in June talks with Putin, which are to include energy and the construction of a wide-gauge railway through Slovakia, is part of a transparent attempt by Russia to divide the West by buying off its less enthusiastic adherents (including Greece and Cyprus).

As for Fico, his proximity to oligarch Miroslav Výboh, whose Willing International arms company was co-owned in the 1990s by reputed KGB rezident Arkadij Papyrin and Soviet army general Genadij Kosin, suggests that his sympathies with Russia lie far deeper than the tawdry calculations of electoral politics. And that, for Slovakia and its partners, is deeply worrying – notwithstanding any crumbs Fico may bear away from Putin’s table next month.

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