On Sunday the 1st of October the Slovaks cast their ballots in the parliamentary elections. The outcome favoured Robert Fico, former prime minister of the country (2006-2010; 2012-2018), whose party gained the relative majority of the votes. His electoral success incomes at a peculiar moment for the region, with Slovakia having decided in mid-September, along with Poland and Hungary, to extend the import ban imposed on Ukrainian cereals.
The grain ban is emblematic of the evolving posture of the Central and Eastern European countries regarding the war in Ukraine. The Slovak electoral campaign, when Fico strove for a more neutral position for his country, followed a similar dynamic. Given the US’s declining support for Ukraine, NATO’s eastern flank countries are also reducing the tone of their backing, letting national and historical rivalries resurface after the first year of the conflict when solidarity was emphasized. Russia’s weakness, evident in Prigozhin’s mutiny and in the Turkish-Azerbaijani victory in Southern Caucasus, is another factor. With the Russian threat being less scary, central and eastern European countries are losing part of what was holding them together (or at least that’s the perception, exploited in electoral terms).
The case of Poland is the most evident one: Warsaw switched from a position perceived as hawkish towards Russia to a very nationalist one in the case of the cereal ban and announcing the stoppage of arms flows towards Kyiv shortly after. The combination of factors represented by the lower US support towards Ukraine and the incoming elections led both Warsaw and Bratislava to a drastic turn in what was perceived as their international position. If the Polish case may not surprise, given their will to position themselves as a regional leader and the historical open questions with Ukraine, the situation in Slovakia is slightly different, as it was one of the fiercest supporters of Kyiv, having transferred a very high share of its arsenal to the Ukrainians.
With the dwindling US support, every country seems to believe that the better choice would be everybody for himself. Encouraged to exploit its position, Slovakia would have good leverage towards Kyiv, as it is one of the transit points in and out of the Ukrainian Transcarpathia. Uzhhorod’s region, which is the farthest from Russia, has been one of the safest points of the country and a major route for Ukrainian emigration. As the region was transferred from Czechoslovakia to Ukraine after the Second World War (a Soviet asset to control the whole region), the roles could now shift, with Slovakia partially controlling one of the in and out routes from Transcarpathia (the others being in Hungarian and Romanian territory).
Lastly, the possible return of Fico (he has not formed a government yet) to the forefront of Slovakian politics does not necessarily indicate a revival of the conservative Visegrad group: Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have shown that they are capable of coordinating policies following electoral or national interests without it. On the contrary, only if the interests of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Czechia resonate with each other, we will witness a V4 revival, as a tool for promoting them.