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Ukrainian and Slovak PMs agree to ‘new pragmatism’ to aid strained relations

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (The Presidential Office of Ukraine)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal says he agreed with his Slovak counterpart, Robert Fico, on a policy of “new pragmatism” as the two neighbors try to improve relations that have soured since the populist Slovak leader won an election last year vowing to halt military aid to Kyiv.

The two met in the western Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod on January 24 to “open a new page” in bilateral relations, according to Shmyhal, just a day after Fico called life in Kyiv “normal” even though Russian missiles had rained down on the capital hours earlier.

After the meeting, Shmyhal said agreement was reached “on a number of important issues” that will allow Ukraine to purchase weapons and equipment directly from Slovak companies without government interference, and support from Bratislava for the Ukraine Facility program, which envisages the provision of 50 billion euros by the European Union for Ukraine.

“Despite all the political challenges, we are developing a policy of ‘new pragmatism’ in our relations,” the Ukrainian prime minister said.

Since assuming office in October 2023, Fico has followed through on his campaign pledges to reorient Slovak foreign policy to be “independent.”

At his first European Union summit in late October, Fico reiterated that Slovakia won’t back further military aid to Ukraine, while also rejecting further international sanctions against Russia.

Earlier this week he said Slovakia rejects the admission of Ukraine to NATO because its membership would mean “nothing else than a basis for World War III” and that Kyiv would have to give up some territory to end the war launched by Russia in February 2022 because there was no military solution to the conflict.

His comments on January 23 about life in Kyiv struck a particularly sour note with Ukrainians given that dozens of people had been wounded during a barrage of Russian missiles.

After meeting Shmyhal, Fico appeared to strike a conciliatory tone, saying that while there are “some issues where we might have different opinions, that’s life.”

Fico assured Shmyhal that Ukraine had the “full support” of Slovakia to fulfill the country’s “European integration aspirations.”

In December, the EU voted to start membership talks with Ukraine despite hesitation among some members.

Ukraine is counting on quick steps in the first half of 2024 regarding the opening of negotiations on its bid to join the EU, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said this week, while also calling on the bloc to increase the supply of weapons and approve a long-term support program for Kyiv.