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The Rise of Peter Pellegrini: Slovakia’s Shift to Pro-Russia Leadership

Peter Pellegrini, a populist figure, has secured the presidency of Slovakia, succeeding the liberal Zuzana Caputova.

In a notable electoral victory, Mr. Pellegrini, aged 48, defeated Ivan Korcok, a former diplomat known for his pro-Western stance, with 53% of the vote.

A former prime minister and ally of Prime Minister Robert Fico, Pellegrini shares Fico’s diplomatic approach towards Russia.

With Mr. Fico and his allies controlling Slovakia’s parliament and government, Pellegrini’s election to the presidency solidifies their dominance.

Previously, Slovakia stood as one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies until Mr. Fico assumed power in October, vowing to halt the supply of Slovak Army military stocks to Kyiv. Pellegrini’s succession of Mrs. Caputova signifies Ukraine’s definitive loss of support in a key EU and NATO capital.

Mr. Fico has been vocal in calling for an end to Western military support for Ukraine, advocating for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks with Moscow. He recently expressed that President Vladimir Putin had been “unfairly demonized” and warned that Ukraine’s NATO accession could trigger a third world war.

Pellegrini’s campaign rhetoric echoed similar sentiments, accusing Mr. Korcok of warmongering and falsely suggesting that he would send Slovak soldiers to fight in Ukraine, despite the presidency lacking constitutional authority over such decisions.

After Mrs. Caputova steps down in June, Slovakia will lack a high-level official who unequivocally supports Kyiv’s efforts to defend its territory with force, despite the country’s recent donation of its entire fleet of MiG-29 aircraft to Ukraine.

The liberal pro-Western opposition also criticizes Mr. Pellegrini, leader of the coalition Hlas party and chairman of parliament, for remaining silent as Mr. Fico dismantled Slovakia’s criminal justice system. Notably, Fico abolished the Special Prosecutor’s Office, established 20 years ago to investigate serious corruption and economic crime. This office had prosecuted senior officials from Fico’s Smer party and oversaw investigations into the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova in 2018.

The murders marked a pivotal moment in Slovak politics, leading to the downfall of Fico’s second premiership in 2018 and the election of the liberal, pro-Western Zuzana Caputova as president amid public outrage over official corruption and organized crime.

Recently, Fico’s government targeted Slovakia’s public broadcaster, proposing its abolition and replacement with a state-controlled institution. These plans were shelved after Peter Pellegrini’s disappointing performance in the first round of the presidential election two weeks ago.

The opposition fears that a resurgent Robert Fico will revive these plans, with concerns that President-elect Pellegrini is unlikely to oppose him.


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