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Is Slovakia Closer To Exiting NATO, As Russian Daily Claims?



pro-government Russian daily

"More than 150,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to organize a referendum to leave NATO. [...] Moreover, residents of the country are expressing their dissatisfaction over the deployment of NATO bases on Slovak territory at the latest rally on May 18. Support of NATO by the population has markedly dropped. Slovakia may become the first country to announce its departure from the Alliance by 2020."

...polls indicate no strong anti-NATO sentiment.

While Izvestia focused on the May 18 anti-NATO rally organized by the far-right party of Marian Kotleba, People’s Party - Our Slovakia (LSNS), was unable to find any coverage of it beyond Izvestia itself except on other pro-Kremlin web sites. As the Ukraine-focused site STOP FAKE pointed out, such demonstrations have been falsely portrayed in the past, for example, using a photo from a riot in Frankfurt. Even RT, Russia’s state-backed international news network, had to admit that there were only 500 protesters at a demonstration against NATO in front of the US Embassy in Bratislava in 2015.

Demonstrations in Slovakia more often appear to be about other issues, such as corruption. In fact, 3,000 Slovaks gathered to protest what they saw as the extremism of Kotleba and his LSNS party. Izvestia also fails to note that the LSNS is usually characterized as a far-right pro-Russian party and cannot be said to represent a majority of Slovaks.

While Izvestia accurately reported a 2016 poll by the GLOBSEC Policy Institute in Bratislava in which 47 percent of Slovaks said they preferred neutrality, Izvestia neglects to mention that only 20 percent in this poll said they oppose NATO membership. In its 2016 poll, GLOBSEC said 30 percent of Slovaks think NATO membership "is a good thing” while acknowledging that the level of support for neutrality is "almost up to 50 percent.” GLOBSEC characterized Slovakia as "the second most euro-optimistic country" but also described it as "the most pro-Russian leaning and anti-American country" with 12 percent of those polled expressing such an orientation. Even so, nearly twice that number, or 23 percent, were described by pollsters as being in "the pro-West camp."

In general, Slovakia has been an active and supportive member of NATO since joining the alliance in 2004, and has benefited from the relationship. Slovak Defense Minister Peter Gajdos called for strengthening the eastern border of NATO in February 2017. Slovakia won a big contract to repair NATO helicopters recently.

While it is true that 150,000 signatures would be required to hold a referendum on leaving NATO in 5.5-million Slovakia, even Kotleba acknowledged, according to Izvestia, that it might take one or two years to gather that many signatures. The pro-Kremlin Russia Insider further admitted that the effort was in fact started back in July 2016. And it's far from clear whether the required 35,000 signatures will be secured.

Izvestia may have timed the story with the entry of Montenegro into NATO this week. And earlier on May 15, Slovak President Andrej Kiska said he fully supported the effort of Georgia to join NATO eventually.

Jakub Janda, deputy director of the Prague-based European Values Think Tank told that he did not think an actual referendum on Slovakia leaving NATO was realistic.

"Slovak NATO membership is the prime target of the Kremlin proxies and disinformation projects in Slovakia, but they are not yet in a stage when they could realistically trigger the relevant national debate and the subsequent referendum. A crisis might change that, but right now, they keep pushing and changing the Slovak population’s views on that, but not dramatically."