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Slovakia did not “say no to NATO” and “turn to Russia”: it is a NATO member and has backed sanctions


Author(s): Marion Dautry, AFP Fact Check

A video showing two Slovak politicians pouring water on the Ukrainian flag in parliament followed by footage of protests was shared almost 20,000 times on Facebook in March with the misleading claim in Serbian that “countries are turning to Russia” and that “Slovakia said No to NATO”. However, the footage from early February actually shows the Slovak parliament discussing a planned bilateral defence pact with the United States, not NATO. Furthermore, Slovakia has publicly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sent military help to Kyiv. Slovakia’s government has also approved hosting more NATO troops due to the ongoing conflict.

“Slowly, but surely, countries one by one are turning to Russia. Slovakia said No NATO!!! You will not see this in media paid for by the West,” reads the description in Serbian of a video posted on Facebook on March 9, 2022, and shared 20,000 times in two days. The same video and claim were published in other posts including here and here. They seem to have originated from a post on a Serbian Telegram channel sharing content about the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Unlike Slovakia, Serbia is not a member of NATO and has been tepid in its condemnation of Moscow, a key ally, since the invasion.

In the video, two members of parliament holding Slovakia’s flag throw water at two other politicians who are holding up Ukraine’s flag. The incident took place in the Slovak parliament at the beginning of February 2022 while MPs were voting on a military agreement with the United States, according to news reports. The agreement was adopted, although opposition MPs and part of the population opposed it. Protests against the agreement make up the second part of the video shared on Facebook.

Contrary to the claim on social media, Slovakia has not “turned to Russia” — its government has condemned the invasion of Ukraine that started on February 24, 2022. The country is supporting sanctions against Russia and has sent military help to Ukraine. The government has also agreed to host more NATO troops. Slovakia has been a member of NATO since 2004.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post taken on March 11, 2022

The flag incident was not about NATO

A keyword search on Google showed that the confrontation in parliament had been widely covered by Western media, contrary to the claims on Facebook.

“The incident happened on February 8 when MPs met due to a parliamentary session during which the Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with the US was to be discussed and voted on,” the Slovak Spectator reported. The article included footage of the clash from Slovak news agency TASR. The screenshot below shows that the TASR video matches the images used in the false claims.

Screenshots from the video posted on Facebook (top) and from the video posted by the Slovak news agency TASR (bottom), taken on March 15, 2022

The pact, which grants the US army access to Slovak military facilities for 10 years in exchange for financing military improvements, was not signed with NATO but with the US government, as the press release from the Slovak Ministry of Defense states. After being signed by the government on February 3, the agreement still had to be debated and approved by Slovakia’s parliament.

“The parliamentary debate was obstructed by opposition lawmakers, who used whistles to prevent others from speaking. They also seized a Ukrainian flag unveiled by the coalition lawmakers, after pouring water on it and a lawmaker who was holding it,” the US news agency Associated Press reported.

An MP from the ruling coalition, Miroslav Žiak, who was holding the Ukrainian flag, also posted a video of the event on his Facebook page. “First, they started blocking the speaker’s stand with the flag of Slovakia, when I went to show them Slovak-Ukrainian friendship, so the moment I turned the flag correctly, they snatched it from my hands,” he wrote in the post.

The incident happened as Russia was massing troops along its border with Ukraine and the US was warning of an imminent invasion, which happened on February 24.

The defence pact was adopted by the Slovak parliament on February 9, 2022 — the day after the confrontation between the rival politicians.

The agreement was controversial and protests were organised to oppose it. In the second part of the video posted on Facebook, people are holding Slovak national flags and are gathered between the castle and the parliament in Bratislava.

Screenshot from the misleading Facebook post (top) and from Google Maps (bottom) made on March 11, 2022. Red markings by AFP

The Facebook footage includes a person wearing red gloves holding a red sign saying “Stop USA army”, a blonde woman with a hat holding a green sign saying “Yankees go home” and some of the flags are black. Those three elements can also be seen in this video recording of the protest, published by Slovak media “Hospodarske Noviny” on February 8, 2022.

AFP Cinjenice could not find the origin of the images from the protest published on Facebook.

Slovakia is strengthening NATO participation and backing sanctions against Russia

Following Russia’s invasion, Slovakia and seven other European members of the military alliance called for urgent consultations under Article 4 of NATO’s treaty, which allows members to “bring any issue of concern, especially related to the security of a member country, to the table for discussion within the North Atlantic Council.”

The government has also approved more NATO troops to be stationed in Slovakia as a direct reaction to the ongoing conflict. This move must also be approved by the national parliament.

The Slovak Ministry of Foreign affairs stated in a Tweet on March 10, 2022 that due to Russia’s “aggressive actions against Ukraine”, NATO was strengthening “deterrance and defence measures” and that Slovakia’s defense would soon be aided by allies from the Czech Republic, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, and the United States.

Prior to Russia’s invasion, opinion polls showed division among Slovaks on the question of  who was responsible for escalating tensions and on the readiness to see more foreign troops come to the country, especially US soldiers. Slovakia has also been a target of pro-Russian propaganda, including against the US defense agreement, as AFP reported.

Following the invasion, however, Slovaks have been more united in condemning Russia for the war  and a majority supports the government’s response, according to opinion polls. Hundreds of Slovaks gathered on February 26 to condemn the invasion and show support for Ukraine. By March 15, 2022, the country had taken in more than 220,000 of the three million Ukrainians that have fled the war, according to the UN.

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Originally published here.
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