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Shooting of Slovak leader heightens war risk

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, Europe’s toughest opponent of military backing for Ukraine, was shot multiple times May 15 by an as yet unidentified assailant. He was transported by helicopter to a trauma center at Banska Bystrica, where he is fighting for his life. His condition is not known.

Few details have been published about the would-be assassin, who was captured after the incident. Reportedly a 71-year-old man used a legally-owned weapon. The shooting took place at a private government off-site meeting in Handlova, and it is not known how the gunman learned of and gained access to the closed event.

It is the first shooting of a European head of government since the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme in 1986.

After two previous terms as prime minister Fico returned to office in 2023, in a coalition among his Direction-Social Democracy party and two other parties. He opposed shipping Western arms to Ukraine through Slovak territory and has opposed the provision of Western weapons to Ukraine. Instead, Fico said in a September 2023 interview, “Why don’t we force the warring parties, use the weight of the EU and the US to make them sit down and find some sort of compromise that would guarantee security for Ukraine?”

The Czech Republic may follow Slovakia’s opposition to the Ukraine war after next year’s parliamentary election. Andrej Babis’ ANO party has a decisive lead in voter polls. Along with Hungary, Slovakia stands to form a block with Czechia and Serbia in opposition to US and European Commission support for Ukraine.

The shooting recalls the July 31, 1914, assassination of French Socialist leader Jean Jaurès, his country’s leading opponent of war after the murder of Austria’s Archduke