BRATISLAVA: European countries are ignoring evidence of Russian interference in their politics and the destabilising effect on the region of policies that will make Europe more reliant on Russian energy, Slovakia's President Andrej Kiska said on Thursday.
Kiska, who is not a member of any political party, is a pro-Western voice in NATO and euro zone member Slovakia but has limited executive powers. He said this week he would not seek reelection next year.
Former prime minister Robert Fico, who was replaced in March by his deputy Peter Pellegrini of the same leftist Smer party that dominates the government, has often spoken against sanctions imposed by the European Union over Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.
"We openly speak about Russian spies active in our countries. And many politicians, my country included, turn a blind eye thereto," Kiska told the Globsec security conference in Bratislava.
"We face propaganda and hoaxes attacking our societies, and we do not search for its originators. Because we already know," he added.
Unlike neighbouring Poland and Hungary, Slovakia has avoided clashing with Brussels over the rule of law, but was the only central European country not to expel any Russian diplomats over the March poisoning of a Russian former double agent in Britain.
Britain says Russia poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and '80s. Moscow denies any involvement in the attack, which sparked the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.
Russia has also denied accusations of meddling in the U.S. and French presidential elections and launching cyber attacks against the West.
Speaking at a conference also attended by Russia's United Nations envoy Vassily Nebenzia, Kiska described the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, preparatory works for which are set to begin off the German coast, as selfish and harmful to EU stability.
An initiative of Russia's Gazprom and five European companies, and with German backing, the gas pipeline on the Baltic seabed will connect Russia directly with Germany, bypassing eastern Europe and limiting flows via Ukraine.
It will double Russia's gas export capacity to Germany but cost Ukraine valuable revenues while increasing EU reliance on Russian gas. The project would also limit flows through Slovakia.
"This project has serious political consequences, it is an example of purely selfish economic interests at the expense of stability and prosperity of our immediate neighbourhood," the Slovak president added. "We send a signal to Russia about how short-sighted we are in our policies."
Kiska called Russia's involvement in Syria "shameful" and called for resolute collective action to counter "undemocratic regimes pretending to be peacemakers while waging war not for peace, but for repairing a lost national pride and to regain a place among major world players".
"And to those who send their troops to steal land of sovereign states," he added - a reference to the annexation of Crimea, which prompted the United States and EU to impose sanctions on Russia.
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Catherine Evans)