Fico's pro-Russian party takes poll lead ahead of Slovakia's Sept vote

Fico, Chairman of SMER-SD arrives to a news conference in Bratislava

(Reuters) - Former Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico's Smer-SD party, which has called for an end to military aid to neighbouring Ukraine, has taken the lead in an opinion poll for the first time in more than two years.

The NATO and EU member country is due to hold an election in September after the centre-right coalition cabinet lost a vote of no confidence in December due to rifts among the ruling parties.

The poll by the IPSOS agency for news website, released on Friday, showed Fico's Smer-SD, or Direction-Social Democracy, with 16.2% of the vote, edging narrowly ahead of the Hlas (Voice) party, formed by a centrist faction that has split off from Smer, at 16%.

The poll was taken on March 7-9 among 1,017 respondents, said.

Smer has taken to increasingly harsh rhetoric against Brussels and what Fico has called "Western propaganda".

Last month, Fico said that "Ukrainian fascists" started the war in Ukraine in 2014 and there was no way Ukraine could take back Crimea annexed by Russia.

The Slovak political scene has been increasingly fragmented with a total of nine parties standing a chance of winning seats in parliament in September, according to the poll, including the Democrats party set up just on Tuesday by current Prime Minister Eduard Heger. It polled 4.8%, just under the 5% threshold to win seats.

Even if he scores the highest number of votes, Fico may find it difficult to find coalition partners beyond the far-right Republic party.

The Voice party may be the kingmaker after the election if neither Fico and the far right nor the liberal-conservative camp can pull together a majority.

The current government has strongly backed Ukraine in its defence against Russia, sending weapons to Kyiv and considering the transfer of its grounded fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets.

Fico was prime minister in 2006-2010 and in 2012-2018.

He was forced to resign in favour of then party colleague and now Voice leader Peter Pellegrini after mass protests against high-level corruption that followed the murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancee.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka in Prague; Editing by Susan Fenton)