Who is Slovak populist prime minister Robert Fico?

Robert Fico is a populist leader who staged a political comeback last year.

The 59-year-old has previously been compared to former US president Donald Trump.

But his election victory last autumn meant NATO also had another leader who was sympathetic to Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Robert Fico in 'life-threatening condition' after assassination attempt - follow live updates

Critics have voiced increasing fears Mr Fico would abandon Slovakia's pro-Western course.

This would echo some of the concerns raised about Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, another NATO member.

Thousands of people have repeatedly held protests across Slovakia against his policies.

Mr Fico and his SMER, or Direction party, secured nearly 23% of the votes at the polls in October.

He is known for foul-mouthed tirades against journalists and has campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.

The prime minister has previously opposed EU sanctions on Russia - and has been against Ukraine joining NATO.

He believes the US and other nations should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal.

Mr Fico also repeated Mr Putin's unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state from which ethnic Russians in the country need protection.

The politician founded the SMER party in 1999 and has served as the nation's prime minister for over 10 years across three different spells.

Born to a working-class family, Mr Fico graduated with a law degree in 1986 and joined the then ruling Communist Party.

After the 1989 fall of communist rule, he worked as a government lawyer, won a seat in parliament under the renamed Communist Party, and represented Slovakia at the European Court For Human Rights.

With a campaign based on overturning austerity reforms, Mr Fico started his first four-year spell as the country's leader in 2006.

He returned as leader in the parliamentary elections of 2012, but failed in an attempt to win the presidential election of 2014.

In 2016, despite winning the parliamentary polls, Mr Fico's party was unable to secure a majority and after a multi-party coalition allowed him to remain as leader, he resigned in 2018.

As leader of the largest party following the October 2023 election, Mr Fico formed a coalition with Voice - Social Democracy (Hlas) and the Slovak National Party, and began his fourth term as prime minister.

All three coalition parties are either leftist or nationalist and, having previously expressed anti-American views, he has spoken about what he called Western influence in Ukraine's war which only led to Slavic nations killing each other.

His popularity among some, however, has been based on promises to protect the living standards of those left behind in a country where conditions for many are only slowly catching up with western Europe and where many hold relatively fond memories of a communist-era past.

Ukraine should make 'compromise'

Earlier this year, Mr Fico reiterated his controversial belief Ukraine should give up territory to end the war with Russia.

In January, he told Slovak public broadcaster RTVS: "There has to be some kind of compromise.

"What do they expect, that the Russians will leave Crimea, Donbas and Luhansk? That's unrealistic."

In the same interview, he added Ukraine's membership of NATO would "merely be a basis for World War Three" and Ukraine was "not an independent and sovereign country" which instead was under the "influence and control" of the US.

Protests against controversial changes to TV and radio

Two weeks ago, thousands of people demonstrated against his controversial overhaul of Slovakia's radio and TV services.

Critics said it would result in the government taking full control of the media.

The proposed changes would mean the public broadcaster known as RTVS would cease to exist and be replaced by a new organisation.

"If Fico takes control of RTVS, it would mean a decisive step on the way towards Orban and Putin," Michal Simecka, of the main opposition party Progressive Slovakia, told thousands of protesters in the capital Bratislava.

In April, Mr Fico refused to back the implementation of the EU's new migration system in his country.

The bloc's new pact set out new security and asylum procedures as well as proposed quotas.

He said: "We are saying unequivocally that you cannot order a country that it must accept, in the Slovak case, up to 300 migrants you know nothing about, or pay €20,000 per each."