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Slovakia's Sputnik V crisis deepens as PM says he's willing to resign

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Igor Matovic said he would be "willing to resign" to solve the coalition crisis.
Igor Matovic said he would be "willing to resign" to solve the coalition crisis.   -   Copyright  John Thys, Pool Photo via AP
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Slovakia's Prime Minister has said he is "willing to resign" under certain conditions to resolve the country's ongoing political crisis.

The coalition government of Igor Matovic has been criticised for buying the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine before it had been approved by the European Union.

The purchase of around two million doses of the Russian jab was made without the approval of two of the four parties making up the centre-right coalition.

The dispute resulted in the departure last week of Slovakia's health minister, Marek Krajci.

But the liberal-conservative Freedom and Solidarity (SAS) party and centre-right For People (Za ludi) party have now demanded that the prime minister also resign.

In a Facebook post, Matovic said he would only step down under certain conditions, including being allowed to remain in the Cabinet.

He also wanted two others to resign: Mária Kolíková, Slovakia's justice minister, from Za ludi - and Richard Sulik, deputy prime minister and leader of SAS - who has since stepped down.

"I believe this step will contribute to making the government functional again," Sulik said at a press conference on Monday.

The prime minister has always defended the deal to buy the Sputnik V vaccines, saying it will speed up the country's vaccination programme, but his allies in government say the move cast doubts on Slovakia's pro-Western ideology.

"Our coalition partners used Sputnik's imports to provoke a coalition crisis," Matovic said.

"Yes, we are also aware of our own share of responsibility in the current coalition crisis and also the seriousness of the situation.

"And we are also aware that much more important than any individual position in this government is the future of Slovakia and the further action of a democratic government, not a mafia government."

In a response on Facebook, Sulik welcomed the prime minister's offer to resign, but rejected the terms as "political revenge".

"We believe that the replacement of the Prime Minister is the key to good government, better managed, with better communication and organisation," he said before his own resignation.

"The current prime minister is dealing with personal animosities and is not concerned with the country."

Matovic became Prime Minister of Slovakia one year ago, after leading government parties to a landslide victory in the 2020 elections.

The country currently has the second-highest COVID-19 death rate in the European Union, after initially surviving the first wave of the pandemic without severe case numbers.

Coalition powerplay?

Dr Philipp Köker is a research fellow at the University of Hanover. He told Euronews that Matovic's motives are about protecting his own political career.

"I think by now.... we can see it is mostly personal and he has been accused of a somewhat erratic style of governing, very much focused on himself, his social media posts. So now in hindsight it appears also that the purchase of the Sputnik V vaccine was rather to bolster his own position against his coalition partners, present himself as the saviour of the country, which is still one with the highest death rates.

"Also the demand for resignations -- office critics point to the fact that this is now very personal and is not about what's best for the country anymore," Dr Köker added.

Watch the full interview with Dr Köker in the above player