TUE, 29 MAY 2001 01:15:12 GMT
Bush and Putin in Ljubljana?
The Slovenian Foreign Ministry has officially confirmed that U.S.
President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet
for the first time on June 16 or June 17 -- in Ljubljana
AIM Ljubljana, May 19, 2001
A report released several days ago by Reuters has been officially
confirmed by the Slovenian Foreign Ministry. "President Bush will visit
Ljubljana, Slovenia, at the end of his European tour in June. In
Ljubljana he will meet with Russian President Putin and with Slovenian
leaders. The U.S. and Slovenia have excellent relations and will discuss
the inclusion of Slovenia in European and Trans-Atlantic institutions.
The president is looking forward to the possibility of cooperation
between the U.S. and the Russian Federation in pursuing common goals,"
said an official statement by the U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana.
All Slovenian officials, as well as Slovenian Prime Minister Janez
Drnovsek, have already expressed their exaltation over the decision to
hold the summit in Ljubljana. In a statement Prime Minister Drnovsek
stressed his "great pleasure that Presidents Bush and Putin have decided
to hold their first meeting in Slovenia. The selection of Slovenia is
proof of the excellent relations our country has with both the U.S. and
the Russian Federation."
Slovenian diplomatic sources said that the decision to select Ljubljana
for the meeting was made during a recent encounter between the Russian
foreign minister and the U.S. president. Bush, who unlike his
predecessor Clinton does not like long journeys, will before Slovenia
visit Spain, Belgium, Poland and Sweden. His tour will begin on June 12,
and he is returning to the U.S. on June 16 or June 17. In addition to
the fact that it will be the first meeting between the two presidents --
and in a region quite close to that part of the Balkans where until two
years ago U.S. and Russian interests strongly clashed -- the event is
even more important because Bush and Putin will talk about the U.S.
plans to create an anti-ballistic missile system. Ljubljana is also a
symbolically appropriate site for the meeting because it is among the
rare cities where the U.S. and the Russian embassies are located next to
each other. In other countries, where diplomatic relations (and
embassies) were built in colder times this was rarely the case.
The meeting of the presidents of the two super powers in Ljubljana is in
any case one of the greatest diplomatic successes of Slovenia, a country
that will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its independence in
slightly over one month. A political event of similar importance
occurred in June 1999, when then U.S. president Bill Clinton visited
Slovenia shortly after NATO's intervention in the Federal Republic of
It is another matter to what extent the good relations existing between
official Ljubljana and Moscow and Washington influenced officials to
select Ljubljana, and what is owed to fortunate circumstances. The
Drnovsek statement suggests there is a certain equidistance between
Ljubljana and Moscow and Washington. This, of course, is wrong: Slovenia
is an associate member of the EU and a member of the Partnership for
Peace. As early as Dec. 25, 1995, Slovenia had signed an agreement on
the transit of SFOR troops through its territory, and in October, 1998,
it was the first country to open its air space for NATO aircraft that
were to bomb Yugoslavia. Although in 1999 Slovenia did not join NATO
(like Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary), it has remained a serious
candidate for NATO membership.
A Declaration on Slovenian Foreign Policy and a number of other
documents stress just how much Slovenia considers the U.S. and the EU
important. The same document mentions relations with Russia in only a
sentence and a half: "It is the interest of Slovenia to develop good
relations with the Russian Federation, especially in the sector of
economy. Slovenia is interested in the economic and political
stabilization of the situation in the Russian Federation in the long
run." Relations between Slovenia and Russia, especially from the
viewpoint of trade, are -- generally speaking -- good. Some 40 Slovenian
companies have offices in Russia, and a large portion of Slovenian
exports involves the export of medicine, furniture, appliances and tools
and the operation of Slovenian construction companies in that country.
As far as imports are concerned, Slovenia purchases from Russia mostly
natural gas and oil (a part of a future pipeline between Russia and
Italy is supposed to pass through Slovenia) and vehicles, but it does
not import arms.
It is known that there are several unresolved problems between Moscow
and Ljubljana (the payment of debt dating from the former Yugoslav
period), and that Russian and Slovenian diplomats have had fierce
exchanges in the past several years on what policy should be pursued in
regard to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, NATO's expansion and
similar issues. Despite this, officials in Ljubljana believe that
Slovenia is perceived in Russia as the westernmost "Slavic" country and
consequently more suitable for the two presidents' meeting than any of
the other countries Bush plans to visit in June.
In other words, Russia, in fact, did not have much choice. Except for
Sweden, Slovenia was the only option. Ultimately, they agreed to select
a country where Russian tourists in restaurants in Bovec, Portoroz and
Piran (their favorite destinations) can still order a drink or a meal in
their own language and stand a good chance of being understood by the
waiter. In relations with the U.S., the language barrier is bigger but
there are fewer political differences.
"I personally am convinced, and I believe that many in Slovenia share my
view, that the U.S. are an expansion of European institutions and
values. Or, if you wish, it is the other way around. In many respects we
can view Europe as an expansion of U.S. institutions and values,"
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said in his recent address at
Harvard University in Cambridge. This is why Slovenia's positions of the
last decade were almost identical to those of the U.S., and were quite
frequently formed in accordance with the desires of official Washington
-- which was clearly demonstrated by Slovenia's initial acceptance and
subsequent withdrawal from a U.N. resolution on a world without nuclear
weapons. The latest step in that direction was the benevolent attitude
of the Slovenian Foreign Ministry towards reports that the U.S. embassy
in Ljubljana was instructing Slovenian MPs how to behave in Cuba. This
happened during a recent congress of the Interparliamentary Union in
Three Slovenian MPs, otherwise members of the Italian minority, who were
thus instructed ultimately did not meet with Cuban dissidents. This was
partly owed to the fact that they were not certain that these "human
rights activists," as they were portrayed in a letter by the U.S.
embassy were truly only that, and partly because of the arrest of two
Czech parliamentarians (Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik) during a similar
attempt, organized by Freedom House several months ago. Instead of
launching a protest (for instance, because of violations of the Vienna
Conventions on Diplomatic Relations), the Slovenian Foreign Ministry
suspended the already announced encounter of Slovenian diplomats with
the Cuban minister of the economy, during which Cuban debts and
Slovenian investment in Cuba were supposed to be discussed. The
suspension of the meeting came shortly before Bush's arrival in Slovenia
Although due to the unequal importance of these events it is unlikely
that some kind of political bargaining went on, there could still be a
cause and effect relationship between them. Be it as it may, at the end
of June this year Ljubljana will be the location of a diplomatic
encounter that it has not witnessed for 180 years. Namely, Back in 1821,
when Ljubljana was known as Leibach and belonged to Austria-Hungary,
another major international diplomatic event – the Congress of the Holy
Alliance -- went down in history as being held there.