AIM: start

FRI, 15 JUN 2001 17:09:11 GMT

USA - Russia

Bush and Putin in Ljubljana

Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially confirmed that American President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin would meet for the first time on June 16 and 17 - in Ljubljana.

AIM Ljubljana, May 19, 2001

Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has officially confirmed the information published a few days ago by Reuters: "President Bush will visit Ljubljana, Slovenia, in the end of his visit to Europe in the month of June. In Ljubljana he will meet with Russian President Putin and Slovenian leadership. The USA and Slovenia have excellent relations and inclusion of Slovenia in European and transatlantic institutions will be discussed. The President expects with joy the review of possibilities of cooperation of the USA and the Russian Federation about achieving joint goals". This is said in the official message sent by the American Embassy in Ljubljana.

All Slovenian officials headed by Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek have already expressed unconcealed enthusiasm about the decision on the summit meeting in Ljubljana. In his statement for the public Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek expresses "great satisfaction that presidents Bush and Putin have decided to have their first summit meeting in Slovenia. The choice of Slovenia as the site of the mentioned meeting is an expression of excellent relations our state has both with the USA and the Russian Federation".

As we learn from Slovenian diplomatic sources the decision that Ljubljana be the site of the summit meeting was reached during the meeting of the Russian foreign minister with American President George Bush. Bush - who unlike his predecessor Bill Clinton does not like long journeys - before coming to Slovenia on his European tour, will visit Spain, Belgium, Poland and Sweden. He is setting out on the journey on June 12, and returning to the USA on June 16 or 17. Apart from the fact that it is the first meeting of the two presidents - on the territory quite close to the part of the Balkan where until just two years ago Russian and American interests were very dramatically opposed - it is especially significant that Bush and Putin will talk about the American shield. Symbolically, Ljubljana is a convenient place for the meeting because it is one of the few places in the world where Russian and American embassies are located next to each other. In other states where diplomatic relations (and embassies) were constructed at a "cold" period - this is rarely the case.

The meeting of the presidents of the two world powers on the territory of Slovenia is quite certainly one of the greatest diplomatic achievements of this country which will in a little over a month celebrate the tenth anniversary of its independence. A similar great political event happened in June 1999 when Slovenia was visited by the then American president Bill Clinton immediately after the end of NATO intervention against FR Yugoslavia.

It is a different question to what extent the choice of Ljubljana was influenced by good relations of official Ljubljana with Moscow and Washington and to what extent it is the result of favourable circumstances. Drnovsek's statement gives the impression of a certain "equidistance" of Ljubljana to Moscow and Washington. This is wrong, of course; Slovenia is an associated member of EU and a member of the Partnership for Peace. As early as December 25, 1995 it already signed the agreement on transit of SFOR troops over its territory, and in October 1998 it was the first state that opened its air space for the intervention of NATO bombers against Yugoslavia. Although Slovenia did not become a new member of NATO in 1999 (like Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary), it remains a serious candidate for membership in that organisation.

In the Declaration on Foreign Policy of Slovenia like in many other documents it is stressed how important the USA and the European Union are for the position of Slovenia. In that same document the relations with Russia are mentioned in exactly a sentence and a half: "It is in the interest of Slovenia to further develop good relations with the Russian Federation, especially in the economic sphere. Slovenia has a longterm interest for economic and political stabilisation of the situation in the Russian Federation". The relations between Slovenia and Russia, especially from the economic point of view, are, generally speaking, good; about 40 Slovenian enterprises have offices in Russia, and its export of drugs, household appliances, furniture, various tools and especially work of construction firms in Russia are an important part of Slovenia's export. Slovenia buys gas and oil in Russia (a part of the future oil pipeline from Russia to Italy should go through Slovenia), it imports cars, but not arms.

It is generally known that between Moscow and Ljubljana there are a few open problems (primarily the debt from the time of SFRY), and that in the past few years Russian and Slovenian diplomats often exchanged harsh words concerning the policy to FRY, expansion of NATO and similar. Despite everything, they believe in Ljubljana, from Russia's point of view, Slovenia is the westernmost "Slav" state and probably the most suitable for Moscow and the first meeting of the two presidents of all the other states where Bush will stay. In other words, Russia had no big choice. Apart from Sweden Slovenia was the only choice. In the end, the state was chosen in which Russian tourists in cafes in Bovec, Portoroz and Piran (where they most frequently stay) could order to eat and drink in their language with high probability to be understood by the waiter.

In relations with the USA there are more linguistic barriers, but less political ones. "For me, and I am certain for Slovenia in general, the USA are an extension of European institutions and values. Or, if you wish, perhaps vice versa. In many respects, we can look upon Europe as an extension of American institutions and values", Dimitrij Rupel, Slovenian foreign minister described recently his view of Europe and the USA in his speech at Harvard University in Cambridge. That is why Slovenia's stands in the past ten years have been almost identical to the stands of the USA and they are often formed in accordance with the wishes of official Washington - which was very clearly shown by Slovenia's joining and then pulling out from the Resolution on the World without Nuclear Armament in the UN. The last move in that direction is the benevolent attitude of Slovenian foreign ministry to the knowledge that the Embassy of the USA in Ljubljana issues instructions to Slovenian parliamentarians how they should behave in Cuba. That is what happened at the latest convention of the Interparliamentary Union in Havana.

After such instructions three Slovenian parliamentarians of Italian ethnic origin did not, after all, meet Cuban dissidents. Partly because they were not sure that “the activists for human rights” noted in the letter received from the American Embassy were really just that, and partly because of the arrest of two Czech parliamentarians (Ivan Pilip and Ian Bubenik) during a similar undertaking organised by Freedom House a few months ago. At the time, instead of a protest of Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (for example, because of the violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations) the already announced meeting was suspended of Slovenian diplomats with Cuban minister of the economy devoted to the question of Cuban debt and Slovenian investments into Cuban economy. The suspension of this meeting just preceded the confirmation of Bush’s visit to Slovenia.

Although due to the different weight of the two events the conclusion about this being the result of political bargaining, it is not impossible that the two are mutually conditioned. In any case, in the second half of June this year Ljubljana will be the site of a diplomatic meeting of the format it has not seen for 180 years. The only similar event linked to the name of Ljubljana (Laibach in Austria-Hungary at the time) that remained noted in the history of world diplomacy is the convention of the Holy Alliance back in 1821.

Igor Mekina

(AIM Ljubljana)