Slovenia Offers to Host Russia-US Summit
Andrei AKULOV 16.02.2017 09:45

On February 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with President of Slovenia Borut Pahor, who was in Russia on an official visit. The leaders exchanged views on key regional and international issues and signed a host of documents to boost the cordial and mutually beneficial bilateral relations. Putin visited Slovenia in July to confer for hours in private with President Pahor.

Slovenia offered to host a Russia-US summit in its capital Ljubljana. President Putin welcomed the idea. «Ljubljana — and Slovenia in general — is of course a great place to hold such dialogue», he said at a press conference with the visiting Slovenian counterpart. Slovenia’s Prime Minister Miro Cerar first raised the prospect of a US-Russia summit in his country as far back as November, saying his country «could become a bridge between the two superpowers».

The Russian president noted that the Russian-American relations have degraded especially hard. He expects them to be fully restored. Putin welcomes Trump's statements about his intentions to revive the strained Russia-US ties. According to him, a summit could help solve various international conflicts and strengthen the fight against terrorism. The Russian and US presidents agreed about the need to meet soon during their phone call on January 28.

Slovenia is the birthplace of US First Lady Melania Trump. Ljubljana was the site of a meeting between Putin and President George W. Bush in 2001. Slovenia is among a select group of countries, including Germany, Greece, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy, whose leaders have advocated an end to the anti-Russian economic penalties imposed by the EU.

Russia was a big export market for Slovenian food products before the EU sanctions were imposed. The country remains keen to be a transit country for Russian gas supplies to Southern Europe. As a NATO and EU member enjoying special relationship with Moscow, Slovenia is well-positioned to act as a bridge to narrow the gap between Russia and the West in general.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he was looking forward to an opportunity to meet US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Germany, where they both will attend a security conference and a meeting of the G-20 foreign ministers next week.

On January 28, Russian and US presidents spoke on the phone – their first official contact since Trump's inauguration on January 20. The two leaders agreed to establish «partner-like cooperation» on international issues and vowed to join forces to fight terrorism in Syria and elsewhere. The event signaled a potential shift in Russian-US relations. Russia and the US have many points of shared mutual interest. Former US State Secretary Henry Kissinger believes a bad relationship with Russia makes it harder to solve problems.

Now the prospect hinges on the US. In his telephone call with Trump, Pahor proposed Slovenia as the venue for the American leader’s first summit with the Russian leader. The White House has not yet commented on the possibility of such an event. Many experts had believed that it would take months to arrange such a meeting, but Slovenia’s proposal could expedite the events.

The opportunity should not be missed at a time when the overall political relationship between Washington and Moscow has tumbled to a nadir. Donald Trump’s victory provides a good chance to improve the bilateral relations and start addressing burning issues of international security. Russia and the US have not had meaningful negotiations for almost three years, much like it was in the days of the Cold War when there were no contacts to discuss it in the period from 1983 to 1985.

The events in Syria and the fight against terrorists should be urgently addressed. There is a big probability the two powers will have to coordinate policies on Libya, and, probably, Algeria. Joining together to address the situation in Afghanistan would also be a step in the right direction.

The future of arms control is the biggest challenge. If the parties fail to prolong or replace the New START as well as iron out the differences over the INF Treaty, the world will witness an unfettered arms race for the first time since SALT-I was signed in 1972.

The recently increased military presence of US-led NATO forces in Eastern Europe, the Baltic States and the Black Sea could increase Russia’s emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons (TNW), sending the Russia-NATO security relationship into a downward cycle. The ballistic missile defense (BMD) is a threatening global stability. This issue cannot be shelved; it needs to be urgently addressed. The B61-12 upgraded warheads deployed in Europe and the future of the plutonium agreement are also the problems to be addressed without delay in a constructive way.

Military activities and conventional forces is another burning issue to grapple with. Germany has recently come up with an initiative  to launch talks on a new Russia-NATO arms control agreement. Russia and the US could join together convening a conference under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to address the arms control and European security agenda. The two powers could scope out the issues and agree on how formal negotiations should be conducted. Ukraine and Syria could be discussed as separate problems. The NATO-Russia Council could make an important contribution into a dialogue.

Donald Trump has said he is ready to ally with Russia in the fight against Islamic State. This is a key area where both countries could be allies as they are fighting the same enemy. It’s worth noting that President Trump’s top «defense priorities» list does not include Russia. The absence of Russia on his threats list is a symbolic sign to indicate the advent of new thinking and new approaches. The president’s calls for better relations with Russia have influenced public opinion in Moscow’s favor.

Neither side appears to be prone to drag it out. Before the election, Donald Trump had made known his desire to meet the Russian leader even prior to the inauguration. It’s reasonable to hold a top level meeting before the G20 Hamburg summit in July to exchange the views before the major multinational event.

If the Russian and US leaders hit it off in Slovenia, it could provide a strong impulse to normalize the relations. After all, the two have a common enemy – the Islamic State (IS). The two countries have not fought a common enemy since WWII.