Why Russia is switching its priorities from the US to Europe

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Series Details Vol.7, No.25, 21.6.01, p9
Publication Date 21/06/2001
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Date: 21/06/01

While most eyes were firmly fixed on Göteborg, Slovenia celebrated the 10th anniversary of its independence by hosting the US-Russia summit in Ljubljana. Slovenian writer Seniha Muhare Mi-Vukas analyses its long-term implications for the EU

THE last time that Ljubljana - capital of Slovenia - found itself at the centre of Europe's diplomatic stage was during the super-summit of 1821.

It played host to the emperors of Austria and Russia and the king of Naples for more than three months between January and May, at the conference of the ultra-conservative Holy Alliance, established six years earlier in Vienna.

On 16 June 2001, Ljubljana was for 24 hours the centre of the world again, when a new chapter in US-Russian relations was begun. Why did the former Cold War adversaries choose Slovenia as their meeting place? The answer is its geo-political situation as the final frontier of a peaceful and civilised Europe before the war-torn Balkans and unpredictable Asia.

Its reliable, constructive role in the international community makes it credible in issues involving the former Yugoslavia, in the activities of NATO and in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo. The degree of its economic development makes it an almost certain future member of the EU; however its main problems are not missile defence but refugees, duty-free shops, joining NATO and defining the border on the sea.

The Bush-Putin meeting only took place after a swift U-turn by the White House, which did not until recently consider relations with the Kremlin a priority. Missile defence was the key. Russia sells enormous quantities of weapons to China as well as to Iran, Iraq and North Korea - the potential enemies whose unpredictable leaders are, according to Bush, the main reason for his new policy.

Many EU leaders are as uneasy as Putin about missile defence. Russia is also squarely behind Europe in its desire to ratify the Kyoto climate control protocol - abandoned by Bush.

This is just part of the reorientation of Russian political interests and priorities from the US to Europe.

Moreover, relations between China and Russia will be given a boost next month after the signing of a friendship and cooperation agreement, leaving Washington with little optimism about future diplomatic moves.

The main flashpoints of today's world, namely the Balkans and the Middle East, must be seen in the same context. Washington has already lost any influence with the Palestinians - hence Yasser Arafat's visits to Moscow and Brussels. Make no mistake, Bush may be grabbing most of the headlines but the Kremlin is quietly scoring political points; it was no coincidence that Putin's next stop after Ljubljana was Belgrade.

There is no doubt that Bush had intended to ignore Russia on the geopolitical chessboard. But the White House has quickly come to realise that it cannot maximise its interests in the EU, Asia and the Middle East without Russian cooperation. In the meantime, Europe can only stand to benefit.

Feature on the US-Russia summit, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 16 June 2001.

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Record URL https://www.europeansources.info/record/?p=257387