The West made a mistake by not reacting to the 2014 annexation of Crimea adequately, Slovenia’s president has said.
“It was a wrong signal to (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin that he can do whatever he wants, with unimportant consequences for his actions,” Borut Pahor told Anadolu Agency in an interview during his official visit to Türkiye’s capital Ankara.
The sanctions package after Crimea’s annexation was not “radical,” he said, adding that the West did not want to “repeat the mistake” after Russia launched war in Ukraine on Feb. 24, and adopted a strong package of sanctions.
The war in Ukraine, Pahor said, put “huge burden on our shoulders, but we are in solidarity,” which he said should be maintained until peace is achieved.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was surprised to see such solidarity, according the Slovenian leader.
“I didn’t expect neither that Putin will invade Ukraine, I’ve been surprised and disappointed. Disappointed, because I’ve invested very much, as the president, as the prime minister of Slovenia, to have excellent relations with Russia and President Putin,” he added.
Pahor said Ukraine should not be left alone in its war with Russia and the West should do whatever it takes to ensure peace.
“At this very moment I just don't see the possibility for such a peace. But it will be, I hope so very much in the near future,” he said.
The president also urged that “the political will” of Ukraine, its government and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy should be followed.
‘Some countries under direct pressure from Russia’
Pahor said that he has been trying for his colleagues at the EU and NATO to pay attention to the Western Balkans.
“There is a long tradition of problems even before the war. But with the war, there is another problem, and that is that some countries there are under direct pressure from Russia,” the Slovenian president asserted.
Serbia, for which the EU membership process continues, is under great pressure on whether to implement the sanctions of the Western bloc and the EU, he claimed.
Pahor said the EU accession processes of the Western Balkan countries should be accelerated.
“The right answer to this problem of consequences of the war (in Ukraine) is to speed the process of enlargement of the European Union and NATO to the Western Balkans countries,” he defended.
“In this case, I think every country, also Serbia, will have to answer the question where certain countries would like to be. And I hope so very much that every country including Serbia, at the end of the day, will be on the side of the West,” he added.
He also pointed out the recent tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, which escalated late July ahead of Pristina’s planned implementation of a new law mandating that everyone, including Serbs living in Kosovo, have a Kosovar ID card and license plate.
Pahor said these problems can only be solved in the long term by accelerating the enlargement process.
‘If NATO waits, Western Balkans countries will be exposed to Russia’
The Slovenian leader said Bosnia-Herzegovina should be the next country to be invited to NATO membership.
“I think, if Bosnia would be one day in NATO, that would, very importantly, change the dynamic of events in Western Balkans,” he said.
Pahor said that he has been working grant EU candidate status to Bosnia-Herzegovina before the end of 2022, without any precondition. He also emphasized the importance of North Macedonia and Albania’s continuing membership bids in the EU.
The Slovenian president said that the Western Balkans hold some opportunities as well as problems.
“And I would like to say how important it is what the EU and NATO will do there. If they will wait and wait and wait for developments, well, the Western Balkans countries will be exposed to Russia and this could be of the problem.”
‘Thank God Türkiye is a member of NATO’
Speaking on Türkiye’s strategic importance, Pahor said the strategic partnership agreement that was signed between Slovenia and Türkiye in 2011 shows the importance the two countries gave each other.
“I think it’s good that there is a process of negotiation between Brussels and Ankara on EU membership. I know it’s going very slow. But nevertheless, I think it’s important to keep Turkey as close to us as possible,” said Pahor.
He hailed Türkiye for its “excellent job” in mediating between Russia and Ukraine as the war continues in its sixth month.
“I think we should be thankful to your government and the president that they are so strong in getting some results here, which are not important just for Europe but also for third countries,” he added.
On July 22, Türkiye, the UN, Russia and Ukraine signed a deal in Istanbul to reopen three Ukrainian ports -- Odesa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhny -- for grain exports.
The historic deal, brokered by Türkiye and the UN, has unblocked exports of grain stuck in Ukrainian ports since the beginning of the war.
Pahor said that he is in favor of “excellent relations” between Brussels and Ankara. “Your country is important. Geopolitically is extremely important. Thank God it is a member of NATO. I think this is very, this is very important.”
He also said that the three-way memorandum that were signed between Türkiye, Sweden and Finland during NATO’s Madrid summit in June for the two Nordic countries’ accession to the alliance is extremely important for the alliance’s future.
“I wouldn’t under estimate the role of Türkiye, I think nobody is underestimating the role of Türkiye. There is a debate going on on democracy or rule of law, free media, and all that stuff. But this is not just the debate between Türkiye and EU, it’s also a debate within the EU.”