Tanja Fajon, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia
Russian aggression may escalate to its neighbors if aid to Ukraine is insufficient
28.02.2024 14:41

Since the beginning of the year, Slovenia has become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from the group of Eastern European countries. Thus, it represents Ukraine, among others, in this body. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tanja Fajon recently visited New York, where she took part in a meeting of the UN General Assembly and a Security Council debate dedicated to the anniversary of Russia's war against Ukraine. We talk to Ms. Fajon at the Slovenian Permanent Mission to the United Nations about the Russian war, Ukraine's European prospects, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's position, and the possibility of Moscow's aggression against NATO countries.


- Madam Minister, you arrived in New York, in particular, to participate in the meetings of the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, dedicated to the anniversary of the Russian war against Ukraine. What was your main message to these most important UN structures?

- Yes, I spoke at the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council... You know that Slovenia has a firm position on Ukraine.

Under ideal circumstances, the Security Council would have adopted a resolution that could have put an end to the war and brought peace to Ukraine.

Now we have entered the third year of the bloody war, we see its intensification, many civilian victims, and the way it is destroying all the infrastructure, critical infrastructure.

Slovenia supports Ukraine because Ukrainians are fighting for the territorial sovereignty and integrity of their country. No one can take away your land by force or change your internationally recognized borders.

So, my message was also addressed to Russia as an aggressor: it must respect international law, the UN Charter and internationally recognized borders.

We have no time for fatigue and we will continue to support Ukraine and work for peace.

- Slovenia supports Ukraine at various levels. Is it just in line with the general European policy, or maybe you have some kind of your own, special vision of the need to support our country?

- We are talking about a country that has been brutally attacked by a neighboring state, as well as a European partner – a country that aspires to be part of the European Union and shares its values. That is why Europe supports Ukraine's accession to the EU, in carrying out the necessary reforms that will improve the lives of Ukrainian citizens.

After all, we are talking about a country located 500-600 kilometers from Slovenia.

And Slovenia in its history, as you know, not so long ago, 30 years ago, was subjected to the bloody wars that occurred in the Western Balkans with the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Therefore, we are very sensitive to the war in our neighborhood and want to see peace.

We also support people who need it, try to work with reconstruction in different cities of Ukraine, and also try to work with children, providing psychosocial support for the rehabilitation of war victims.

Although we are a small country, we provide humanitarian and material assistance to Ukraine and we will continue to do so.

Also, as for refugees from Ukraine, we have a lot of them in Slovenia, and, I would say, they are quite well integrated.

We also placed a children's shelter from Ukraine in Slovenia, where there were about two dozen newborns and children, they were very well cared for. But recently, as far as I know, Ukraine decided that the orphans should return to the country. And they're already home.


- Returning to Ukraine's European prospects... How would you assess them?

- It depends, of course, on the reform process - on the rule of law, freedom of speech, public administration. In this process of reforms, Ukraine has received a very strong political signal from the European Union. You share our values. Now it is time to implement the necessary reforms.

This was the case with all the countries of the Western Balkans, and the same is true today for Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. Slovenia, by the way, has its own experience and knows how to go through reforms and the accession process.

I hope that Ukraine will cope with this, and there will also be political readiness among European countries to move forward.

This was a very strong political message from Brussels to Ukraine... You are part of Europe, and you are defending our values. Welcome! Ukrainians should understand and know this, and I think they do.

- What is your attitude to the Ukrainian Peace Formula put forward by President Volodymyr Zelensky?

- We support Zelensky's Peace Formula and are part of a dozen relevant groups that are concerned with it.

I also believe that we need broader international support, particularly from the Global South. At the end of the day, if you want to have a concrete formula that can actually bring peace, you need to have participants on both sides of the table. This is not the case.

It's all about Putin's desire to end this war. And we have to do everything we can to make it end. That is why we support any peace formula or any effort that leads to peace based on the principles of international law and the UN Charter.


- Since the beginning of this year, Slovenia has been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. What are your priorities in the Security Council, especially given the fact that you are presiding over the Security Council during the hottest period for the UN - in September, when the high-level week is held at the headquarters in New York?

- Yes, in September we preside during the High-Level Week, and the Summit of the Future with the participation of heads of state and government will also be held here.

In the Security Council, Slovenia has traditionally defended international law and fundamental rights. We are trying to build bridges - bridges of trust - and bridging the gaps...

Our country does not have any burden of the past.

We want to hear and understand, and we can pursue a consistent policy on various armed conflicts in the world. What is important to us is conflict prevention, protection of civilians, children, and women, particularly the concept of Women, Peace and Security.

We are also working hard on water diplomacy, so that water management, which is also a source of many conflicts around the world, can  prevent them. We have know-how in this regard...

Yes, we bring many topics to the Security Council, but mostly we are restoring trust and we can, I think, quite effectively and consistently bring different positions together.

Our main goal is precisely what the Security Council and the UN are doing, which is to ensure peace and stability throughout the world.

- When Yugoslavia broke up, all of the formerly constituent countries went through the process of becoming members of the UN, including Serbia. But Russia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, avoided this. Therefore, it is obvious that Russia cannot be considered a legitimate permanent member of the UN Security Council. No document has been adopted for this purpose, as required by the UN Charter. Hasn't it?

- I do not want to compare the wars in the former Yugoslavia with the collapse of the Soviet Union...

Yes, first we decided on our independence, then Croatia, and bloody wars engulfed the Western Balkans.

Today, we need to achieve real reconciliation and build a future for the younger generation, as well as proper reforms that will improve the lives of citizens.

We are strong leaders in the EU enlargement process, which will bring the Western Balkans into Europe.

I would like to see an enlarged and united Europe in 2030, which will include the Western Balkan countries, which have been negotiating for twenty years to become part of the European family together with their eastern neighbors, after bloody wars.

Of course, this is a process in which everyone is advancing with their own merits in terms of reforms.

This is a geostrategic necessity, especially in today's world with many challenges, where we need a stronger united Europe.

You asked about Russia... There have been many cases in history when Europeans have had strong ties with Russia because it is a neighbor to Europe.

That's why we need a stable Russia that respects international law and the UN Charter.

- Well, all right... And do you currently maintain any contacts with Russia, in particular, at the level of the UN Security Council?

- I think it would be very unusual if you sat in the Security Council and sought to achieve some political solutions and did not have open channels to find such solutions.

The Security Council and the UN General Assembly are open channels for negotiations, and this is important for us as a country that wants to find political and non-military solutions to conflicts.

Recently in Ljubljana, after Navalny's death, a representative of our ministry summoned the Russian ambassador for a conversation to clearly say that we are concerned  about Navalny's death, and we have called for the release of political prisoners in Russia. It was a strong message.

For a political solution, appropriate messages must be sent through diplomatic channels.

- As for Navalny, I have a question for you as a former member of the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. What do you think about his death?

- A few days ago I had the opportunity to meet Navalny's widow in Brussels and listen to her very emotional speech. She said that Russia is not Putin, and Putin is not Russia. That Putin must be held accountable for his atrocities and crimes. And I completely agree...

Navalny was a human rights activist. We support people in Russia who want peace. We support those who fight for human rights and democracy. And what happened to Navalny is very disturbing. I believe, as the entire EU has said, that the Putin regime is responsible for his death.


- One more question about Russia, or rather about the sanctions against it. Do you think they are sufficient to deter aggression?

- This is not an easy question. Many people have objected because Russia has found new allies.  I think sanctions are important for isolating Russia and the economic strain that it has been under. Especially if you look at the high-tech industry, sanctions play a significant role. The European Union has just agreed on a new package of sanctions that are more military-related. But it also shows how important the unity of the European Union is.

From the very beginning of Russia's war against Ukraine, we have been united in our response, and this unity is still there today. We are on the side of the Ukrainians, whether it is in terms of military, humanitarian aid, reconstruction, support for the Zelensky’s Peace Formula or other peace initiatives, or in the EU accession negotiations. The European Union has demonstrated unity and solidarity with Ukrainians.

- What about your neighbor Hungary, especially its Prime Minister Viktor Orban?

- Hungary often presents an obstacle with regard to Ukraine, especially during recent discussions, when we finally managed to agree on a 50 billion euros aid package for Ukraine. But in the end, an agreement was reached.

Hungary's position on Ukraine is not the only challenge we face. Recently, when we wanted to impose sanctions against Israeli settlers in the West Bank,  Hungary did not support the sanctions regime.

- Well, this is quite different…

- Yes, it's quite different. But I mean, it's a question for Hungary and Orban.

- And how would you assess the position of Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, a country that has always been sympathetic to Ukrainian problems. The media write that his statements are often in tune with Moscow's narratives... Do you agree with this?

-  I am not in a position to judge leaders or politicians, what they think, what they are standing for... But I can tell you that Croatia and Slovenia have good neighborly relations.

It is very natural for us to cooperate, because, as you know, many Slovenes like to go to Croatia in the summer, and many Croats like to vacation in Slovenia in the winter. We are glad that Croatia has recently joined the Schengen regime, because it improves not only political and economic relations, but also contacts between people. Therefore, I can say only good things about Croatian-Slovenian relations.

- Let's try to move to another part of the world, the United States. What are your expectations from the American elections, and what should the EU expect if Donald Trump wins the election?

- I don't want to speculate who will win the elections.

As a politician, I always follow with great interest the elections in Europe that will take place in June this year (the European Parliament elections will be held on June 6-9 - ed.)

 I can simply say that it is important for any election to be transparent, democratic, and fair. And, of course, I want the United States to remain a good strategic partner of Europe and a good ally.

- Google says that your Slovenian army has about 10,000 soldiers. Is this true?

- According to the Ministry of Defense, we have 6,150 military personnel serving, and 895 more are in reserve. Defense spending reaches 1.3 percent of GDP.  We have a goal to increase the defense budget, in accordance with NATO requirements. We are moving towards this gradually, step by step.

- I am sure that you have had many meetings with your foreign colleagues here. What are the main topics of your conversations?

- Do you mean herethe one in New York or in general?

- Here and in general…

- When I recently met with my colleagues, the foreign ministers, we were very occupied with the war in Gaza, how to prevent an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East before Ramadan, how to work effectively to achieve peace and implement the two-state solution. And how to ensure peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians, as well as for the region as such.

Of course, we are actively discussing the war in Ukraine, which affects our neighbors in the Western Balkans – and, in general, the entire European continent.

We are also concerned about the political and economic instability in the Western Balkans, the brain drain of young people, which occurs due to the lack of a European perspective or vision of future stability.

- Do you share the concern of some NATO countries about the possibility of war with Russia if assistance to Ukraine is insufficient?

-  I share the concern of the countries that the Russian aggression against Ukraine could escalate to the neighboring countries. That is why we are doing everything we can to ensure peace.

Slovenia, as a member of the Security Council, in ideal circumstances, would like to see the adoption of the resolution that would end the war and bring peace to the Ukrainians.

For this reason, we also want Russia to respect international law and the UN Charter. Two years ago, we were terribly shocked that a neighboring country could attack Ukraine with such brutal aggression. For this reason, we have to do everything we can to find a political solution to the war.

Volodymyr Ilchenko, New York

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