The Slovenia Times

Russian president's visit marks centenary of Russian Chapel


This will be the third stop in Slovenia for Putin, who has been invited by Slovenian President Borut Pahor, but it is designated as informal. The Slovenian Foreign Ministry says this is a memorial visit in honour of the Russian soldiers killed in 1916.

The visit has been long in the making and had been rumoured last year when Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev attended the ceremony, in what was his first visit to an EU member country after tensions started due to Ukraine.

Putin, the most senior Russian official to ever attend the traditional ceremony, will deliver the keynote at the Russian Chapel alongside Pahor, Mayor of Kranjska Gora Janez Hrovat and the chair of the Slovenia-Russia Association Saša Geržina.

The memorial ceremony will feature the Slovenian Police Orchestra, the Slovenian Octet and the Moscow Synodal Choir and will be broadcast live on public television.

After the ceremony, Putin will travel to the capital to unveil at Žale Cemetery a memorial to soldiers from Russia and other former Soviet republics who were killed in Slovenia during both world wars.

The memorial is made up of eight pillars symbolising the eight-year duration of both world wars. There is a crane atop each of the pillars and the names of 3,000 soldiers are embossed in the marble.

The memorial has been made by Russian sculptors and financed by Russia.

Unofficial information indicates that the presidents will have a working dinner at the Brdo pri Kranju estate before Putin ends his visit to Slovenia.

This will be Putin's third visit to Slovenia. He first came in 2001 for a meeting with US President George W. Bush and in March 2011 in his capacity as prime minister.

His latest visit will take place against the backdrop of significantly altered geopolitical circumstances and a period of cool relations between Russia and the West due to the conflict in Ukraine and the resulting western sanctions against Russia.

Slovenia has been striving to maintain firm relations with Russia, a key trading partner, despite the bubbling tensions between Russia and NATO, of which Slovenia is a member.

Slovenia has supported EU and NATO policies with regard to Russia while also striving to push aside the obstacles to relations, which are underpinned not just by trade but in particular by shared Slavic culture.

Putin's visit reflects Slovenia's tightrope policy. While the visit is seen as a high water mark of sorts in bilateral relations, Slovenian authorities have been reiterating its ceremonial nature and the absence of formal talks.

Some media reports suggest the US had advised Slovenia against inviting Putin given the enduring tensions between Russia and NATO.

President Pahor said, when asked by POP TV what Putin's visit would bring from the aspect of diplomacy and economic cooperation, that "in the current situation in Europe and the international community, our message will be a message of peace and cooperation".

"The cooperation will later be followed up by my visit to the Russian Federation," the president announced in an interview with the commercial broadcaster last evening.

He added that the visit maintains and strengthens the pace of cooperation between Slovenia and Russia, yet not so that Slovenia's allies could interpret it as negative.

Such high-level visits are often accompanied by protests - significant protests were held during the 2001 Bush-Putin summit - and this time it will be no different.

While there have been no announcements of protests from Slovenian political group, a Slovenian-Ukrainian association plans to hold a rally in front of the Russian Embassy in Ljubljana.

Others see the visit as an opportunity, for example Kranjska Gora Mayor Horvat.

He said this would be the most distinguished guest to ever visit the municipality since the heir to the Hapsburg throne Franz Ferdinand. He told the STA he expected the visit to have a strong promotional effect.


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