Tonin and Wallace talk Ukraine, Western Balkans

Ljubljana – Defence Minister Matej Tonin and his British counterpart Ben Wallace met in Ljubljana on Wednesday to discuss mainly the developments in Ukraine and the situation in the Western Balkans. “A bad peace is better than a good war,” said Tonin, commenting on the former, as Wallace again called on Russia to maintain dialogue.

When it comes to the current developments on the Ukrainian-Russian border, where the Kremlin has been massing troops for a number of weeks, the two ministers called for key issues to be resolved through dialogue.

“It is crucial that within NATO we send a clear and unequivocal message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the price of war is simply too high,” Tonin said.

The ministers agreed that Slovenia and the UK shared a common commitment to European security and stability, and that Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty remained an important issue because of its implications for stability and peace in Europe.

“Russia’s potential aggressive behaviour would consequently mean more allied troops on its borders,” Tonin said.

He noted the Slovenian troops had already been deployed in Latvia under NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, but he does not intend to send additional military assistance to Ukraine for the time being, as the country, he said, had recently received considerable military aid from Western countries.

Wallace pointed to the threat that Putin poses to Ukraine, arguing that tough measures were important to achieve de-escalation through dialogue.

“An attack on Ukraine would have immediate and severe consequences, so I call on the Russian government to maintain dialogue and seek a way to de-escalate the situation,” he said.

The pair also talked about the fragility of peace in the Western Balkans, highlighting the tense situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They agreed on the need to support the efforts of the EU and the US to find a solution, as the situation would otherwise be exploited by other political players in the region, such as Russia, Turkey and China.

Tonin noted the fact that the possibility of war was again being raised in the Western Balkans, which had already prompted Slovenia to boost its military presence in Bosnia.

Wallace, who arrived in Slovenia following a visit to Croatia, said “it is incredibly important that the Western Balkans remains on the path towards stability”. He expressed support for the EU’s efforts to resolve “the current impasses in Bosnia”.

The ministers also discussed the strengthening of bilateral cooperation between Slovenia and the UK in defence industries, international exercises, military education and training of joint fire controllers, and the NATO Mountain Warfare Centre of Excellence.