Tonin talks to CNN about risk for W Balkans in Ukraine crisis

Ljubljana – Defence Minister Matej Tonin discussed Russia’s actions in Ukraine in an interview with the CNN on Tuesday, underscoring that unity was the Western allies’ strongest tool. He warned that at the moment when all eyes are on Ukraine something bad could happen in the Western Balkans, in particular Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Asked whether the what is happening in Ukraine was a threat to Slovenia, Tonin made a point of saying that now was a decisive moment for the allies to do what they were talking about.

“President Putin and his colleagues decided to move into Ukraine because they thought we won’t do what we’re talking about, and that’s why current sanctions should be severe. If we will keep unity, which is our strongest tool, then I don’t see any real danger for Slovenia,” he said.

He termed Russia’s actions as an invasion and a clear violation of all international norms.

He agreed with the presenter that the sanctions will affect not only Russia but also the EU, for one thing because of higher gas prices. “Sanctions should be severe and they should be focused on Russian leadership and especially on Russian enterprises and the money flow,” he said.

He also warned of Russia’s threat to the Western Balkans. “It is part of the Russian playbook to divert [attention] and that’s why we’re afraid that something not very good can happen in the Western Balkans, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Putin’s friend Dodik is taking strange moves,” said Tonin referring to the leader of the Bosnian Serbs Milorad Dodik.

Tonin described what is happening in Ukraine as a repeat of the Russian scenario in Georgia and Crimea, rejecting the suggestion that Putin had caught the West unprepared, repeating that the EU and NATO had demonstrated their unity as their strongest tool.

He said it had been a bad move if Putin wanted to divide the EU or if he wanted fewer NATO troops at Russia’s borders, because it “means more NATO troops on NATO’s eastern flank”.

Tonin also said that Slovenia had submitted a proposal for Ukraine to be admitted to the EU. Ukraine needs a clear sign of hope now and Slovenia has presented an initiative to fast track its admission, he said, adding that the EU should show Ukraine it was part of Europe.