Rumors Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested a meeting with US President Donald Trump in Ljubljana, Slovenia make sense if binding a new order of things is the goal. Not only is the this country the birthplace of first lady Melania Trump, Slovenia once thrived as part of greater Yugoslavia. It is in the geo-strategic loyal where great détente potential and catastrophe reside.
Many experts agree the EU is teetering on the verge of disintegration since Brexit and the peak of the refugee crisis. The US leadership change ads a new synergy to this critical point in European history too, in that Donald Trump’s nationalistic pension aligns closely with Russia’s. The liberal front is breaking, and the reasons matter not. As for Slovenia and an America-Russia summit, there’s more to Mr. Putin’s suggestion than a sentimental journey for Melania Trump. Many historians would agree, Slovenia’s place in Yugoslavia, and as a connective in between southern European states is a crucial stepping stone for either side. If the US and Russia are to bury the hatchet and move forward toward final peace, then there’s no better spot to make it happen. Here’s why.
A story I wrote some months back about the disastrous breakup of Yugoslavia laid out the bitter landscape western Cold War dinosaurs had in mind for Europe and the wider world. For people in this region, the destruction of Europe’s most dynamic and interesting republic spelled austerity and unimaginable lost opportunity. The one powerful Yugoslavia under Tito played a vital role in mediating West-East tensions. The country was also emerging as an economic powerhouse, something American and western European interests could not tolerate. And Slovenia was Yugoslavia’s most progressive region with a domestic product was 2.5 times the average of Yugoslav republics. In the geo-political spectrum, Slovenia was a central showpiece situated strategically in between eastern Europe proper, and all important Italy. This is an important aspect I will get to presently, but first we need to understand a little of the history.
The Cold War ravaged Europe, Russia, and even the United States in ways no historian delves into. This report’s scope cannot be so great as to delve deeply into this history. However, it’s clear today that the “old powers” that were the cause of both world wars are still at work. Eastern Europe is and always has been the satrap, at least since before World War I. In the past the negative effects of nations being obliged was mediated via a kind of empowerment like that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But today small republics stand alone. They are weak and under the delusion the great American empire will see to their needs. Yugoslavia would have been a key player in the world by now, had it not been for US President Bill Clinton’s regime change efforts in the 1990s. I’ve covered this previously, but Slovenia’s import grows critical once again. The reader must recall the importance of these former Yugoslavian republics and especially Slovenia.
Under Tito Yugoslavia was a key to something called the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) established in 1961. Without going into its intricacies, NAM was a fantastic mediating force in between west and east, and in between NATO and the Soviet Union. The organization and the movement are characterized best by one of its key proponents, Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The legendary Cuban leader characterized NAM’s purpose was to ensure:
“the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics”
The keys here are; the old Cold War, the former Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, an austere southern Europe east leaning, and the potential for a real America-Russia reset forward. President Trump and President Putin will probably meet here because there is no more critical spot of geography. If we simply study the west’s post Cold War moves we see the advance forward to Russia. But what is only now becoming visible is the reverse shift back toward Russia. More importantly, the geography of this shift is paramount.
I’ll try to simplify here. Greece is on the verge of telling Germany, the EU, and NATO to buzz off. The Greeks cannot even afford to staff their tourism ministry any more. The tourism dependent businesses there are going broke working at 100% capacity, and I can prove this. Moving westward, Albania is poor as dirt. A nation blessed with as much natural beauty as any nation, reels under the weight of failed EU and domestic policies. Growth there is less than half what it was a decade ago, and industrial output is giving way to a return to agriculture. Macedonia, another nation where NATO has a mission to expand. The crisis there is coming to a head, as the propagandizing Voice of American illustrates here. Just to the north, Kosovo is an irreconcilable mess still. Next in line toward Italy is lovely Montenegro, where the EU/NATO strategists undertake old plots. Next, Bosnia-Herzegovina is similarly divided and torn up. Some years back NATO actually dropped the idea of expansion there out of fear of Russian influence, but NATO is now desperate and has reinstituted its expansive strategies. On up the Adriatic coast to Croatia, and we find the only nation that has thrived (relatively) since the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Propped up by a burgeoning tourism industry, Croatia is actually shrinking economically with negative growth since the euro crisis. Vehemently pro-EU, it won’t be long before socio-economic stresses force this country to rethink alliances.
This leads us to Slovenia, the central cog in between worlds, if you will. This vital country is the most prosperous of the former Yugoslavian republics in many ways. And it’s position as geo-strategically connecting Italy and the southwest of Europe is of paramount importance. For a geographer like me, visualizing the “path” created by these nations is easy. But many readers will need to consult maps such as this to glean the full importance of Slovenia. Recalling Mr. Putin’s famous Vladivostok to Lisbon plan, and I quote:
“We propose the creation of a harmonious economic community stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok. In the future, we could even consider a free trade zone or even more advanced forms of economic integration. The result would be a unified continental market with a capacity worth trillions of euros.”
Italy, then France, Spain, and Portugal complete the trail Slovenia and other former Yugoslavia republics form. With other eastern European nations either in upheaval or outright opposition to Germany and the EU’s recent principles, it’s easy to understand the desperation of politicians and media in Europe. Hungary is in Mr. Putin’s corner now, Romania is about to wake up to its one-way arrangement with the EU and NATO, Bulgaria is already Russia leaning, and the “right” is about to run France as well. Russia has signed the south stream pipeline deal with Turkey, and Greece welcomes more Russian tourists than anyplace these days.
The EU has not worked. NATO is useless without a real foe. The German banks are past bankrupt, even after having dealt most of Europe devastating blows. The IMF and World Bank are a joke, and Russia has maintained even after the most severe sanctions and attacks on its currency. And amidst all this seeming chaos and crisis US President Donald Trump sits in a most powerful position. While the New York Times and other so-called “Fake News” entities will surely ignore it, Donald Trump is part of one the most important meetup in modern European history. President Trump has already defied the existing liberal and globalist order. In America he has set a course by steering manufacturing back to the US. He’s shaken a fist at America’s lazy partners and those that have taken advantage of US markets. He’s also questioned the need for NATO in its current form, and America’s unbalanced roles in European security overall. I could go on and on about the difference between American nationalism versus globalism and liberalism, but the gist is this.
If Trump and Putin come to terms in Ljubljana, the EU will have to be reformulated. What’s more, the far left movement will come to a standstill, as it should, and will have to re-center as well. More importantly, sanctions and other negative actors on smaller economies will certainly be eliminated where Russia-Europe-US economies are concerned. The United State has never needed Europe as a trading partner really. US products scarcely make a dent in the European market. The United States (US Census) was running a $12 billion dollar a month trade deficit with the EU as of December, 2016. The total deficit for 2016 was over $146 billion dollars. I mention this because both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are all business. America has little use for VW or Mercedes cars when Fords and Cadillacs are easily made in Detroit. Russia has already shown her resilience doing without European goods. And the ongoing policies of the left wing have clearly failed EU members. For Americans a reset away from hegemony and toward cooperation with Russia is a huge positive. For Mr. Trump a reconciliation and better deals means a place in the history books, which I am somehow sure is important to him. “The man who allied with Russia to destroy terrorism and create a better world”, this resonates attacked o the name “Trump”. Slovenia is the compromise. Perhaps the only state in Europe where the far left and the critically damaged austerity victim are not up in arms. If there is a hope for lasting peace and cooperation in the next decade, I think Slovenia is the right spot.
Phil Butler, is a policy investigator and analyst, a political scientist and expert on Eastern Europe, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.