“The European media turned this into strategic, first-class news. I even got around 200 calls from journalists, editors, and even the owners of the world’s biggest media outlets… They all understood that this was an action that would affect future support for Ukraine… At that moment, it became clear that the European and world publics were intimately on the side of Ukraine, on the side of the victim, of the one who is being attacked. And this public pressure influenced key people in European politics to change their positions on the war in Ukraine, some quickly and others more slowly. This happened most intensely after the 15th of March, when various meetings took place, including one with Joe Biden’s participation at the NATO summit in Europe,” Janša said about the visit of the four to Kyiv last year.
On this week’s episode of the show ‘Arena’ on RTV Slovenia, called “Who will stop Putin?”, TV show host Igor Pirkovič hosted the opposition leader Janez Janša, diplomat and lawyer Ernest Petrič, and Bogomil Ferfila, a lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences. “A year has passed already since the visit of the Slovenian, Polish and Czech prime ministers to Kyiv; it has been four days since the failure to adopt a resolution in the National Assembly to designate Russia a terrorist state; three days have passed since the International Criminal Court in The Hague ordered the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and two days have passed since his visit to the occupied parts of Ukraine. Today is also the day of the Russian-Chinese summit in Moscow,” Pirkovič said. Afterwards, an introductory clip of the beginning and the continuation of the war in Ukraine and the Slovenian, European, and the world’s attitude towards the events there was shown. Milan Kučan, the first signatory of the letter “Stop the war in Ukraine”, Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon, the Freedom Movement (Gibanje Svoboda) MP Miroslav Gregorič, Boštjan Lesjak, the Slovenian Charge d’Affaires in Ukraine, who left for Kyiv shortly after the war started (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence refused to allow him to be filmed, although he agreed to be filmed), all apologised as they could not participate in the programme.
Pirkovič first turned to Janša and asked him to tell the studio and the viewers what had happened last year with the visit of the three Prime Ministers to Ukraine. The TV show host recalled the questions that had been raised in public at the time: had the then-Prime Minister even been in Kyiv (or Poland); who knew about the visit, or why was it organised by these particular people? Janša: “I think that what has been happening in Ukraine in the last year is dramatic and that it will have an impact on the future, quite concretely, on how we will live in the future. I think that the Slovenian public is not paying enough attention to this. In the last year, I have commented for CNN or the BBC on what is happening in Ukraine more times than for all Slovenian television stations combined. I think the world is more aware of what is actually happening there, but that was not the case a year ago. A lot of the credit for that political visit to Kyiv also goes to your media house or to the predecessor of Mr Valentin Areh who is currently in Ukraine – Karmen Švegl, who was the first Slovenian journalist to go there.”
As the leader of the opposition added, at the beginning of March last year, he had urged his European colleagues in Versailles to go to Kyiv, but most of them had said that it was impossible, that they could not even get there because Kyiv was under siege, there was a war, etc. At that moment, however, Janša contacted Švegl, who said that not only was she able to get to Kyiv (as a mother of small children), but that she had also travelled from Kyiv to Odesa by train at night, and that it was possible to get there in spite of the occasional traffic jam, and the train was full. Janša passed the news on to his colleagues (all the world’s news houses had representatives there). “It is definitely a risk, but you need to know why you are taking the risk. In the beginning, more people were interested, but then the list got a bit smaller. In the end, those of us who believed that Ukraine would defend itself and that Kyiv would not fall went there, and the others were more or less sceptical.” Emmanuel Macron would have found it even easier to travel to Kyiv than the four statesmen who actually went there, because of French logistics. In this case, they used Janša’s idea and Polish logistics. Ferfila went on to recall that Europe had come together in a big way, and that the USA had played a key role in this, too.
Janša on his visit to Kyiv: “Everyone understood that this was an act that would influence future support for Ukraine…”
He pointed out that the USA is expected to invest between 100 and 150 billion dollars in Ukraine, while Europe is likely to invest two to three times less. “After a year of the war, we can still say that the outcome is still very uncertain, that Russia’s financial condition has been reduced by the rather uniform sanctions of the West, but that, on the other hand, the Russian defence industry has been very successfully involved in the war effort. It has been producing around 200 state-of-the-art tanks over the course of a year. One could even say that the Ukrainian side is more exhausted than the Russian side,” said Ferfila, who is convinced that without further Western assistance, Ukraine will not be able to cope. But Pirkovič recalled that the European East has so far understood Ukraine better than the West. Petrič: “This part of the region already lived under the Soviet Union’s pretext all the time before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the countries in the area felt threatened.” He recalled the interventions in the then-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Poland, etc. According to Petrič, this part of Europe understood better that Russia was serious. This is why this part of Europe feels much more strongly about the need for NATO membership.
But he is convinced that the war concerns the whole of Europe. If Ukraine falls victim to aggression, then that is the worst consequence he can imagine. “We will fall into an international order where aggression by a big country against a small one will be acceptable!” Pirkovič then recalled that a year ago, there was not much understanding in Slovenia for Janša’s visit to Kyiv. He recalled the criticism of the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tanja Fajon. Janša: “I did not hear this type of criticism from Berlin, except from Mrs Fajon. And those who had a different view in EU politics at the time were silent, because the European public welcomed the visit. The European media turned this into strategic, first-class news. I even got around 200 calls from journalists, editors, and even the owners of the world’s biggest media outlets… They all understood that this was an action that would affect future support for Ukraine… At that moment, it became clear that the European and world publics were intimately on the side of Ukraine, on the side of the victim, of the one who is being attacked. The average European viewer was not making calculations about what that means.”
Petrič: “If we agreed on peace with Putin now, it would be like agreeing on peace with Hitler in the middle of the war”
“And this public pressure influenced key people in European politics to change their positions on the war in Ukraine, some quickly and others more slowly. This happened most intensely after the 15th of March, when various meetings took place, including one with Joe Biden‘s participation at the NATO summit in Europe.” When the four statesmen arrived in Ukraine, the Ukrainians admitted that they were lonely, but now there are so many visits that they are already posing a certain challenge. Janša also recalled the comparison with 1991, when Slovenia was largely saved by the journalistic community when we were invaded by the Yugoslav People’s Army. The photographs showing the brutal force of the aggressor army influenced Western governments to change their position, because only days and weeks before, they had been saying that they would never recognise Slovenia as an independent state. When Western governments learned of Slovenia’s defence, they changed their positions, and a very similar thing happened in the case of Ukraine. During the television show, RTV Slovenia correspondent Valentin Areh also spoke from Ukraine via video link. He answered the TV show host’s questions about whether he believed in a Ukrainian victory and a Russian military defeat…
Areh believes that it is impossible to predict the outcome of the war but that Western weapons have had an enormous impact on the course of events on the battlefields. Meanwhile, Petrič is convinced that this is not the time for diplomacy (as long as Russian aggression is ongoing). Those who advocate this should ask themselves what kind of peace would result from such efforts. “That would be a very strange peace, if it came as a result achieved by the aggressor through aggression,” the diplomat added. We have to ask ourselves what Europe would have been like in the middle of the Second World War if it had chosen to negotiate peace with Adolf Hitler. Janša went on to touch on the importance of the Ukrainian struggle for the security of Europe as a whole, as many are convinced that Putin will not stop in Ukraine. Janša believes that it does not matter to the Ukrainians if someone else is fighting a proxy war behind their backs (say, the Americans), because the Russians are committing crimes and killing civilians alongside soldiers on a daily basis. “Ukraine has stopped Russia, it has pulverised the saga of the Russian war machine that will trample Europe. That military machine did not exist, but it could have been created if Ukraine had fallen. Ukraine is not only Europe’s largest country, but also the breadbasket of the world, with natural resources that go far beyond what the rest of Europe has.”
Janša sees the Croatian scenario as a likely one: the liberation of part of the country, and in a few years, the rest, without an attack on Russia
“And if Ukraine capitulated, the next small step would be Moldova, maybe Georgia, and in ten years’ time, the Russians would probably continue … But now they will not go any further …” Janša sees the Croatian scenario as the most likely, where Croatia first liberated the centre of the country, and years later the rest, without Serbia being attacked. Ukraine will not attack Russia, either. Only if the conflict were to spill over into Russian territory, then there would be a risk of a global tragedy. As long as Ukrainians are defending their territory, their lives and their homes (up to the borders of sovereign Ukraine), there is no danger of a nuclear conflict. Ferfila, however, believes that it is necessary to listen to peace initiatives that do not necessarily come from the West (for example, from China). Towards the end of the programme, a clip was played of Kučan expressing his belief that the blame for the war in Ukraine is “shared”. Janša reminded everyone of the law, saying that it is a criminal offence to belittle aggression. This is not about two sides fighting. “One country attacked a neighbouring country because it wanted its natural resources, and there was some ideology in between. This is an age-old motive for war. Such statements sound like quoting the actual manual that was sent from Moscow to its supporters in those last days before they decided on aggression.”