Exclusive: Ex-Slovenian President on What’s Next for Eastern Europe After Ukraine Invasion

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine, now ongoing for over 10 weeks, has caused deaths and injuries to Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and civilians and has also led to a global price spike. Being closest to the war zone, Eastern Europe has been most directly affected. In an exclusive interview with Eat News, Danilo Türk, former president of Slovenia from 2007 to 2012 and current president of Club de Madrid, the world’s largest forum of former heads of state, analyzes recent elections in Slovenia, Serbia, Hungary, and France.

Photo: Office of the President of the Republic of Slovenia Dr Danilo Türk

Can EU countries maintain sovereignty if they rely on Russian energy?

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the past foreign policy of European countries towards Russia was revealed to the outside world. As part of the European Union, Slovenia signed a new five-year gas contract with Gazprom in 2018, four years after Russia invaded Crimea. The agreement committed Russia to supply Slovenia with 600 million cubic meters of gas per year until January 2023. And Slovenia was not alone, in the time before the U.S. and EU announced sanctions, more than half of the roughly 5 million barrels of crude oil Russia exported each day went to Europe, according to data from the European Commission. So far, the EU has not sanctioned Russian oil and gas, and since August has only maintained a ban on Russian coal imports. British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has compared Western diplomatic efforts to head off a Russian invasion of Ukraine while still purchasing Russian gas to the appeasement of Nazi Germany ahead of World War II.

As a former president of Slovenia, Danilo Türk takes a different perspective from Secretary Wallace. He believes that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stems from complex reasons, and it is a mistake to link it to the issue of oil or gas trade. President Türk pointed out that the EU sanctions against Russia in 2014 did not include oil or gas; this is a new sanctions policy. He stressed that only in the last few days has the EU chosen to impose a total oil embargo on Russia. “But this will take time, and this will not happen overnight. In my opinion, what we may see in the future is that Russian oil will be exported to Turkey, India, or other countries and then re-imported to Europe. The problems with such sanctions are always complex, and sanctions never actually achieve the political results for which they were originally imposed,” he said.

President Türk cited a recent New York Times report that Russian crude oil is now going to India, where Indian refineries take it and re-sell fully processed products to Europe. President Türk believes that in the future, the total European embargo on oil and natural gas will actually be gradually imposed, and the likely net result of all this will simply be higher gas and oil prices in Europe. In the end, he believes that Europe is likely to be negatively affected.

Some European politicians are now being slammed as pro-Russian. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who served as chairman of the Nord Stream shareholder committee after leaving his post as chancellor, also served as chairman of the Rosneft supervisory board. He even spoke out against Germany’s energy ban on Russia in a recent interview with the New York Times, and hoped that Germany would restore relations with Moscow after the end of the Russo-Ukrainian war. Another former German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been criticized by Ukrainian President Zelensky for preventing Ukraine from joining NATO in 2008. Merkel argued that she disagreed with Ukraine’s decision to join NATO. The two former chancellors, one agreeing to the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline and the other approving Nord Stream 2, have increased Germany’s and the EU’s dependence on Russian energy.

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President Türk admits that the question of whether or not to buy Russian gas and oil was not generally considered to be political before the invasion of Ukraine. And the truth is that Russian gas is by far the cheapest and most straightforward source of fuel for Europe. “The pipeline built in the early 1970s during the Cold War has been working for half a century, during a period of tough relations between East and West. So it is not surprising that the whole issue of importing gas and oil from Russia was seen as a commercial issue by everyone in Germany and Europe, until recently,” he said.

Then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with then Slovene President Danilo Türk. Photo: Office of the President of the Republic of Slovenia Dr Danilo Türk

The recent war changed everything. This massive war has changed the politics of the entire European continent and will have a profound impact on global political relations. President Türk believes that Germany is doing its best to adjust its course in this new situation. It is buying more and more weapons, sending more and more weapons to Ukraine, and even going so far as to join the oil embargo and gas embargo against Russia. President Türk stressed that this was a new situation. Therefore, he will not criticize Chancellor Schröder or Chancellor Merkel for anything, and believes they were following the proper strategy until the Russian invasion. “Now, one must also understand that Europe is currently in an extraordinary situation where the EU will be the most efficient in terms of energy in the short or medium term. They will have to pay more for gas and oil than before, but in any case, the future of European energy is not in gas and oil,” he said. “So this will accelerate the process of moving to renewable energy alternatives, which are not fully developed now. I believe we will see a very different energy situation in the medium term on the European side, with a much-reduced reliance on fossil fuels in general.”

In President Türk’s view, energy sanctions against Russia will not achieve any significant political effect because Russia will export their oil and gas elsewhere, and the prices will be even higher than before. “So Russia may export less but make more. That would be another paradox of these sanctions. Indeed, in the long run, hopefully, we’ll see a very different energy situation in Europe and probably globally. Let’s not forget that we live in an era of increased global warming. We can see many dramatic changes in the coming years. India has already experienced some of the highest temperatures in its history,” he said. “So the energy change in Europe is the beginning of a drama that will unfold over the next five to 10 years. And hopefully, this will create a different and better world.”

What does the ouster of Slovenia’s pro-Taiwanese prime minister mean?

Despite international turmoil, Slovenia held parliamentary elections on April 24 of this year. The Slovenian Democratic Party, led by incumbent Prime Minister Janez Janša, lost to the new political party “Freedom Movement” founded by Robert Golob, the former chairman of Gen-I, Slovenia’s state energy trading company. President Türk believes that the results of the April 24 election were perfect for Slovenia. He said, “The outgoing Prime Minister was a man of autocratic tendencies, who became deeply unpopular in the country for his autocratic governing. And the change of government which we are now going to see in about three weeks is very welcomed by the vast majority of the country. So that is the general political picture.”

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But will the new Prime Minister change the relationship between Taiwan and Slovenia? According to Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency, Janša visited Taiwan several times and began his third term as Prime Minister in March 2020. In an interview with Indian television earlier this year, he said he was negotiating with the Republic of China government on Taiwan to set up a representative office, a move seen as reducing Slovenia’s dependence on communist China. President Türk often considers Janša’s private views surprising, which was also the case in his views about Taiwan. “Because he has visited Taiwan in his private capacity many times in the past, maybe he did it for financial reasons. But in any case, that was his private activity. However, Slovenia has always adhered to the principle of one China. And that policy continues to be in place today,” President Türk said.

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša had a meeting with the then President of the Republic of China Ma Ying-jeou. Photo: Office of the President of the Republic of China

President Türk stressed that Janša’s interview on Indian television, in which he mentioned support for Taiwan, was surprising. He explained, “In Slovenia, everyone knows something about our international engagement, foreign policy, etc. It’s surprising. It’s quite surprising. That is something that had not been discussed in the parliament before. And no one seemed to know that there were any negotiations. So what we’re seeing is a bizarre event on behalf of the outgoing prime minister. As I said, most people in Slovenia welcome the change of government.”

Do the election results in Serbia and Hungary mean that these two countries choose to be pro-Russian or pro-China?

Almost simultaneously, two Eastern European countries, Serbia and Hungary, held elections, and the incumbent Serbian President and Hungarian Prime Minister were re-elected. However, both leaders have been accused of being pro-Russian and possibly pro-China. In this regard, President Türk believes that the election results in both countries reflect their internal political situation, while foreign policy issues have had relatively little impact on the results. He explained, “The support that these two leaders have within their countries, they have a strong electorate for reasons that are 90% internal. So I think it’s important to understand that when people talk about Hungary and Serbia, they don’t represent any general foreign policy trend in the EU. Of course, Serbia is still not a member of the EU.”

As for the question of current European priorities, President Türk believes that they will be internal to the greatest extent possible. He said, “We have excellent reasons to improve democratic governance by ensuring that the differences between rich and poor are reduced. The development of wealth creation and the distribution of income must be increased. So I think that’s the number one issue before European politicians. Everything else comes after that. Now, of course, there’s a lot of attention being paid to the war in Ukraine. Obviously, in Europe, I think almost everybody strongly condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Photo: Club de Madrid

When a Presidential Election Becomes a Race Between Anti-Russian and Pro-Russian Candidates

In addition to the elections in Serbia and Hungary, France also held a presidential election in April. This election was also labeled a contest between pro-Russian and anti-Russian candidates. It is well known that Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate of the National Front, who is considered far-right, has been seen as a pro-Russian politician after receiving a loan from a Russian bank during the 2017 election and meeting with Putin in Moscow. Emmanuel Macron, considered by outsiders as anti-Russian, defeated her in the April election. But Macron’s actions since 2017 are difficult to explain. According to an exclusive report by the Daily Telegraph, the EU imposed an arms embargo on Russia immediately after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Despite this, ten EU member states, including Germany and France, exploited a loophole that continued to allow arms sales to Russia. Since his election to the French presidency in 2017, Emmanuel Macron, never fully prohibited arms sales to Russia until April 8 of this year, when the EU urgently announced the definitive closure of all military trade with Russia.

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President Türk admitted that he was not familiar with the implementation of the early sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014. Still, he could confirm that no one is now selling any military equipment to Russia. President Türk mentioned that there is now an apparent policy in Europe not only not to sell any military equipment to Russia, but actually to very extensively support Ukraine, through provision of military equipment, as well as other materials that are important for the war, possibly including military intelligence. “So the situation has changed,” he explained. As for the election of the French president, President Türk also cautioned against over-simplification. He said that Marine Le Pen received support from Russia in the past, but that was the past, and he does not think she has continued to support Russia recently. On the other hand, President Macron has been critical of Russia and continues to have regular phone conversations with President Putin. “In France, it’s not a black-and-white picture, and it’s a much more complicated situation. I think France will probably continue to play a diplomatic role, which may be more difficult as the armed conflict in Ukraine unfolds because the war may become more destructive. Attrition means rampant destruction so that the fight could become even darker. And France is not going to achieve anything in the short term. They know that, but they also know that a diplomatic solution will be necessary at some point, and they’re probably preparing their role at that moment,” he analyzed.

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Fausto Chou is a Taiwanese journalist. He has been the executive editor of the Eat News since June, 2020. He previously worked for the Eastern Television (ETTV) and Formosa Television (FTV) as a journalist.


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