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Prime Minister Janša’s interview for Planet TV, Nova24tv and Siol.net

Prime Minister Janez Janša gave an exclusive interview to Planet TV, Nova24tv and Siol.net about the current situation in connection with the Russian Federation's military aggression against Ukraine and about some current domestic political issues.

Below we have provided a transcript. The transcript has not been authorised!

Journalist: Dear viewers, dear readers. Welcome to the exclusive interview of Nova 24 TV, Planet TV and Siol.net with Prime Minister Janez Janša immediately following the session of the National Security Council. Mister Janša, good evening.

Prime Minister Janez Janša: Good evening.

Journalist: We begin with the most important topic addressed at the National Security Council session. This is the situation in Ukraine after the Russian invasion. My first question will be rather general. For the time being, Ukrainians are fighting and resisting bravely; but information has reached us that some sabotage forces, especially Chechen Islamists, have also come to Ukraine. Although the Russian forces seem to have failed to achieve their goal, the whole world is responding to this aggression. Some proposals have also come from you and Prime Minister Morawiecki. Still, my question is what else can Western and other civilised countries do at this point, in addition to imposing sanctions, in addition to sending military equipment to help Ukrainians defend their country?

Prime Minister Janez Janša: Whether Ukraine will succeed in defending itself is important not only for Ukraine; it is also important for Europe, for Slovenia, for the whole world. If Ukraine withstands, then we can count on de-escalation, negotiations, at least some medium-term establishment of the world as we have known it in the decades since the end of the Cold War. If Ukraine falls, it will be followed by Moldova and then probably Georgia. A situation may arise in the Western Balkans, that is, wherever the periphery of the European Union is – or even beyond the periphery of the EU or NATO. And then it will almost certainly move to the Baltic states and we’ll be on the brink of a severe conflict that could lead to World War III. So what is decided today in Ukraine is basically the future of Europe, maybe even more. That is why this is not an irrelevant situation happening far away, where we must not interfere, where we must bury our heads in the sand – we must know that the borders of Ukraine are not much further than Belgrade and that we are lucky that we are on the Adriatic Sea, not on the Black Sea, that we are already in NATO, that we are already in the European Union, that we are not in the position of Ukrainians or Georgians or Moldovans, nor are we the first front line. But nevertheless, today the world is connected, Europe is connected. And I don’t think anyone wants a new Cold War in a new world where we spend five times more on arms for our own security, where some nations are again seen as enemies. Ukrainians are therefore fighting for us as well. And we must do everything to help them withstand.

You asked me what else could be done? I think the key thing that has made Putin's strategy fail, at least for the time being, is that Ukrainians have support, that they feel that support, that they know they are not alone, that they know they belong to a world where nations have the right to decide on their own destiny, and that they also have – and we have fought very hard for this in recent days – a very clear, European perspective. Hope, knowing that you are not alone is probably more important at this point than weapons. Weapons, however, are important as well. If you have nothing to defend yourself with, then of course you capitulate quickly. Any form of help is needed. But this message that they are part of a free world, that we recognise their right to decide on their own destiny, that we condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine, is very strong.

I am practically in daily contact with the leaders of Ukraine, as are many of my colleagues, and they tell me that the knowledge that they are not forgotten, that a large part of the world is behind them, is crucial at the moment. I think I can speak on behalf of a vast majority of my fellow citizens, especially those who experienced a similar time during the war for independent Slovenia, that it is very important for them to be united, for us to be with them, for them to fight on. They are fighting for us as well and so we are helping them as much as we can. In this way, we are also safeguarding Slovenia’s security. There are questions about why we are helping Ukraine. My answer is, look, in 1991, when we were helping our neighbouring Croatia, our answer to similar questions was that it was in our interest to place anti-tank mines in Slavonia, not in Slovenia. The answer could be similar now, but much more is at stake now: it is what kind of Europe we will live in over the next ten or twenty years. 

Journalist: Ukrainians are already fleeing their country because of the war. According to the United Nations’ estimates, between one and five million Ukrainians might flee the country. I wonder if we already have a plan about when we will start accepting Ukrainian refugees, how many we will accept, where we will place them and for how long? In light of this, however, I cannot ignore the issue of the Government tweet that distinguished between refugees of different nations. I wonder how we should understand it; the tweet has been deleted. Was it the Government's position, was it a slip, and if it was a slip, will anyone be held accountable for it?

Prime Minister Janez Janša: Let me start with this tweet, I saw it after it had been removed.  I believe that there was no need to post it nor to remove it, as its content goes without saying. This has also been discussed at the meeting of the European Council last week when the Austrian Chancellor said: “It is obvious that you first help your neighbour.”

In the 90s, when Slovenia was already an independent country, it welcomed 70 thousand refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina and nobody in Slovenia opposed this because they were our neighbours, and not all of them were Christians, there were Muslims among them. I even think that the majority were Muslims. This means that it is not an issue of religious or racial discrimination. You, obviously, first help your neighbour. Ukrainians are our neighbours, they are part of the European civilisation.

It is essential, however, that since 2015 the rhetoric has been about refugees and migrants, with the two considered one and the same, which created a problem. The refugees from Bosnia 25 years ago were not migrants coming to Slovenia in search of better social benefits, etc., but they were actually fleeing a war.  After 2015, the majority of those coming in the big wave of migrants were not refugees.  They were mostly young men, fit to fight, who left their families back home to find fortune in the wealthy old Europe. You cannot hold this against them. But the problem is that Europe does not have enough room for all those who think that we here should also take care of them, despite them being from Afghanistan or Pakistan. There is a big difference. As I have mentioned, this discussion was held at the European level too. And when it comes to this, we are very united. In the case of Ukraine, we will not help migrants but refugees. Men able to fight are not fleeing Ukraine. They are fighting. A great number of women, including very young women, stayed in Ukraine to fight.  It is mothers with children, families, that are fleeing.  Slovenia’s National Security Council has just finished its meeting, where, among other things, we were briefed about the level of preparedness for a potential influx of refugees from Ukraine, and Slovenia is prepared.  However, in my opinion, the pessimistic estimates that half of the Ukrainian population will try to flee are not realistic. If Ukraine perseveres in its defence, if it withstands, those fleeing the country now, of which most are arriving to Poland and other neighbouring countries, will be able to return home soon, it is not like, for example, the developments during the wars in the Balkans when refugees stayed in Slovenia and other European countries for years. In view of this, it is in everyone’s interest that Ukraine manages to defend itself, that we help Ukraine defend itself so that its people can return home.  In the meantime, we are also prepared to take care of those arriving at our borders. The first applications for assistance or asylum were submitted today already and will be processed in accordance with the Slovenian legislation.

Journalist: How many refugees can Slovenia accept? And you said that some applications had already been filed. Where do you plan to accommodate them? 

Prime Minister Janez Janša: Slovenia has such facilities. We are continuing our work in this respect.  Slovenia has asylum centres and I have noticed that Slovenians, Slovenian families, just like with the refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina, are willing to share their homes with them as is the case elsewhere in Eastern Europe, where families are helping Ukrainian families. 

Journalist: One more thing. If you could just give me a rough estimate, how many refugees can we accept? Can you maybe give us an estimate? 

Prime Minister Janez Janša: Look, we are not making any estimates, even at the European level, there has been no talk about quotas. We all expressed our readiness to help within our abilities. I can reiterate, I can tell you the figure again. Many, including people in Slovenia, criticised the Slovenian state for its lack of solidarity, as we were not prepared to accept mandatory quotas for migrants from – I will call them – countries far away.   Nobody can claim that Slovenia did not act in solidarity in 1992, 1993 and 1994 – I used to be defence minister at the time, also responsible for civil protection issues.  If I am not mistaken, more than 35 thousand refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina were placed in the facilities belonging to our defence system, and just as many stayed with Slovenian families, and in a number of cases they were assisted by Red Cross and Caritas. Slovenia was a very poor country at the time. We lost markets in Yugoslavia, we were in the process of establishing our own economy. Nevertheless, we provided assistance to 70 thousand persons, mainly children, women and older persons. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, earlier on you said that the crisis could spill over from Ukraine to other countries. There has been a lot of talk in recent days that this could again lead to an explosion in the Balkans, if I may put it like this.  How likely is it, in your opinion, that Republika Srpska would take advantage of the current situation to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Prime Minister Janez Janša: I do not think there is any danger of that at the moment. But things can change. It is not just about Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are also open, unresolved, issues when it comes to relations between Serbia and Kosovo, a very complex internal political situation in Montenegro, whose government only recently lost a vote of confidence and some broader issues arose again. To sum up, this part of the Balkans, where countries are not yet members of the European Union, is a potential space that could fall prey to Putin’s aspirations, or it could only give rise to conflicts and create intentions to keep us busy while they are dealing with the eastern neighbourhood. This cannot be ruled out. This is why the European Union has strengthened its military presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some reserve units stationed elsewhere were deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to prevent any potential escalation. But that is not something we should be afraid of happening, say, tomorrow. Nevertheless, should Ukraine fall, I would say, "read my lips", Moldova, Georgia, issues in the Balkans and in the Baltic states would follow. It is very serious. For instance, the latest appearance by Mr Putin. I do not think we have seen anything like it since the 1930s. This is the discourse saying that, I don’t know, a nation of 40 million has no historic rights to exist. I mean, who are you to say something like that, who gives you the right to decide on their fates, to endanger the lives of millions, of tens of millions of people. In recent decades, we have believed that these events were behind us and are only present in history textbooks or at least are happening in parts of world that are far away. But it effectively happened in Europe, in the heart of Europe, immediately bordering the European Union, and it was caused by someone who has a great military force, including the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal, at his disposal. It should be taken very seriously.

Journalist: The economy. On the one hand, new sanctions against Russia every day. A good example is the talk of banning Russia from the SWIFT financial network in the last few days, which was designated as almost a declaration of war by the former Russian president, Medvedev, in 2019. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia also spoke out in support of this sanction. While on the other hand, a quick look at the markets reveals that Europe has never imported so much gas from Russia as it has in the last three days. How will you balance the desire for a free Ukraine and Slovenian economic interests?

Prime Minister Janez Janša: It is not just about Slovenia's economic interests; in this case, we can talk about the economic interests and exposure of the entire common European single market, because Slovenia has been part of this market since 2004, and of course these risks exist and are present. And the energy dependence, or at least partial energy dependence, of Slovenia and also of the European Union on Russian energy products is a strategic problem. If this dependence did not exist, there would be fewer issues. However, when we talk about Slovenia's exposure, we must remember that Slovenia is not the most exposed European Union country. There are also countries that are substantially more exposed. There are countries that rely exclusively on Russian gas, oil and some even coal. For instance, Germany's decision to cancel or halt the Nord Stream 2 project is tenfold more painful for Germany than the potential consequences of these sanctions can be for Slovenia. This is the situation we have to be aware of, and Germany nonetheless agreed to make this decision and has still been criticised. Sometimes, we do not understand what this energy-related exposure really means. As is the case with some countries, it is not only an economic but also a political or social factor. What is certain is that Putin's aggression towards Ukraine has conclusively cemented Europe's determination to free itself from energy dependency on Russia. Some issues will arise in the coming years as the transition cannot be made overnight. However, Russia will lose an enormous market if its aggression towards Ukraine is not stopped imminently. This would mean the formation of a new iron curtain, which would, of course, also mean economic consequences for us. From a strategic perspective and taking into account these relations, this will come at a terrible price for the Russian nation, the Russian population, and future generations born in Russia. I think it is in their best interest to choose a new leader that will not endanger others or their own nation in the future.

Journalist: Allow me another quick question before we turn our attention to domestic issues. Previously you said that Russia does not only have Ukraine in its sights, but also Georgia, the Baltic states, etc. So, speaking about global geopolitics – Chinese planes have been flying over Taiwan. Do you think a new front can open on this side of the world? Do these countries work together? Ukraine is closer to us and the events in this part of the world hit closer to home. Nevertheless, if we take into account that Russia as well as we will bear heavy consequences due to the sanctions, will the West still able to compete with Russia on the one hand and China on the other? In military terms.

Prime Minister Janez Janša: I am afraid that it is all connected, i.e. that some moves by Beijing and Moscow have been made in coordination, which we have been pointing out since the Afghanistan debacle last August. I am almost certain that Mr Putin would not have made a move on Ukraine if he did not have at least tacit approval from China, which abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Russia's aggression. I think that, for the first time since its membership in the UN Security Council, it has clearly sided with Russia by condemning the sanctions against Russia after the invasion, while not condemning the aggression itself. This is not a neutral position; it is a clear show of support. Speaking even more broadly, the military cooperation between both countries we have seen in recent years or the past ten years is on a whole new level to that which we have seen in previous decades. The development of hypersonic rockets, which have largely changed this balance or the dominance of the West or the United States, is clearly their joint project. And indeed, we should not be surprised if the next target is Taiwan, which is on the other side of the world, but is equally a very important issue for us and for our economy. Half of the semiconductors currently come from factories in Taiwan. If China secures its dominance over this production, then for a few difficult years we may be looking through drawers for old phones because there will be no new ones. And many other things will happen, because this is a strategic issue. So in a way, stopping Russia in Ukraine is very likely also something that could send a signal to China not to go down the same path.

Journalist: If we now turn our attention to domestic issues. The elections are less than two months away. There are difficult times ahead, economically and otherwise. A broader coalition will be necessary. This week you predicted your victory in the elections. However, we know that there are a number of parties that do not want to cooperate with SDS. So, how to ensure a stable majority and which parties that have announced their candidacy for the elections are you counting on?

Prime Minister Janez Janša: In principle, we count on all parties that are willing to work together for the common good. We have never excluded anyone, and we have always negotiated with everyone once we have been given a mandate, and formed a coalition with those who were willing to share our concern for the common good. But I have to say that with all that is happening, first the epidemic or pandemic and now this aggression against Ukraine, we are somehow not thinking about the elections. There are bigger things to worry about. I hope that in some way this is not just the position of the Slovenian Democratic Party. There are some signals that things are turning slightly for the better, as far as unity and concern for the common good are concerned. At this session of the National Security Council, which was also attended by the president of the largest coalition party, we were united in condemning the Russian Federation's aggression against Ukraine. And we were also united in our support for the measures we are now taking to help Ukraine, and I think that is something very gratifying. With the exception of one parliamentary party, I think that we were all united here in condemning this aggression. This is more important than it may seem. Some of the measures that will now have to be taken to stabilise the situation after, I will say, the negative impact of this aggression or this security crisis, the consequences of sanctions and so on also require such unity. And, as this will not end tomorrow, they also require a strong government. That is why I hope that we will be able to form such a strong government. However, over the last two years we have provided a relatively good basis for Slovenia's resilience to such a situation. At the session that has just finished, the Minister of Finance said that, for this year, when it comes to providing liquidity, to converting some borrowings and to new borrowings that are needed for this liquidity, the work has actually already been done, that we have the ground cleared until the end of the year and the liquidity is guaranteed, and this under the conditions that have applied until now, because now they will change. The crisis resulting from Russia's aggression against Ukraine will of course have an impact on financial markets, on interest rates, on many things. This package of sanctions, which was adopted yesterday, and the one that is still being prepared, including the exclusion of the Russian Federation from SWIFT, plus some measures that could be even tougher, will all change the international, financial and economic environment. And, in this regard, it is very good that we have reserves. That we had high economic growth last year, that we have a high employment rate, and that we have a buffer that can also mitigate the economic consequences of suspended trade with the Russian Federation, including with Ukraine now that there is a war. We are talking about an exposure of at least a billion, a billion and a half euros. Some banks, Russian banks, which are also present on our market, will probably cease to exist in the near future. There are a number of these risks that need to be mitigated. And, thank God, our fiscal situation, our employment situation, our investment situation are favourable and we can thus look more calmly to the months and years ahead than we would have if we were in the situation in which we were in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.        So, on this basis, I think that it will not be so difficult to accept an invitation to a coalition to form a solid government, as some foundations are laid.

Journalist: Do you think that you can form it after the elections?

Prime Minister Janez Janša: I am leading the Slovenian government for the third time. No surveys or political analysts have ever predicted that we would be able to form a government at all. They sent us to the political graveyard 20 years ago, and we have always succeeded, even in difficult situations, but it is all in the hands of the voters. Voters are those who decide and allocate their votes. And let us hope that this distribution of votes will be such that, at the end of the day, there will be a strong majority in the National Assembly that will strive for the common good and the national interests, that will be aware of the seriousness of the times we are in, and that will guarantee the stability and development of the country in the next term of office.

Journalist: Ok. I think we can conclude our interview at this point. The Prime Minister also has other commitments. Thank you, Mr Prime Minister, for taking the time to have this conversation, to tell us what the situation is in the world and in Slovenia. And, of course, I guess I can say for all three of us that we hope that the situation in Ukraine will end with peace in Europe. Thank you for your time.

Prime Minister Janez Janša: Thank you. And, as we have slightly corrected the phrase, stay not only healthy, but also safe.

Journalist: Yes. Thank you, dear viewers, dear readers. Good night.