BRATISLAVA has never been so protected. With three weeks to go before the Slovak capital hosts the summit between the US and Russian heads of state, security measures have significantly increased and foreign security personnel have descended on this city of 500,000 people.
According to the Foreign Ministry, Slovak security authorities have been cooperating with their US and Russian counterparts since early January to put extensive security measures in place to minimize the possibility of a terrorist attack or protest from extremist groups during the summit.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Juraj Tomaga would not reveal any details of the security measures. At a press conference February 1, Tomaga said: "The best security measures are those that are not talked about."
Russian and US scouting teams visited the capital in January to preview potential meeting places. The Foreign Ministry confirmed that both countries approved Bratislava castle as the meeting point of choice between US President George Bush and Russian President Vladmir Putin. The two leaders are scheduled to meet at Bratislava Castle on February 24.
Slovak authorities started summit preparations as soon as it became clear that the country would be chosen as summit headquarters. To help pay for security efforts, the Slovak government released Sk200 million (€5.17 million).
Slovak police are ready to put 5,500 policemen on the streets to ensure public safety during the event, and the army has promised additional staff numbering in the hundreds.
At a press conference held February 1, Ľubomíra Miklovičová from the Interior Ministry said that police had already started strengthening border controls and that checks would not be relaxed to normal levels until after the Bush-Putin summit.
"Slovak police will also carry out thorough controls on all airports," Miklovičová said in a statement sent to The Slovak Spectator. Air Force One and Ilyushin are expected to land at Bratislava Airport.
Apart from routine security measures, Miklovičová said that a military chemical lab would oversee the safety of top officials. Four armoured vehicles would also be deployed.
Health facilities in the capital city are also preparing for the event in case trouble breaks out.
The Bratislava summit is expected to attract around 2,000 international journalists and other guests to the Slovak capital. Local hotels have reported higher-than-average accommodation queries from abroad. Most establishments expect a boost in revenue during the event.
Summit organizers are preparing a press centre called Summit Press Center (www.slovakiasummit.sk) at the Incheba exhibition area in Bratislava. The Summit Press Center will be available as an information source and workspace for accredited journalists.
In addition to the presidential summit, Bush and Putin are expected to pay political visits to Slovakia's leaders.
According to local media, Putin wanted to visit the Slovak parliament and address the members of parliament. According to the latest information, however, the Russian president's plans have changed.
Michal Dyttert, an aid to Speaker of Parliament Pavol Hrušovský, told The Slovak Spectator on February 2 that "President Putin will not speak to the MPs directly, just attend the meetings with the parliament's officials".
Chance of a lifetime
Bratislava is working hard to put its best foot forward for the summit, according to Milan Vajda, the spokesperson for Bratislava Mayor Andrej Ďurkovský.
"The mayor is attending a series of meetings with local restaurant, hotel and taxi service providers to encourage them to be as prepared as possible for the summit," Vajda said.
"For Bratislava, presenting itself to some 2,000 international journalists is a chance of a lifetime that may never be repeated. News organizations tend to accompany Bush's official visits to foreign countries with tourism and country-related stories, so this will likely boost Slovakia's tourist industry," he said.
Vajda continued: "Unlike other cities [that have previously hosted summits], Bratislava will not ask its residents to leave the city during the summit. Instead, we are encouraging people to present themselves in the best possible light."
According to political analysts, Slovakia was chosen to host the presidential summit because it is relatively neutral.
Kevin Deegan Krause is an assistant professor at Michigan's Wayne State University. From his office in the political science department, he told The Slovak Spectator: "I think Bratislava was probably a likely choice [for the summit] because it has advantages for Bush without any major disadvantages for Putin."
Slovakia's centre-right government, which supports military involvement in Iraq, appealed to US President Bush. It is, to use US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's phrase "the new Europe". Alternately, Russian President Putin has a positivie relationship with Slovak leaders.
"Presidents like to meet in small, relatively neutral countries when they can't meet in one another's capitals. Politics in Russia (especially after the Ukrainian election) are such that Bush might not be very well received in Moscow," Krause said.
According to him, the summit meeting will probably not greatly benefit Slovakia except to "do something to increase the country's visibility, at least briefly".
7. Feb 2005 at 0:00 | Martina Jurinová and Beata Balogová