MOSCOW—Croatia’s president hopes her American and Russian counterparts show “responsibility” and remember they are the guarantors of the whole world’s stability when they hold their first summit Monday.

In an interview Sunday with The Associated Press, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic also shrugged off U.S. President Donald Trump’s aggressive behavior with NATO allies at a meeting on Wednesday and Thursday.

“It’s about his personality. I don’t take it against him,” she said.

Grabar-Kitarovic, who lived through Croatia’s 1991 independence war and governs in a region that has been caught up in larger geopolitical battles, said Trump’s meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin could calm international tensions instead of inflame them.

“I’m really hopeful that the two state leaders will show enough … responsibility for global stability and the trans-Atlantic relationship,” said Grabar-Kitarovic, who met Putin at the Kremlin on Sunday before her country’s team played in the World Cup final.

She expressed concern about Russian interference in southeast Europe, where Moscow has sought to use its economic influence and powerful energy sector to counter EU and NATO outreach.

But Grabar-Kitarovic insisted on the importance of talking to Russia instead of isolating it.

“We want to have a dialogue about common threats to our security,” she said. “We have to work together.”

Grabar-Kitarovic steered clear of sensitive issues, such as the pro-Ukrainian sentiment among some Croatian soccer players at the World Cup that has angered the tournament’s Russian hosts.

“Sports brings people together. People in all of our countries are tired of ideological differences, of going back into the past all the time,” she said.

Grabar-Kitarovic’s country of 4 million confounded expectations to make it to the World Cup final, and drew increasing support for its hard-working, underdog narrative as richer, higher-profile teams flamed out.

She noted that one reason the Russia-U.S. relationship is of “utmost importance” to her region and the broader world is so “we never ever see again” massacres like the ones carried out during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

From Montenegro and Serbia in the east and Slovenia in the west, Croatia’s neighbors were split over whether to support Croatia or France in the soccer tournament, reflecting the persisting rifts stemming from the 1990s conflict.

Grabar-Kitarovic used Croatia’s surprise success on the soccer field to raise her country’s profile, posing in a red-and-white checkered team jersey on social media posts at every opportunity — and giving a team T-shirt to Trump when they met at NATO last week.

She expressed empathy for Trump’s assailing European allies at the Brussels summit for not spending enough on weapons and their own defense.

“Certainly, it’s not fair that the United States is carrying the burden for the defense of Europe,” Grabar-Kitarovic said. “We’re first and foremost responsible for our own security.”

Wait, before you go…

If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.

Support Truthdig