Russia and Serbia
EUROPEAN PROSPECTS DISAPPROVED
By Snezana Congradin and Matja Stojanovic
The attitudes taken by official Moscow's envoys testify that Serbia -
despite all domestic problems that uncontrolled by the executive branch associate
totalitarianism - has stepped up so close to European integrations that after yet another
step it could no longer give up the course.
Substantive stabilization in the Balkans would begin with normalization
of Serbia-Kosovo relations and end with rearrangement of Bosnia-Herzegovina or, to put it
precisely, once Republika Srpska relinquishes secessionism. And that's actually the sum
and substance of European integration for all the three states. Unfortunately, integration
processes in both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo on Serbia. And Serbia is - as official
Belgrade is fond of calling it - a factor of stability in the region.
It seems that is why echoing Moscow's disapproval of Serbia's chance to
obtain EU candidacy Russian Ambassador Alexander Konuzin searched for "Serbs"
among Serbia's citizens and governmental officials (with the exception of Foreign Minister
Vuk Jeremic) and called for an armed conflict against NATO and EU in Kosovo's north.
A week after this diplomatic incident Tomislav Nikolic, leader of the
Serb Progressive Party /SNS/ and Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the Democratic Party of
Serbia, along with Republika Srpska /RS/ President Milorad Dodik attended the congress of
Putin's United Russia Party. According to unofficial sources, Putin has decided to unify
the right-wing opposition in Serbia with the helping hand from RS President to secure
Russia's interests in the region after parliamentary elections in Serbia.
Then Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said Serbia could never
become a NATO member-state unless it recognized Kosovo's unilaterally proclaimed
independence. "I wish to emphasize that recognition of Kosovo's independence
preconditions Belgrade's membership of NATO. One thing excludes another. Moscow's is
concerned that for the sake of NATO membership Serbia could change its attitude towards
Kosovo and so create an unusual and embarrassing situation for us," said Rogozin. He
added that NATO Statutes prohibits from membership the states involved in territorial
disputes. "All this, however, would not prevent parts of Serbia's general public and
elite to staunchly argue about and for such a membership," concluded Rogozin. True,
he added to this, "The Western world respects only strong and self-confident people,
while encouraging those who are weak and prone to treason towards more disloyalty and
weakness only to forget all about them later and discard them as an old and boring
toy." And asked about Russian troops' withdrawal from Kosovo, he replied,
"Withdrawal of 650 of our peace-keeping troops in 2003 was closely connected with
transfer of authority from the military to civilians and the police." He said nothing
about Russia having left behind a 575,000 USD debt for electricity but emphasized instead
that "Russia is ready to help its Serb brothers" though /Russians/ "cannot
be bigger Serbs than Serbs themselves."
The visit by Russian Minister of Emergency Situations Sergey Shoygu
further mirrored Russia's stance on Serbia's European prospects. Washington expressed its
doubts at the time that the Regional Humanitarian Center in Nis was actually a Russian
base in the Balkans, a Moscow's spying-spot for Americans' anti-missile shield in Rumania.
Janos Bugayski, head of Southeast European department of the Center for Strategic and
International Studies in Washington, and a figure close to American Democrats, told the
media in Serbia he believed the Nis Center would evolve into a military base to
accommodate Russian troops as well. "No doubt that Moscow is after developing a
Russian military base at the Center for Emergency Situations in Serbia but is presently
short of funds for such an enterprise," he said. "If profits from energy grow
during Putin's upcoming presidency, Kremlin will be after military presence in the Balkans
to counterbalance what is perceives as American expansion in the region, as well as US
military power in Kosovo, Rumania and Bulgaria, and the establishment of the anti-missile
shield in several countries of Central and Eastern Europe," he said.
Russia-Serbia agreement on the establishment of a humanitarian center
for emergency situations in Nis provides Moscow the opportunity to erect its first
military base outside the territory of the former URSS, released American Stratfore
analytical agency back in 2009.
In support of its argument Stratfore stresses that the Russian Ministry
for Emergency Situations, lead by Sergey Shoygu for the past fifteen years is "all
but an insignificant ministry." Further, it says that Shoygu is a member of Russia's
powerful Council for Security that emerged from the Military Intelligence Directorate,
known as GRU, among most powerful shadow institutions in Russia.
By the way, back in 2007 Marko Jaksic, DSS official, used to say that a
Russian base in Serbia, possibly "near the border with Kosovo" could be expected
should Europe and US decide to recognize Kosovo's independence.
Anyway, it was in 2004 that Russia, following the Western model,
realized the benefits of the so-called development assistance for securing soft power in
international relations. Adjusting its foreign police to the post-cold-war reality since,
Russia has increased five times the funds for "assistance" to other countries.
And only a couple of years ago, Russia itself met the criteria for a beneficiary of
development assistance. And it is only logical that Russia has been expecting something in
return, politically or economically.
But in 2010 Russia set aside only half a billion euro for development
assistance, just a bit more than Poland having allocated 380 million. The actual size of
Russia's contribution is probably best illustrated by the fact that out of some 130
billion USD of grants worldwide US contributed 30, EU 100, China 2.5 and Turkey and India
one billion. From this angle Russia is not a big international player but obviously
intends to become one. But it fully serves its donor role within international
organization it has established itself and almost all Russian donations are distributed
within these organizations.
Till their possible membership of this exclusive club the Balkan
countries will be experiencing Russia's growing influence in somewhat differently. To
counterbalance these countries' movement towards EU and NATO Russia relies on its energy
interests for stronger influence on the region. In this context, the Balkans and the
Southeastern Europe are key elements of Russia's energy strategy for EU.
According to the media, big investment projects dealing with areas of
gas, oil, infrastructure and high-tech import from Russia were discussed over Minister
Shoygu's recent meeting with Serbia's President Boris Tadic and Premier Mirko Cvetkovic.
Liberalization of bilateral relations within Russian-Serbian free trade zone was also on
the agenda. And only recently Serbia and Montenegro were placed on reserve list for the
membership of the customs union of ex-Soviet republics established in 2010. As of January
2012 the customs union will be replaced by a free trade zone by the EU model.
The so-called Eurasian union was elaborated in an article penned by
Putin himself for Izvestia paper. In this article he actually outlined the union's future
constitution or statute. And these rules to be are already mirrored in Russia's attitude
towards potential candidates. Some sorts of bilateral relations between Russia and
potential candidates, based on the price of Russian gas and size of development
assistance, obviously stand for the membership criteria. And reaching any agreement
whatsoever with political representatives of other member-states such as Belarus or
Kazakhstan would make no sense in this context.
And obviously there is little space for choice when it comes to a type
of relations with this union. Ukraine is an illustrative example. Itself aspiring for EU
membership Ukraine did not want to become a full-fledged members of the union and offered
a "three plus one" cooperation model instead. Russians turn this down flat. For
Ukraine, a full-fledged membership would imply the end of a European course nothing in the
Stabilization and Association Agreement is compatible with the relations Russia has been
offering so generously, claiming they would benefit all the three sides.
As it seems, Russia's appeal to Ukraine "to free itself from old
political phobia of accession" to the customs union between Russia, Belarus and
Kazakhstan raises the bid. Though strongly criticized by EU for the political trial and
sentence ruled to Julia Timoschenko, accused of a disadvantageous gas agreement with
Russians, Ukraine persists on its course towards signing a SAA with EU. "No one from
EU says that an end should be put to all our contacts with Ukrainian officials. Our
interest in signing SAA with Ukraine has not changed," Stefan Fule, European
commissioner for enlargement, told a Ukrainian broadcaster.
A similar "struggle" is on in all the regions bordering on EU
in which Russia has energy interests. However, it is the strongest along Serbia's
/undefined/ borders. Not long ago, President Tadic himself hinted that Kosovo has become a
battlefield of big powers' contest for "predominant geopolitical influence." In
other words, logs placed at borders crossings with Kosovo defend the future union's border
in the south from NATO. And this is additionally testified by persons dressed in Russian
uniforms parading along barricades. Their parade is obviously meant to indicate the one
holding the reins of peace in the Balkans.