Publications of experts CACDS - Balkans

Bosko Yakshich: "Russia is perceived in Serbia as a" sacred defender "and receives everything for it"

Photo: BGNES

The Russian influence in Serbia, the trends in modern Serbian foreign policy, the prospects for solving the Kosovo issue and other important issues for Serbia and the Balkan region as a whole - in the direct language of the famous Serbian political scientist Bosko Jakšić.

About Russian influence

In the last century Russian influence has never been as strong as today. Interestingly, they invest very little in him and get a lot in return. They invest in soft power. In the Serbian public consciousness, Russia is a defender of Kosovo. Russians use the slogan "we have never bombed you" - it works.

At the political level, some politicians are completely devoted to the Russians. They do not need to blackmail or bribe Russia - they are real Russophiles. And the point

At the economic level, the Russians got specific things: they bought the entire Serbian oil and gas industry. And interestingly, it was sold at the price of a supermarket chain. It was a peculiar gift for their willingness to use the veto power on the UN Security Council.

As for the new Russian gas pipeline, here it is considered as an economically viable option. The Germans are buying Russian gas. Why should not we? But another thing is rail loans. And this is another "grateful" to the Russians for Kosovo, since the interest rates that Serbia pays for Russian loans are much higher than those that would be paid by the same IBRD. So, we go to Russia and say: "Thank you for your support in the Kosovo issue, and we want to get a loan from you." In this case, this means that the data will be negotiated without tenders and with prices that will be set by the Russians in the way they want.

Both subjects - the Russian influence and the issue of Kosovo are directly related, and they begin at one and the same time - since the beginning of the Kosovo crisis in 1999 year. The Russians are very skilful in using this crisis, which, in essence, is Alfa and Omega of Serbian domestic and foreign policy.

In general, Russia is perceived in Serbia as a "holy defender", for which everything gets.

About the current goals of Russia in Serbia

Their main goal is to prevent NATO from joining the whole region. The more they lose in Montenegro and Macedonia, the more they will fight for Serbia and Bosnia. Everything else is a consequence of this. But the Americans want the work on Kosovo to be made. American diplomat Brian Hoyt Ye announced two things: an agreement between Macedonia and Greece in 2018 year, and then, a year later, a solution to the Kosovo issue.

Today, as the Kosovo issue is still unresolved, Russia is open to its policy towards Serbia and the Balkans as a whole. But, Moscow is becoming increasingly nervous in the prospect of closing these doors. As soon as the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina is completed, the main channel of Russian influence on Serbia will be blocked. Accordingly, they will do everything to stop it. Officially, they say: "Why Belgrade and Pristina have not agreed, we will accept it." However, it would be very naive to think that such a simple adoption would mean "yes" to the UN Security Council. And this means that the bets in the game will be significantly raised and that not only Belgrade and Pristina, but the entire region will be excluded from the game. Speaking about the possibility of an agreement with Belgrade and Kosovo, it is clear that Russians are not interested in it. But in order to accept it, they will bargain for something more. For example, Georgia. This is part of their game, from which they will want to come up with certain achievements for themselves.

About Russia's interest in replacing Alexander Vuchich with someone more loyal to Moscow

Of course they would really like it. However, this will not happen. Serbia would not accept any pro-Russian government. In terms of lifestyle, the Serbs are quite Western. If they will have the prospect of getting a fully pro-Russian government - they will say: "No, thank you." I believe that Russia will not be able to turn Serbia into its pro-Russian "province". It can hold leverage of influence, but no dominance. All that Putin can do here is to use the Russophile feelings in the Serbian society, propaganda, economic levers, the issue of Kosovo - and this is enough to maintain an environment favorable to them.

About the Russian humanitarian center in Nishi

It's a long story. Former Serbian President Tomislav Nikolich was ready to give Nash Russians. In October, 2017, the issue was almost resolved and Dmitry Medvedev was scheduled to visit Dmitry Medvedev, but the result was "no". The visit was canceled. I think that in Belgrade, the West was well aware of this issue. Our leadership then did not directly accuse anyone, because the military attache visited the center and said that "he is not like a military base, although he has the potential to become him." That is, it was a story "and if ...". But the West was so opposed to giving the center to the Russians that Belgrade understood that it would be a bitter in the eyes of the West, and had to say no. And I think that after this Russians have abandoned this idea. As far as I know, today at the official level this question is not on the agenda.

About the Trends in Modern Foreign Policy of Serbia

Current trends in Serbia's foreign policy are talking about rapprochement with Russia. If we analyze it, we can see in it a number of compromises which testify about it. Here are some examples. There is an analysis that shows that in the first half of the 2018 the EU and various European bodies issued thirty-two resolutions and declarations. Serbia was against twelve of them. Nine of these twelve directly or indirectly touched Russia and across Ukraine. In the 2012 year before the Serbian Progressive Party came to power, the foreign policy of Serbia and the EU correlates in more than 80% of cases. Today their level of coordination is 54%. And this decrease of 30% concerns Russia.

Another example concerns the Macedonian-Greek issue. When the deal was reached, the official Belgrade kept silent. From him there was no reaction to be expected - the greetings of such an agreement, as it contributes to stability throughout the region. Belgrade was silent because it did not want to annoy Russia, which was strongly against this deal.

The third example concerns elections in the Republika Srpska and elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina. President Vuchich publicly supported Milord Dodick, which was very strange, because, despite the fact that they meet very often, Dodik is not a favorite Vucic's companion. At the same time, it was against the norm of non-interference in the internal affairs of another sovereign state. But he did it and did it right after he came from Moscow. It is very likely that Putin asked him to do so.

The fourth is that for the first time since 2000 year, here in the ruling coalition there is an openly Russophile party. Such has never been before.

On the possibility for Serbia to join the Eurasian Economic Union

Given the trends I have discussed above, I can not rule out this possibility. However, this step can not be explained by economic reasons. From an economic point of view - it's nonsense, because we already have an agreement on free trade with Russia, which we have never used yet. For example, we asked Putin to help Serbia export FIAT cars to Kazakhstan - and it did not help. So why do we have to go to the Eurasian Economic Union? If this happens, it will definitely be a shot at its own foot with the EU, which accounts for 63,7% of Serbia's overall trade balance.

About the policy of "sitting on two chairs" by Alexander Vuchich

In my opinion, Serbia can not sit on two chairs. Trying to satisfy both the East and the West, the Vucchich put himself in such a position when nobody believes him. Neither Putin nor the West do not believe Vucic. One day, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the Balkans are a line of fire. So it is: both parties expect you to take their side. But the Vucchich can not take a party, which is the result of the lack of courage to declare his position. I know that it's best if everything is not black and white, because then you have the space for maneuvering. But the world is the way it is.

About the European perspective of Serbia and the perception of NATO

Officially Russians are not against the Serbian relations with the EU. In my opinion, it may be interesting to them. If they maintain the current level of influence on Serbia, then, if Belgrade joins the EU, they will be able to use it as a Trojan horse. But they are very opposed to American influence in Serbia because it is directly linked to NATO. Therefore, the Russians worked hard enough to prevent the perception of NATO here. And I would say that they have succeeded in this. This may sound like a paradox, but in the 2001-2002 years when the wounds from the NATO 1999 bombing were still fresh, the percentage of Serbs who were not against NATO was much higher than today. And this is the result of the local anti-NATO policy, which was conducted here so-called. nationalist forces, plus Russian influence. As a result today we have such a situation: if you say that you are pro-Russian, you are a patriot. If you say that you are Proatov, you are a traitor.

About anti-presidential protests

It is known that Vuchich is not very much concerned about the protests and he will wait until they fall to the minimum level. This is obviously his strategy. However, the "sediment" of them remains. What has already been done by protesters is already quite enough. The government is very nervous because of the protests, because their potential can lead to something bigger. But for this necessarily there should be support from the outside. Today, I do not see signs that the West is ready to support protests. I think that the teacher still needs them to carry out their homework in Kosovo, and they still hold him. Maybe after that they will get rid of it.

These protests remind me of the 1996 year, when there were much more protests than now against Slobodan Milosevic. They lasted for months, but they could not bring Milosevic down because there was no support from the outside. In those days, the West needed Milosevic, which he portrayed as the guarantor of peace and stability in the Balkans.

On a possible compromise on the Kosovo issue

Today, the Kosovo issue, along with Bosnia and Herzegovina, remains the heaviest in the Balkans. We have already got rid of the third - Macedonia. But Kosovo has more potential. Unless it is resolved, the wider Albanian issue will not be resolved, which may affect Macedonia, part of Montenegro, part of southern Serbia.

If there is an agreement on Kosovo, it will mean that it has succeeded in reaching a compromise, since there is no other choice on both sides. It is clear that the West does not want a frozen conflict. It needs to be resolved. It is also obvious that this will be a win-win situation, which both sides will try to show to their citizens as a victory. To be objective, the Serbs will have to lose more.

Forget about what is often written in the media: what part of the Preschev valley will go to Kosovo, and the northern part of Kosovo to Serbia. This is a maximalist and unrealistic approach. Although it is normal for history, in what level of nationalism is still quite high, because it is well resonates for public opinion on both sides. However, no one in Pristina will go to abandon all of northern Kosovo. Serbia will lose 95% of what previously was an autonomous province of Kosovo. Only 5% or some minor changes can be made, some cosmetic changes in the area. Serbs from northern Kosovo will receive only the Association of Serbian Communities, which insists Belgrade, since it was accepted by the Albanian side in the Brussels agreement from 2013 year. And I do not think it's something serious. Because everything they can do with this association will only concern health and education. All other things that are attributes of the state - belong to Pristina.

It will be difficult to explain to most of the Serbian public that we "lost" the battle for Kosovo. Because the narratives that we won the war - at least, NATO was not defeated - are still here. And so the Serbian society thinks. Therefore, for the Serbian leadership it will be a daunting task to tell the people about the truth about Kosovo. As for the immediate signing of an agreement on Kosovo, it would be fair, if it was done by Vuchich. Because, precisely as he was the Minister of Information of Milosevic, he "shaped" the Kosovo conflict in the 1990-ies. He was one of those who introduced nationalism. Therefore, signing the agreement would be a kind of "heavenly justice".

Igor Fedyk (CACDS-Balkans)