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Commentaries Foreign Policy Governance and Multilateralism

How strong are ties between Serbia and Russia?

The often called “Brotherhood” lays at the basis of the diplomatic relations between Serbia and Russia, both on regional and multilateral levels. For centuries, the two countries have been increasingly strengthening their ties. Originally from the common Slavic and Orthodox roots, they currently hold a strategic partnership. Both sides loyally back their respective positions trying to ensure the mutual respect for their political, military and commercial interests. The question is: how solid is this partnership? And, what is the price of it?

As a matter of fact, Belgrade is silently travelling on multiple tracks and this surely contributes to high malleability in its approaches.

Only a few days ago, Serbia voted against the UN General Assembly draft resolution on urging Russia to withdraw its military forces from Crimea and to end its temporary occupation of Ukranian territory. [1] Serbia was the only Balkan country to support the Russian position and this is not the first time nor at the UN neither before the EU. In December 2017, Belgrade backed Moscow over a UN resolution put by Ukraine which condemned the human rights situation in Russian-annexed Crimea.[2] On a EU level, Serbia refused to join Western sanctions on Russia for its role in fomenting the conflict in Ukraine despite various reminders from Brussels that, as an EU candidate country, Serbia needs to align its foreign policy with that of the EU.[3]

Even if Serbia appears being always supportive of Russian propositions, relations between the two countries have not been always as smooth as expected.

Only a few weeks ago, a video clip showing a Russian diplomat handing over money to a former lieutenant colonel of the Serbian Army was uploaded online.  On that occasion, President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić expressed concern and stated that Serbia’s intelligence had already gathered extensive evidence of Russian espionage operations in the country since last year.[4] Nevertheless, according to the Serbian ambassador to Moscow Miroslav Lazanski, the spy scandal has considered closed within a few days and with no impact on mutual relations between the two countries.[5] At the same time, on the other side, pieces of evidence have emerged of Ukraine’s Army using contraband Serbian weapons in Donbas against the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic soldiers.[6] As a matter of fact, Serbia officially does not recognise Crimea as part of Russia, supporting the territorial integrity of the country. In spite of this fact, it has been only a few days that a Delegation from Crimea officially visited the Serbian Parliament and met the two right-wing parties Dveri and Serbian Radical Party.[7]

Even if there are some contradictory actions from both countries, their ties are far to be cut. Both of them have extremely strong interests they are not willing to renounce. On one hand, Russia is eager to maintain its strongest alliance with a south-European country: this means no sanctions form it and the possibility to establish advantageous commercial trades and to push for further military support. On the other hand, Kosovo remains the central issue related to Serbia. Russia, in fact, was among the first countries to condemn Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 and it has since voted against the membership of Kosovo in international institutions in line with Belgrade’s policies. This is why Serbia will always back up Russia’s positions even on a multilateral level.

However, it is specifically in this frame that Serbia can dare more in this game. From an EU perspective, there is a huge interest to divert Serbian focus on Russia to the common European views by offering economic and strategic support. In this way, the EU could gain an ally with deep knowledge of a country that has always shown itself as hostile toward the whole community. From the Russian side, its interest is to show Serbia an alternative to the EU bloc by offering all its support, even for what concerns Kosovo’s case, interpreted as a Serbian violation from most of the countries in the international community. And, even if Serbia enter the Union, Russia would make sure not to lose the loyalty Serbia has always demonstrated in the name of their common traditional ties. In all this game of interests, Serbia surely lays in the most prestigious positions: it has everything to gain from all sides.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] UNIAN, UN General Assembly calls on Russia to withdraw military forces from Crimea, 9 December 2019

[2] Balkan Insight, Serbia Backs Russia Over UN Resolution On Crimes, 10 December 2019, Maja Zivanovic

[3] Ibidem

[4] Maja Zivanovic, Balkan Insight, Serbian Prosecution Ducks Probing Russian Spy Affairs, 21 November 2019

[5] Sputnik Serbia, 3 December 2019 / Balkan Insight

[6] Arms Watch, Serbian arms trafficked to Ukraine: evidence of contraband mortars used against Donbas, 21 November 2019, Dilyana Gaytandzhieva

[7] Maja Zivanovic, Balkan Insight, Ukraine Ambassador Blasts Serbia for Hosting Crimean Delegation, 6 December 2019

Further readings:

Euractive, Balkan espionage affair revives ghosts of the past, 25 November 2019

Luke Baker, Aleksandar Vasović, Thomson Reuters, Ahead of NATO summit, Serbia buffeted between West and Russia, 28 November 2019

BETA, Serbia-Ukraine diplomatic scandal breaks out, calling for Ambassador’s reaction, 6 December 2019

BETA, Russian media: Two scandals in Serbia cast a shadow over Vučić’s visit to Russia, 4 December 2019

Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, Serbia’s Russian Flirtations Are Just That, 25 October 2019

Dusan Stojanović, The Independent, EU and Russia battle for influence in the Balkan region, 24 February 2018

Aleksandar Vasović, Thomson Reuters, Serbia’s president accuses Russia of spying, 21 November 2019

 

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