Russia in the Balkans: The Shadow of Strategic Rivalry

The strategic goal of Russia’s policy in the Balkans is preserving positions in its own civilizational area, which has historically included the South Slavic space. The tactical ones include creating a comfortable environment for Russian companies (primarily from the energy sphere) and counterbalancing NATO’s influence in the region. In the long run, the tactical goal could be a full-scale inclusion or even initiating a multilateral solution of the “Balkan issue” by organizing an international conference.

On January 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid an official visit to Serbia. The most intriguing topic on the visit’s agenda was its possible influence on the talks between Belgrade and Kosovo Albanians on the status of Kosovo. In his official speech, Putin presented two points regarding this issue. The first one, that Serbian President Alexander Vucic should feel comfortable about, is that any negotiations and agreements between Belgrade and Pristina are a matter that should be decided by the two parties. The second one is that the decision should be made “on the basis of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244,” something Vucic is not pleased with, since in 2018, the prospect of signing an agreement on the Kosovo-Serbia delimitation (a territorial exchange) sounded repeatedly, but that would mean transgressing the resolution. Nevertheless, by the end of 2018, talks between Belgrade and Pristina faced a dead end, and the Serbian president began to declare that the Kosovo issue could not be resolved immediately, “here and now”. At the moment, it is a rhetorical question whether this is due to a deal with Moscow or to purely domestic political purposes. The answer is likely to be found by the spring of 2019.

Serbia After Putin’s Visit
Dejan Novakovic
The most important political event at the beginning of this year in Serbia was the official visit by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and the Serbian authorities’ muscle flexing, designed to show the EU, Kosovo and the opposition that Moscow loves Serbia. The Serbian authorities plan to use this situation to win the upcoming elections this spring and also to strengthen their position in relations with the EU and the United States.
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Formally, at least the open part of the visit was focused on the economy, although in financial terms, the signed agreements and protocols of intent are not very significant, amounting to 600 million euros in the future and 200 million in fact. Unfortunately, the two sides failed to reach an FTA agreement with the EAEU by the Russian president’s visit, to the advantage of Serbia’s European partners. The number and quality of the signed agreements provide Brussels with an opportunity to show the exiguity of Russia’s economic role in the region.

From the moral point of view, the scale of the meeting and its intensity enable NATO and its member states to increase both the pressure on Belgrade, strengthening the military-technical cooperation and interoperability, and launching an anti-Russian information campaign in the region. This visit is unlikely to have serious impact on the prospects of Serbia’s membership in the EU. It will rather be used for being able to reproach Belgrade at the right moment.

Serbia as Vanguard of Russia’s Policy in the Balkans
Alexander Pivovarenko
Today Russia’s positions are highly dependent on the overall situation and a broad set of ties and interconnections in Southeast Europe. As distinct from other countries, Russia’s presence in the region is primarily limited to Serbia.
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