A country like Serbia will soon be faced with a strategic decision: continue to cooperate with China and Russia – or act purely on the side of the West, where a kind of alliance will be created among the democratic countries, against the “dictators” of the planet. The concept of a Common Space from Lisbon to Vladivostok will be important for the future partnership between Russia and Serbia, writes Alexander Rahr, Research Director, German-Russian Forum. The article was prepared specially for the Russian-Serbian Conference of the Valdai Discussion Club and Russia House in Belgrade.
We live amid changing times. Where is Europe heading after the pandemic? What will relations be like between the West and Russia: the parties will finally quarrel, Russia will create an alliance with China, and the European Union will position itself under America’s wing? Or, on the contrary, is the time coming to try a new understanding - given the new realities of our complex world? Will the European Union be able to re-consolidate after the heavy losses and shocks of recent years, such as Brexit, the financial crisis, the migration crisis, and the coronavirus pandemic? What will happen to Europe when and if the world finds itself under the sharp dominance of China, amid the weakening of America? Will our shared Europe be built on common liberal values, or will we start to build relations based on different national interests?
For Serbia and Russia, these are key, existential questions. Relations between Serbia and Russia will continue to evolve, as will the challenges I have named.
During the most recent G7, NATO and EU summits, the United States showed its greatest concern - the new greatness of China. Under pressure from the United States, the West decided to create a counterbalance to China's Belt and Road strategy. The West wants to hastily “pump in” trillions of dollars in order to create its own infrastructure in those regions where the Chinese Silk Road is directed. The goal of the United States is clear: to contain China, which is rushing towards the West, by all means.
A country like Serbia will soon be faced with a strategic decision: continue to cooperate with China and Russia - or act purely on the side of the West. A kind of alliance will be created among the democratic countries, against the “dictators” of the planet.
In my opinion, the West cannot stop the advance of China. Yes, many European countries will refuse to participate in building Pax Americana by divesting their good ties with China and Russia.
Even at the moment of its greatest weakness, Russia, however, did not lose hope of re-creating something of its own way, independent of the West. I remember that during the birth of the CIS in late 1991, Moscow offered countries such as Bulgaria and Serbia the opportunity to become members of the new Slavic union. There was hope for some kind of democratic East Slavic union.
But no one then took into account the objectively formed constellation of forces on the continent. The United States and the European Union were then at the peak of their civilisational and economic development. In eastern Europe, the collapse was just beginning. It is clear who decided and ordered the tune.
Today the situation looks quite different.
The European Union is losing its monopoly on the continent.
Great Britain withdrew from the European Union and is creating its own pact with the United States. It will compete with the European Union economically and in terms of security.
A NATO member, Turkey, has ambitions to become also a separate part of Europe - a regional power at the junction of Europe and Asia with its own zone of influence and geopolitics.
Russia is creating the Eurasian Union, which, over time, will contend for authority on the same continent.
Eastern and Western Europe are clashing over liberal values.
The pandemic has dramatically weakened the central institutions of Brussels. In addition, the United States is losing its former leadership potential in the eyes of Europeans. Americans are offering Europeans help rebuilding the Pax Americana in world politics.
Europeans, however, are beginning to think about their own interests, albeit only on paper. The idea of the United States of Europe is lost in the fog, the European Union is somehow consolidated with respect to economic principles, but hardly on political ones.
All this should be taken into account in the policies of Serbia and Russia.
What is Serbia for Russia today? How is this seen from Germany? Serbia is undoubtedly Russia's main partner in Eastern Europe. Russia shares mutual enmity with a number of other countries in the region. Thank God, the hostile attitude of Poland, the Baltic countries, Romania and the Czech Republic towards Russia have not led to a cooling of historical relations between Russia and Belgrade.
Everyone has forgotten the First World War; we have not forgotten, however, the Second World War. It is important to note here that Serbia (besides Poland) was the only country that fiercely opposed Hitler and did not participate in his campaign against the USSR.
Some day, future historians will consider the “U-turn” of the government plane over the Atlantic Ocean, on which Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov flew to Washington, when he heard about the NATO bombing of Serbia, as the moment of the final divergence of Russia and the West.
From that moment, if we recall the Russian campaign in Pristina, Russia began to oppose the West in geopolitical terms. As in the First World War - because of Serbia.
Serbia is demonstrating its partnership with Russia today. This is evidenced by the purchase and use of the Russian Sputnik vaccine, despite the fact that Sputnik V is not registered in the European Union.
In an ecclesiastical dispute over the Ukrainian Patriarchate, the Serbian Orthodox Church, like other Orthodox jurisdictions, supported the Moscow Patriarchate and opposed the Ecumenical Patriarch, who provoked a new schism.
Serbia wanted to build a gas alliance with Russia for the Balkan region. If Bulgaria had not succumbed to pressure from the United States and Brussels, the South Stream pipeline would have already supplied the same volumes of Russian gas to southeastern Europe, including through Serbia, as Nord Stream to Germany.
Unfortunately, the strengthening of the economic partnership was also hampered by the European sanctions against Russia after the events in Ukraine. Serbia could not, like Turkey, completely refuse to participate in the European sanctions regime, in Brussels they were afraid of Serbian strikebreaking.
I remember how at that time the European Union was very worried about the growing influence of Moscow on the countries of the Western Balkans. Romania and Bulgaria could then be disciplined through the levers of NATO and the EU, to the neutral countries of the Western Balkans, the power of Brussels did not extend so much.
I think that the concept of a Common Space from Lisbon to Vladivostok will be important for the future partnership between Russia and Serbia. First, this idea also implies a partnership between the European Union and the Eurasian Union. Countries such as Serbia, which are interested in a two-vector policy, may even participate in both economic blocs at the same time, will only benefit from building a Greater Europe. Secondly, uniform rules on security issues will be created on the common continent, and the threat of a new iron curtain will disappear.
Putin has repeatedly made for the European Union this concept, built on the idea of exchanging Russian resources for Western high-quality technologies. Today this concept is outdated, but in a positive sense. There are completely new opportunities for cooperation: in the field of green technologies, hydrogen economy, digitalization and the digital economy, etc.
In the field of European security architecture, the concept of neutrality or the idea of non-bloc affiliation will again reign. For Serbia, but also for Ukraine, this situation will be beneficial. Serbia had its positive experience during the Cold War as part of Yugoslavia.
The East-West conflict is long gone. All reasonable forces understand this. The main challenge is the North-South conflict. This dimension contains the main challenges, such as mass migration, control over weapons of mass destruction, climate change, problems of hunger and water, lack of vital resources, etc.