Norms and Values
Serbia and Russia in the Context of Current Western Policy Towards Serbs

Almost the entire Serbian population, throughout the former Yugoslavia, has taken a pro-Russian position. In the internal political struggle of Serbia and the Republic of Srpska, there is no Russophobic sentiment at all, even within the ranks of pro-Western parties, writes Aleksandar Raković.

It should not be forgotten that the Serbs were the first nation in the world to fight against the wave of Western imperialism that started after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Serbs and Yugoslavia were the first targets of Westerners in their revisited Drang nach Osten. Thus, Yugoslavia was attacked by the West through internal separatist movements in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia as well as through Western domination within the United Nations.

The Civil War in Yugoslavia (1991–1995) was followed from 1992 to 1995 by UN sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), the Republic of Srpska (Serbian state in Bosnia-Herzegovina), Serbs from Krajina (parts of today’s Croatia) and an NATO air bombing campaign against the Republic of Srpska and Serbs of Krajina (1994–1995). During that period, the Serbs were completely alone in their rightful combat for the preservation of Serbian and Yugoslav statehood.

From 1991 to 1995, the Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin was not at all on the side of the Serbs. It was a period marked by a Russian illusion of the West, which led nowhere. Only a few years later, before and during the NATO war of aggression against Serbia and Montenegro (1999), it became clear to many among the new Russian elite that the West was not attacking Serbia because of Slobodan Milošević, but in order to occupy all Serbia, or at least Kosovo and Metohija.

Therefore, it was a good move by the Russian peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which entered Serbia on June 11, 1999, to take Priština Airport. The Russian army tried to play a protective role for Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija after the expulsion of the Army of Yugoslavia and Serbian police. Unfortunately, Western occupiers in Kosovo and Metohija didn’t want to cooperate with the Russians. The Westerners even didn’t do much to stop the Albanian campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Serbian population and terrorist activities against the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Norms and Values
Serbia: Western Pressure and National Interests
On June 27, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion on the political situation in Serbia and the country’s prospects for bilateral relations with Russia.
Club events

However, the limited Russian military campaign in Kosovo and Metohija in 1999 was the first comeback of independent Russian state policymaking with armed engagement, against the interests of Western powers. After that, with the new leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia won three conflicts in a row: the Second Chechen War (1999–2000), War in Georgia (2008) and Military Operation in Syria (from 2015).

While engaged in the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, NATO started its expansion towards the borders of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. It was clear that the Russian World would be the next victim.

However, the Serbian struggle against Western imperialists in the 1990s gave the Russian Federation time to consolidate and reshape its views on Western expansionism. It might be that those ten years of Serbian resistance were very precious for Russia.

The Serbian public carefully followed the Russian reawakening under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. Given Russia’s political and economic growth, as well as its more visible military strength, Serbian self-confidence was also growing. The Serbs were certain that Russia would continue to support — on international forums — the territorial integrity and state sovereignty of the Republic of Serbia in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija.

Russia’s 2015 veto of a British-proposed United Nations Security Council resolution that would have falsely described the Srebrenica 1995 events as “genocide” — was truly important event in the Serbian-Russian relationship. Russia didn’t allow Westerners to stigmatise Serbs as a “genocidal nation”, something that would especially affect the Republic of Srpska and interests of Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

As president or prime minister of Russia, Putin officially visited Serbia four times. In the same capacity, Dmitry Medvedev officially visited Serbia twice. Serbia and Russia now enjoy fruitful cooperation in terms of the state governments, as well as economics, the military, the church, culture and sports.

Russia supported the finalization of construction of the Saint Sava church in Belgrade, construction on which started in 1935, to represent the imperial strength of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Its construction was halted in 1941 by Nazi occupiers, and in 1944 by the Yugoslav communists. However, work resumed in the mid-1980s. This cathedral of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the largest or the second largest in the Orthodox Christian world, was blessed in 2017 with Russian-made mosaics, and construction was completed in 2020.

Since the beginning of the Special Military Operation in Ukraine in February 2022, there has been continuous pressure on the Republic of Serbia and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to join Western sanctions against the Russian Federation. However, it hasn’t happened and it won’t happen in any sphere of Serbian-Russian relations. Air Serbia still flies from Belgrade to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan and Sochi, and there is talk of additional scheduled flights to Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don. FC Red Star Belgrade (FK Crvena zvezda) play at football tournaments in Russia, while Russian music stars perform in Serbia.

Also, there is heavy pressure on President Milorad Dodik and the Republic of Srpska, due to Dodik’s openly pro-Russian sentiments and opposition to Western intentions for further violation of Serbian sovereignty in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Russia and China are trying to restore balance in Bosnia-Herzegovina, while Western powers consider Bosnia-Herzegovina their protectorate. Westerners were especially enraged when Milorad Dodik visited Putin on May 23, 2023.

In the same manner, there is pressure on Serbs in Montenegro. Westerners consider them pro-Russian sympathizers. Although the Serbs are now the strongest factor in that country and although there is a great comeback of the historical Serb identity in Montenegro, Westerners are still trying to co-opt their efforts by not allowing the representatives of the parties of Serbian integralists to take major state positions. It should be noted that Montenegro was integrated into NATO without a popular referendum. It was known through public polls that the majority of population would have voted against the move.

In the end, it should be stressed that almost the entire Serbian population, throughout the former Yugoslavia, has taken a pro-Russian position. In the internal political struggle of Serbia and the Republic of Srpska, there is no Russophobic sentiment at all, even within the ranks of pro-Western parties. At the same time, Serbs accept that Serbia has certain European priorities, but certainly not Euro-Atlantic ones.

The West and its allies in the so-called Western Balkans have used this situation, connected to the Russian operation in Ukraine, to harm Serbian interests in Kosovo and Metohija, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. So far, they haven’t had any major success but will keep trying. The Serbs will continue to defend their interests. It’s now a long and well-known story. The rightful solution would be the reunification of the Republic of Serbia, the Republic of Srpska and Montenegro into a single Serbian state.

A paper based on a presentation at “The Situation in Serbia” expert discussion at the Valdai Discussion Club, June 27, 2023.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.