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Is Russia Using Serbia To Strengthen Hand On European Security?

Did Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) make his Serbian counterpart Boris Tadic an offer of "us or them"?
Did Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) make his Serbian counterpart Boris Tadic an offer of "us or them"?
By Iva Martinovic
BELGRADE -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev traveled to the Serbian capital this week bearing gifts: a $1.5 billion loan and a clutch of energy and development deals.

In return, Medvedev did a little favor for himself. Speaking before the Serbian parliament, he announced that Belgrade -- Moscow's closest ally in the Balkans -- would play an integral role in Russia's plans for a new security strategy for Europe.

Serbia and Russia "have a similar approach to assessing the international situation, as well as issues of European security," Medvedev said. "We are, of course, prepared to promote our initiative together with our Serbian partners."

Serbian President Boris Tadic said his country was "open" to the initiative.

Details about a concrete proposal have been few. But Medvedev's invitation has prompted speculation that Moscow is using its close ties with Belgrade to gain a European foothold for what, until now, has been a largely marginalized Russian security initiative.

Medvedev first proposed the creation of a new pan-European security body in the summer of 2008. The Russian president said existing organizations like NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were ill-equipped to tackle terrorism and other security issues of the 21st century.

The proposal was seen as reflecting Moscow's longtime resentment of NATO expansion and controversial U.S. plans for a missile-defense system in Central Europe.

But even after Washington scrapped the missile-defense deal, Medvedev repeated his conviction that creating a new security architecture for Europe was the "sensible" thing to do. His remarks in Belgrade appear to suggest that Russia is eager to nudge its project forward with the help of a pliable European ally.

No Friends Of NATO


Dusan Reljic, a senior scientific researcher at the Berlin Institute for International and Security Issues, notes that Russia is the Balkan region's chief energy supplier and an important trade partner.

But while both Moscow and Belgrade have an interest in deepening relations, Reljic says the security initiative should not be seen as anything more than an opportunity for Moscow to gain local support for what amounts to an assault on existing security institutions.

"I don't want Europe" -- Serbia's mind-set?
"Russia is trying to compensate for the failings of the OSCE over the past few years, and the absence of any long-term agreements -- as well as new agreements -- with the United States," Reljic says. "Russia is not trying to integrate Serbia in any special system of bilateral relations with Moscow."

Serbia, which is the one Balkan country with no stated interest in NATO membership, maintains an official policy of military neutrality. A recent proposal to set up a NATO office in Serbia raised howls of protest. But Serbs have been largely silent on the Russian proposal.

Some, however, worry that any step by Belgrade to support the Russian plan would spell an end to Serbia's ambitions of joining the European Union and other Western institutions.

Belgrade has won steady encouragement from Brussels as it pursues EU integration. A travel-visa regime was recently lifted against Serbia, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn noted this week that Belgrade has "crucially improved" its cooperation with The Hague war crimes tribunal and deserves to proceed with a blocked trade agreement.

East vs. West?

But not everyone is convinced the European largesse will extend to approving new security arrangements between Belgrade and Moscow.

Retired General Ninoslav Krstic, who currently heads the Forum for Security and Democracy in Belgrade, an NGO dealing with security issues, says there is currently "no indication" that any security cooperation would include a military dimension.

Still, he says, any further talks on the issue may send Brussels the wrong message, and there "would be a reassessment of Serbia's honesty in its relation to Europe."

Krstic observes that if "you want to share values, you have to share them completely. As I understand it, Serbia wants to maintain common political, cultural, and economic values with Europe. But it doesn't want to maintain common security arrangements. I don't think this is a fair or honest approach by Serbia toward relations with the European Union."

Others, however, argue that the mere threat of a Moscow-Belgrade security partnership may only hasten the EU's drive to bring Serbia into the fold. In this way, Medvedev brought Belgrade not only a loan and energy deals, but a bargaining chip in future talks with Brussels.

Ultimately, however, many are skeptical the Moscow proposal was a proverbial gauntlet meant to force Serbia to choose between East and West.

As Zivorad Kovacevic, a longtime diplomat and the president of the European Movement in Serbia, an NGO working to improve Serbia-EU ties, puts it, "Realistically -- politically speaking -- I don't believe any offer could be presented as a choice along the lines of 'either you join us, or you join NATO.'"
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by: black hand from: in the balkans
October 23, 2009 14:39
Neither Serbia nor the Serb population in the Balkans want NATO on its soil. After decades of sanctions, blackmail, bombs and punishment only completely brain-washed Serbs would want to be part of this aggressive clique. New security models are well overdue in Europe.

by: Djordje
October 23, 2009 16:34
Text placed under photo reads:
"I don't want Europe" -- Serbia's mind-set?

That is not Serbia's mind-set. Public opinion polls clearly show that the overwhelming majority of Serbia's citizens want their country to join the EU.
The same goes for virtually all parliamentary political parties, with the exception of Seselj's Radicals, who now have less than 20% of all MPs.
Serbia's mind-set -- if that term means anything at all -- is clearly to join EU, the sooner the better.

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
October 23, 2009 18:11
"To choose between East and West."

No this is not the case. Russia and Western-Europe is not two alien bloc facing each other.
Russia can not be considered now as "East" which would spark that Russia is a separate pole of power.
Russia is and ever was part of European history and European politics. Just like western nations like France Germany or Great Britain.

Therefore Russia is not part of any "eastern power bloc" anymore since the fall of the Soviet Union but part of the West. I mean 'West' something based on secularism but on a Christian cultural and civilizational base.
This makes Russia and the people of Russia an integral part of Europe. Russia is not different from the rest of the continent. (only have a hardliner political leadership at the moment)

This means if someone for example Serbia have good relations with Russia that does not mean that she should have meanwhile bad relation with the EU. This is not a zero sum game. You could have (and everybody should) have good relation with both.

Moreover the EU everybody knows is not a single monolithic bloc. Inside there are many regular and ad hoc coalition in many cases. You could find yourself once on the same platform with France and later in another question at the opposite side.

Therefore Russia is not something else a bloc outside of the EU but only one player among the many others on the Europen political spectrum.

And as it is a European player in a long run it should have a secured place inside the European Union and in the NATO alliance.

Russia is potentially an ally of the rest of Europe. And we should treat her like an ally not as an enemy.

by: Rik from: Milan
October 23, 2009 21:22
Serbian are not Friends Of NATO !?!?!?

Oh my got , how can be possible this mistake ?

Maybe that they still remember of NATO’S BOMBS ?!?!?

Maybe that you that write this article don’t know what happen is Serbia in 1999 ?!?!?!?

No problem , I give you something to study .

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1999_NATO_bombing_of_Yugoslavia

by: Serbo-Canadian from Macau
October 24, 2009 10:34
For crying out loud, find a commentator to replace these apprentice school "writers".

I do not believe you can't afford to get someone at least serious, if not a genius, to comment on the issues of Serbia. This individual with a South Slavonic name misleads readers as if she has expert knowledge in the filed, whereas she appears not to have the faintest idea of what she is talking about, at a par with that diletante using his degree in unrelated field to pronounce sweeping (and dumb statements) one Timothy Garton Ash, and the Welsh chatterbox Marcus Tanner.

by: milan from: milan
October 24, 2009 12:08
well, "Rik," maybe some Serbs realize that it was Milosevic and the rest of his kleptocratic clique who got NATO to bomb them, in his demagogic quest to lose another war for "Greater Serbia". Maybe they even feel a bit of shame for allowing him and his collection of thugs to commit genocide in their name. Maybe they realize all of his primitive Muslim-baiting was just a distraction so he and his thieving clan could rob them blind and stash their money in Cyprus? Hm?

by: Vuk from: Montenegro
October 24, 2009 18:25
Apparently, the author is not aware of the end of the Cold War. Good relationship with Russia doesn’t preclude Serbia’s bid for the EU membership.

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
October 25, 2009 07:36
That's the point Vuk.

One can maintain good relationship with both Russia and the EU simultaniously.

Moreover the EU itself should also maintain good relationship with Russia while they are not enemies of the West anymore.

I propagate long ago to give Russia NATO membership.

(in order to show that Russia and the so called West is not something different but the same. Russia after the Soviet Union should be part of western institutions and alliances.)

by: Mile from: USA
October 26, 2009 16:36
Who is this Iva Martinovic, it is a shame that this kind of articles are published. She has no clue what she was writhing about.

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