23 March 2000, Volume 2, Number 11
Can Russia And China Save Milosevic? Part II
Omer Karabeg: In today's Radio Most (Bridge),we are going to discuss to what extent relying on China and Russia might help the survival of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime. Our guests are Vladimir Veres, a research fellow at the Belgrade Center for Strategic Studies, and Dusan Lazic, an experienced diplomat and member of the Forum for International Relations. [Part I of this program appeared in the "South Slavic Report" on 16 March.]
Milosevic's regime has practically no access to western markets and financial institutions. Nevertheless, the regime obviously has a certain amount of money to finance reconstruction. Do you think it might be the result of some sort of secret economic pledge from Russia and China?
Veres: It is hard to say. As far as Russia is concerned, it is in very serious economic trouble itself. Russia has not yet paid its debt to the former Yugoslavia, and a substantial part of that debt belongs to Serbia and Montenegro.
Russia has no means to help Yugoslavia substantially. It can help with some energy supplies such as gas, petroleum, etc. As far as other arrangements are concerned, Russia mostly insists on being paid at once for whatever it exports, since it has no means to finance its own exports. The same probably goes for China, although it is in a better situation now than Russia. Nevertheless, one should not forget that even today, with the sanctions in force, Yugoslavia's key economic partners are Germany and Italy.
Lazic: As far as China is concerned, it is still unclear what sort of money has arrived in Yugoslavia from China.
Karabeg: We are talking about some $300 million.
Lazic: That is the amount that has been mentioned, but I doubt that the aid has come from China. China has obviously sent some sort of humanitarian aid, but as far as those $300 million are concerned, some think that the amount might represent the money that had previously been taken out of the country, deposited in China, and now is being returned. I would like to remind you that a very good barter arrangement was agreed with China two or three years ago. China was supposed to give Yugoslavia oil in exchange for some of our products like tractors and some other things. Although China did deliver the oil, the Yugoslav side was not able to meet its obligations--neither in terms of the quantity and quality of the goods, nor as far as the price was concerned. Therefore, the arrangement fell through, although it was very favorable to Yugoslavia.
Karabeg: Belgrade has repeatedly expressed hopes that Russia and China might veto the United Nations Security Council's decision to extend the mandate of the international forces in Kosovo. Could it really happen?
Veres: First of all, what we have here is Belgrade's faulty interpretation. The UN Security Council's Resolution 1244 was formulated in such a manner that it cannot be vetoed in order to prevent the extension of the international forces' mandate. On the contrary, a unanimous vote of all the members of the Security Council is needed to suspend the mandate. Therefore, if someone is against the suspension of the mandate--and western countries are--then it will be continued.
What is more, Russia is--as we all know--taking part in this peacekeeping operation. Moscow will keep paying attention to its relations with its western partners, although it has repeatedly expressed its discontent with the present situation in Kosovo, as has China. Therefore, one can expect Russian and Chinese representatives to criticize and maybe to demand some changes in that arrangement, but they are aware of the fact that the extension of the mandate is the only realistic thing to be done in this situation. The story that Moscow and Beijing might try to prevent the extension of the mandate is just a part of the political propaganda conducted by the state-run media.
Lazic: I think that Resolution 1244 is being intentionally misinterpreted for propaganda purposes. Second, one should bear in mind that relations between Russia and NATO--previously clouded during the bombing of Yugoslavia--are now being normalized, as NATO's Secretary-General Robertson's visit to Moscow shows.
Karabeg: To what extent is today's Russia strategically interested in the Balkans and therefore in Serbia?
Veres: There has been a lot of talk about that in Russia. There is no doubt that there is a certain interest in the Balkans in Russia. The point is that Russia today is quite reduced [in its capabilities] compared to the former Soviet Union. Russia has serious problems with the states of the Caucasus region and of Central Asia. Eastern Europe is not under Russian domination the way it used to be.
For Russia, the Balkans are thus farther away than before. It would be difficult to explain to many Russians why it is of essential Russian interest to be present in the Balkans while there is so many other vital problems in the neighborhood.
Russian interest in the Balkans will be reflected through its relations with the West and the United States. It is hard for Russia to come to terms with the fact that it is no longer a superpower like the Soviet Union used to be. Therefore, the Balkans might become one of the places used for establishing some sort of strategic balance.
But the fact is that the objective needs and capabilities of Russia have led to a reduction in its interest in the Balkan region. It would be even less important if it were not for the events that have been occurring thanks to the internal political forces within the former Yugoslavia, which have provoked this crisis. The same forces are now trying to drag Russia into solving their internal problems. Nevertheless, the decisive role will eventually be played by the needs and objective capabilities of Russia, which are now quite limited.
Lazic: I think that cases like the Balkans, its conflicts, and the Yugoslav wars are diverting Russia from its basic, strategic goal. What I mean to say is that Russia is well aware that its main partners are the United States and the European Union. Consequently, most of its activities are aimed at searching for common ground with those main forces in the world, since it corresponds with Moscow's deepest long-term interests. I agree that Russia has no special interests in the Balkans.
I would even say that the importance of the Balkans in international affairs is not what it used to be. Today, the Balkans represent a problem for the key players of the international community, rather than their strategic goal [as was often the case in previous centuries].
Karabeg: And, finally, what will be the long-term consequences of this policy of distancing Serbia from the West and playing the so-called eastern card?
Veres: The consequences will certainly be very unfavorable and will adversely affect economic, technological, and every other aspect of national development. The fact is that, besides Belarus, Yugoslavia is the only European country behaving as though the Cold War were still on. If things desired by Belgrade came true--which is very unlikely--such as a new division of Europe according to Cold War demarcation lines, Yugoslavia would find itself on the technologically, economically, and in every other sense underdeveloped side. Nevertheless, that will not happen, mostly because Russia is not ready to pursue such a division.
Lazic: The fact is that the internal and foreign policies of the Belgrade government have brought this country into deep international isolation. Yugoslavia is not currently a member of any economic, political, financial, or other important international organization. At the same time, almost all other East European countries have oriented themselves towards Europe and the modern processes [of democratization and integration]. Consequently, there is a serious danger that Yugoslavia, unless it changes its policies, may continue to fall behind and eventually find itself at the bottom of the list of European countries.
Yugoslavia is today the only European country exposed to very severe international sanctions. It has no diplomatic ties--because it cut them short--with four of the most important and most developed countries of the world: the United States of America, France, Great Britain, and Germany.
All those things are bound to cause immeasurable and long-term negative consequences for our country. I say this because I think that our internal and foreign policies must be radically changed. But that can be done only after the change of the present regime.