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The Right And The Power

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (center) with Serbian President Boris Tadic (right) in Serbia
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (center) with Serbian President Boris Tadic (right) in Serbia
Those two words arguably sum up Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Serbia this week: the "right" a reference to the Kremlin's fanning of the flame of Serbian nationalism, and the "power" a recognition of Russia's deep ties to the fuel and electricity sectors in the Balkans.

The offer of a strategic partnership, energy deals galore, and a whopping $1.5 billion loan look like pretty conclusive evidence that Moscow is not "out of the Balkans," as they say.

Russian energy interests are already legion in the Balkans -- Gazprom's majority stake in Serbia's oil and gas monopoly NIS, a joint venture to design the South Stream pipeline, Russian interests in Bosnian refining. They are bound to grow after the Russian [co-]leader boasted about the "significant impact" that this week's deals would have in Moscow and Belgrade.

And Serbia is conspicuous as the Balkans' only country with neither NATO membership nor an interest in it (Bosnia-Herzegovina applied for a MAP on October 2). Which explains the choice of Belgrade for the "strategic partnership" and why they're watching warily in Brussels.

But the effects of Medvedev's visit might be felt most immediately in Sarajevo and in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnic-Serb dominated Republika Srpska, Banja Luka.

The October 20 meeting went trilateral when Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, leader of the ethnic Serbs seeking independence from Sarajevo, joined Medvedev and Serbian President Boris Tadic later that evening.

The Kremlin's implicit support for Dodik will take some of the pressure off nationalists in Belgrade, who've been Dodik's most vocal boosters outside of his own republic.

It had been just a week since Dodik called Bosnia-Herzegovina "unsustainable." He is likely to feel even more emboldened now.

That could spell trouble for Western diplomatic efforts to resuscitate Bosnia's constitution, most conspicuously through the "mini Dayton" summit in early October.

-- Andy Heil

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