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Russia’s policy in Balkans remains as muddled and ill-considered as in ‘90s: opinion

Russia’s policy in the Balkans has little changed since ‘90s, and one can hardly call it a well-considered policy, publicist Mikhail Yambayev told EADaily on July 20.

“The Balkan vector of Russia’s policy little differs from the one it had under notorious ‘dear Andrey’ (Andrey Kozyrev, the foreign minister of Russia in October 1990-January 1996 – EADaily’s note). Yet, much has changed in word. The picture presented by mass media today is a mark contrast to what we saw in 1990s. However, in my personal opinion, it is just ‘a better makeup’,” the expert said. 

In his words, a pivotal issue and even the indicator of Russia’s stance on the Balkans is its attitude to the International (Hague) Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. 

“During the past 15 years of the new century, Russia had at least two chances to correct its historical mistake (as the Russian foreign ministry does admit its mistake) and to veto the UN Security Council’s decision to extend terms of office of the above trial judges. However, Russia’s representative has refrained from voting on the issue every time. Meanwhile, the local media covered the issue in the following way: ‘Russia did not vote for the extension of the term of International (Hague) Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.’ A classical example is RIA Novosti’s report dating back to December 19, 2014: ‘UN Security Council extended the terms of office of the International (Hague) Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia trial judges, while Russia did not support the decision.’ In fact, the promoter of Kozyrev’s course on the Balkans in 90s, now Russia permanent representative at the UN Vitaly Churkin just said at the Security Council meeting that ‘Moscow expresses its regret that the Tribunal failed to complete its work within the set timeframe’,” Yambayev recalled.

He said that in Russia they have repeatedly called the voting for the establishment of the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia a mistake.

“Why am I speaking of a mistake? Simply, representatives of the foreign ministry and the publicists serving for it have repeatedly told the local and Serbian media that Russia’s voting at the UNSC in 1993 for the Hague trial was nothing but ‘a mistake’ or ‘a failure,’ or even ‘Kozyrev’s betrayal of our historical allies.’ However, Russia’s foreign ministry representatives gave, to put it mildly, neutral comments, if not approvals, to the arrests by the ‘Tribunal’ of the known Serbian political figures of the former Yugoslavia – Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić. I’d like to recall that Karadžić was arrested in 2008, Mladić - in 2011.”

The expert believes that the influence of the Russian business in the given region cannot be considered the consequence and an element of Russia’s successful policy in the given direction. “When I am asked about the significant Russian capital” in Serbia (for instance, Gazprom), which should speak of the increased Russian factor in the region, I remember the words of well-known Gleb Pavlovsky who said that “foreign policy interests are where the interests of the Russian business are.” I think the popular Russian saying “flies in one place, cutlets in another" will be quite appropriate here, given the specifics of the ‘Russian business,’” Mikhail Yambayev said.

In his words, the ultimate expression of Russia’s muddled policy towards Serbia were the developments around the signing of a joint declaration by four Serbian parties and United Russia Party at its 15th congress and the July 7th statement by Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.

“In June, at the congress of United Russia, four Serbian parties – the ruling Serbian Progressive Party and three opposition parties – signed a joint ‘Memorandum of Cooperation’ which the Serbian media call ‘Moscow Declaration’. However, a week later, at the July 7 press briefing, Maria Zakharova slammed the opposition parties for organizing anti-governmental rallies in Belgrade on the notorious ‘money of Department of State.’ Here is what she said, this is a citation to avoid being blamed for manipulation: “We took note of reports in Serbian media about the participation of US diplomatic officers in rallies in Belgrade. The rallies were directed against the government, mind you, of a sovereign state. Importantly, different kinds of NGOs funded from abroad often act as direct organizers of such activities. Apparently, for some reason, their foreign sponsors do not really put much faith in Serbian “civil activists,” since US diplomats have to personally participate in the pickets and control the spending of allocated funds. This, of course, represents an entirely new step in ways to support civil society, but there’s not much else that can be done. The Serbian citizens showed the real value of the “civil society” protests financed from abroad during the April 24 elections. As it turned out, the coalition led by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic won an absolute majority of seats in the parliament.”  

"The given statement by the Russian foreign ministry surprised the signatories of the ‘Moscow Declaration.’ It was the opponents, though inert ones, of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party–Democratic Party of Serbia and Dveri Party -  that supported those ‘events’,” Yambayev explained.

He said it was not the pro-Russian forces in Serbia that took advantage of the situation.  “In an interview with the Belgrade-based Blic liberal newspaper that published an article about ‘Russia’s interference with the internal affairs of Serbia,’ Leader of the Serbian Democratic Party Sanda Raskovic Ivic who personally participated in the May protests in Belgrade had to explained her actions saying that the protests were justified, but it was necessary to verify if they were funded from abroad.”  Leader of Dveri Party Boško Obradović too distanced himself from the organizers of the notorious ‘events.’ This attempt of ‘inter-party cooperation’ adds a new color to the ‘multi-color’ Serbian-Russian relations at the current stage,” Mikhail Yambayev said.

The publicist believes that Russia has not even a strategy concerning the political forces it should establish a dialogue and close cooperation with.

“As a peculiar epilogue, I’d like to cite Ivica  Dačić, foreign minister and successor of Slobodan Milošević on the post of the leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia, published by Kurir newspaper in November 2014:  ‘Russia never posed a dilemma about why Serbia is going to the EU. They think we will not have much luck with it, but do not mind. (Vladimir) Putin told me that it is not possible for Serbia to become a member of the Eurasian Union or BRICS, for geographic and economic reasons. I asked him if Russia was interested in military bases, the answer was negative. So what kind of problem do we have with Russia?’ asked Dačić rhetorically. Actually, all these zigzags of the Russian policy in Serbia fit into the foreign policy course of Russia that was finally set yet in ‘90s,” Yambayev said for conclusion.

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