Serbian press always pays very close attention to the Serbia-Russia cooperation. In May, supplies of Russian MiG fighter jets to Belgrade and participation of Serbian military in Slavonic Brotherhood-2017 joint Russian-Belarus-Serbian military exercises were widely covered by Serbian mass media. The Serbian press regularly addresses the country’s cooperation with NATO as well. In particular, they have published a statement by US Military Attache to Serbia Matt McCray recently, saying US is not concerned about Serbia’s military cooperation with Russia, since Serbia is a neutral and sovereign state having the right to choose its partners independently. It does not hold US from assisting the Serbian army in training military for anti-terrorist operations. To that end, US trainers have been deployed at Jug (South) military base near Bujanovac on a permanent basis. All this pursues a single goal – to “include the six Balkan peoples into the international system,” the military attache said. In an interview with EADaily, Serbian and Russian experts speak about Serbia’s cooperation with US and NATO, on the one hand, and with Russia, on the other hand.
In fact, Washington is seriously concerned about military cooperation of Serbia and Russia, says Srdjan Perisic, a professor at the Faculty of International Politics and Security in Belgrade University. He believes that via military cooperation with Serbia, US is trying to create the necessary conditions for Serbia to join NATO and the cooperation with Russia seems to be an obstacle to Washington’s plans. “The statements by US Military Attaché to Serbia saying that US is not concerned about that cooperation are diplomatic statements that do not reflect Washington’s real policy on Belgrade,” Perisic says.
The expert believes that Serbia has been experiencing NATO’s pressure since 2003. He is sure that US would not develop military cooperation with Serbia, but for its plans to see Serbia as a NATO member. On the Serbian side, the former president Boris Tadic and his defense and foreign ministers exerted big efforts therein, Perisic says.
Srdjan Perisic says the US and NATO pressure on Serbia took a new shape through the so-called Western Balkans, specifically, economic, political and military integration of all the countries in the region (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and self-proclaimed Kosovo) under control of EU and NATO. “EU and Germany are against more extension of EU. They want to tie Western Balkans tightly by offering them customs union. On the other hand, pressure on these countries grows over NATO membership. Montenegro has joined the alliance, now it is the others’ turn to do it,” he says.
Perisic is sure that the goal of the Western Balkans project is not to let Russia increase its economic and political influence in the region, in Serbia and Republika Srpska, first. Speaking of the need to “include the six Balkan states into the international system,” the US military attache meant Western Balkans under control of Brussels (NATO and EU) and NATO, the Serbian experts says.
Under this project, Serbia will be holding joint military exercises with Croatia, Albania and Bosnia, since it is a requirement of military cooperation with US and NATO, Perisic says. According to him, the West’s strategy towards the so-called Western Balkans implies the following: first, creating economic dependence of the six Balkan states on EU, a kind of economic protectorate, where EU will be able to control the region giving limited rights to them, since they are not EU members; second, ensuring military control over these states by US and NATO.
Serbia cannot become a EU member without joining NATO, the expert says. “In fact, the West pursues the opposite strategy – admission of Serbia and other countries in the region to NATO. The goal is to stop any cooperation of these states, and Serbia, first of all, with Russia, as well as to oust Russia from the Balkans!” Perisic says adding that Serbian citizens will oppose the country’s admission to NATO.
Yelena Guskova, Head of the Center for Modern Balkan Crisis, Institute of Slavonic Studies, Russian Academy of Science, says Serbia’s military cooperation with US is developing much more dynamically than its relationships with Russia. To prove her words, the expert recalls a number of documents Serbia has signed with NATO. The first agreement with the Alliance was signed yet in 2005 to regulate transit of NATO troops via the territory of Serbia and Montenegro. In 2006, three agreements were signed with US to provide mutual services and cooperate against proliferation of weapons, to develop military relationships and use military infrastructure of Serbia, which Guskova believes extremely important. “Yet in December, 2006, Serbia joined Partnership for Peace project. US insisted on it and the Serbian democratic government did not mind much. Although in December 2007, Parliament of Serbia adopted a decision on military neutrality, military cooperation with NATO continued,” Yelena Guskova says.
The Russian expert believes that Dragan Sutanovac, the former defense minister of Serbia, did much to boost military cooperation with the Alliance. “Actually, he reformed the Serbian army on NATO model, prepared it to joining NATO. In 2011, an agreement was signed which bound Serbia to pass NATO Codification System, which was very important too,” Guskova says. In her words, the agreement made in February, 2016, is noteworthy as well - the Law on Ratification of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the NATO Support and Procurement Organization (NSPO) on Logistic Support Cooperation prompted discontent inside the country. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said during public protests that Serbia needs NATO as ally to protect the Serbian people in Kosovo. Can you imagine how they presented all that?” Yelena Guskova says. “Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic persuaded the people that refusing cooperation with NATO means to betray Serbia’s national interests,” she recalls.
One can conclude that Serbia wages a policy of rapprochement with NATO, the expert says adding that the status of neutral state can be changed into a status of NATO ally through parliament. “I think it is quite possible, if they set such a goal,” she says.
On the other hand, the expert says, Serbia has some political parties that oppose cooperation with NATO. Military cooperation with Russia is a counterbalance for the government, though the policy of rapprochement with NATO still continues, she says.
As for the recent speech by Military Attache Matt McCray, Yelena Guskova outlines the part concerning inclusion of “six Balkan states into the international system.” Guskova is sure that speaking of international system he meant NATO and that US has already set a goal to see all the former republics of Yugoslavia into EU system, and NATO, first. As to Serbia, US has a very fertile ground here, as the country’s leadership will be happy to accept its proposals, the Russian expert says.
“The hidden motives of all this is to deprive Russia of its allies in the Balkans and to deprive Serbs of their ally Russia. Even the countries (of former Yugoslavia) that join NATO play no serious role there. Their militaries are sent to hotbeds of conflicts, while they are not allowed to decision-making processes. All Slavonic states of the Balkan peninsula may find themselves in a similar situation. Here is what US pursues,” Guskova says. She is sure that NATO will do its utmost not to see the Balkans on Russia’s side in future.
Assessing the current stage of the Russian-Serbian military cooperation, the expert recalls the status of the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center in Nis. “It appears to me that Serbia’s cooperation with Russia is actually cooperation for a show. If Serbia’s leadership really strived to cooperate, if it really expected military aid and support from Russia, it would not delay with signing the agreement on Emergency Situations Base in Nis,” Guskova says recalling that Jug military camp to train officers and soldiers of the Serbian army (with the help of US military specialists) exists for a long time already.
The Russian Foreign Ministry considers these moments very serious. For example, she recalls statement by Maria Zakharova, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, who, following a serious treaty between NATO and Serbia, said NATO is subjecting Serbia to a special form of humiliation. “She even used a very interesting comparison: ‘This is an imposition of the Stockholm syndrome [on Serbia], when they force their victims to love them and admit publicly that they want to be with them,’” Guskova recalls.
Talking to EADaily, Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine, says recognition of Kosovo as an independent state will finally define Serbia’s status. “Both EU and NATO require this. If Serbia’s political leadership does it, Belgrade may get an opportunity to join EU despite serious public discontent. Anyway, the key conditions of EU membership will be compulsory binding documents on inevitable NATO membership and breach of relations with Russia,” Korotchenko says.
He is sure that arms supply on preferential terms and even military aid from Russia do not hold Serbia from striving to NATO. “She accepts military aid from China and other countries too,” he says.
Korotchenko is sure that Serbia will not see EU membership unless it fulfills certain conditions and ultimatums. The EU and NATO membership will seriously restrict Serbia’s sovereignty in foreign policy and defense-related decision making. Therefore, when it comes to registration of Serbia’s EU membership, they will make Belgrade join NATO first, like it happened to Montenegro. They will force Serbia quit or at least minimize the relations with Russia, says editor-in-chief of National Defense magazine.
Nevertheless, it depends on Belgrade’s decision whether this scenario will be implemented or not, the expert says. If Belgrade’s decision on NATO membership is confirmed, Serbia will have to prove that it refuses from sovereign policy, including through conducting joint military exercises with other countries cooperating with NATO: Croatia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina. “It will be arranged after Serbia is admitted to NATO. It is a compulsory preparation phase. Serbia must demonstrate that it is ready to refuse from its sovereignty partially and delegate its foreign and defense policy powers to EU and NATO,” he explains.
“If the government is ready to lead Serbia into such geopolitical stalemate, Serbia will face that fate. The Serbian people must decide upon its future. I cannot make forecasts. In Montenegro, the people resigned itself to NATO membership,” the Russian expert says.