Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Actions in Georgia Have Undermined Russia’s Ties with Serbia

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 26 – The Kremlin’s claim that Moscow has the right to unilaterally recognize Abkhazia ad South Ossetia because of the West’s recognition of Kosovo has left Serbia, a traditional friend of Russia and the supposed victim of that Western action, in a difficult position, one likely to drive Belgrade ever further from Moscow and ever closer to the West.
In an essay posted on the Polit.ru portal today, Sergei Romanenko, a senior scholar at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Economics, notes that developments in the Caucasus over the last month and Moscow’s involvement in and response to them has created real problems for Belgrade (www.polit.ru/analytics/2008/08/26/rus_serb.html).
Serbia is clearly being driven in three different directions. First, from a purely “logical” point of view, Belgrade “should have supported the territorial integrity of Georgia,” a step that would have put it at odds Moscow. Second, the Serbian government is limited in expressing that view because of Kremlin promises to help it recover Kosovo and Moscow’s supply of oil.
And third, because Serbia has declared its desire to join the European Union, Romanenko says, it can’t afford to take any position on Georgia which would so directly contradict “the positions Brussels and Washington have taken, lest it slow its progress toward integrating with the West.
More generally, the Moscow analyst continues, “the sharpening of relations between Russian on the one hand and the US, the European Union and NATO on the other raise questions about the ability of President Boris Tadic to achieve the policy goals” he has announced. And if these tensions grow, Serbia “will be forced” to make a choice, something it has tried to avoid.
First of all, Romanenko argues, “Serbia both economically and geopolitically cannot be oriented toward Russia alone,” a country with which it does not have common borders and which is in the process of “self-isolating itself” from the major countries of the world. In short, Serbia needs Europe more than it needs Russia.
And as ever more people in Belgrade recognize, Russia now lacks the leverage in major capitals to do much for Serbia to recover Kosovo, however often Moscow says otherwise. The Russian veto in the UN Security Council won’t do the job, and “many governments prefer not to support the Serbian-Russian tandem.”
On the one hand, they have their own political reasons for not doing so, and on the other, Russia’s position is increasingly “contradictory – a ‘no’ to the independence of Kosovo and a ‘yes’ to the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” a stand that “does not elicit trust” from other powers.
Moreover, Romanenko argues, Moscow’s moves in recent days “will not help Serbia to insist on its territorial integrity, neither formally and legally nor in political practice,” whatever Russian officials may say. And consequently, “official Serbia has preferred to maintain diplomatic silence” over the events in the Caucasus.
That silence, the Moscow expert continues, in fact highlights “the growing difficulties in relations between Moscow and Belgrade,” problems that were publicly reflected by the postponement of a visit to Serbia by Sergei Shoigu and comments in the Serbian media about Russia’s predatory pricing policies for oil.
According to media reports, he says, Moscow has “expressed its dissatisfaction that Serbia and also Bosnia and Herzegovina apparently have sold arms to Georgia. While Belgrade and Sarajevo deny this and regardless of whether Russia’s claims are true, the fact that Moscow made such a statement shows that relations are not good.
Clearly, trust between the two sides has broken down, a trend that was exacerbated Romanenko says by the handing over of Radovan Karadzic to the Hague court, something that generated “considerably more dissatisfaction and anger in Moscow than in Belgrade,” especially given Moscow’s failure to hand over to Serbia people Belgrade has charged with serious crimes.
There are already many collateral victims of Russian aggression in Georgia and the West’s response, but the undermining of “the historic friendship” between Moscow and Belgrade is clearly one of the most unexpected and quite possibly may prove to be one of the most significant, particularly if it tips the balance in the Balkans further to the West.

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