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Russian Drang nach Westen

Bosko Jaksic

The pragmatic belief of the West that the persistence on the stability of Western
Balkans can be achieved at the cost of neglecting democratic reforms, proved to be
shortsighted, as in a relatively short period of time, all the hot spots in the region of
chronically activated at once.

While the amount of nationalism per capita dangerously magnified reviving the conflict
rhetoric that in some moments reminded of the one during the wars of the 1990s,
Western strategists were pleased that the open conflict was avoided after all, and that
the regional leaders in charge of maintaining stability were kept under control.

But the growth of nationalism was only a symptom. Following the old ways and tested
recipes, when it was necessary to homogenize the citizens though "patriotism",
politicians resorted to it as to a compensational business, in order to distract people
from the unfulfilled reforms, stunted institutions, weak rule of law, corruption,
particracy, rejection of criticism or control over media. The ambiance of unfinished
states stimulated the authoritarian ambitions.

However, the West was comfortable with the status quo while the region seemed
stable. Then matters took a turn for worse. In the last three years, relations between
Serbia and Croatia, crucial for the regions stability, often reached the lowest points
since the war. Tensions increased in Montenegro and then in Macedonia. Bosnia and
Herzegovina has languished as an example of a dysfunctional state, accompanied with
the threats of the Serbian Republic secession.

The Brussels bureaucrats perceived the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina as a
chance to one day share the Nobel Peace Prize, but the normalization of relations has
had a slow progress. This process, which is of fateful importance for both negotiators
path to the EU, is too often used for the firing up of local-patriotism, which is again a
direct obstacle to finding mutually acceptable solutions.

The West, has recently woken up. Not because of the democratic deficit. Increased
engagement of the European Union and NATO came only after the Brussels alarms
detected a strong penetration of Russian influence in the Western Balkans. The events
of the last three years confirmed Russias efficiency and the strength of their
"destabilization capacities".

Since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine, Moscow has set Western Balkans on the map
its strategic interests by sending a message to the West: if you continue with the
approach of NATO to our borders, we will show you that we can destabilize other
regions as well. Taking into account its explosive potentials, Balkan has proven to be a
suitable polygon for this.

All the while, European Union was shaken by a series of crises, while the European allies
of the United States constantly questioned NATOs purpose.

Moscow has recognized the attractive opportunities. Political pragmatics and PR


consultants in the Kremlin realized that the weakness of the West is an opportunity for
Russia to try out its sophisticated methods of "soft power" in practice, but also to
demonstrate that it will not hesitate to apply double standards in pragmatic politics.

In Podgorica, the Kremlin was on the side of the anti-NATO "street" which was in
opposition to the Montenegrin accession to NATO, while in Skopje it was against the
pro-democratic "street" which demanded the capitulation of the Macedonian
government, increasingly tied to the Russians.

Serbian Republic was transformed into a Russian subsidiary, Russophiles roam


Montenegro and Macedonia, the Kremlin is establishing non-governmental
organizations in northern Kosovo, Serbia is openly given an option to forget the EU and
turn to the East.

The key motive of the Russian Drang nach Westen is the intent to stop NATO
enlargement in the Western Balkans. Now, as Montenegro "slipped", targets are Bosnia
and Herzegovina, through the Serbian Republic, and Serbia, which is being threatened
that the possible entry into the Western military alliance would be a catastrophe.

Relying on panslovenism, "the superiority of the Orthodox civilization", economic and


military ties from the time of Yugoslavia and historical myths, Moscow has spread its
anti-NATO campaign towards the EU. Through the clerical-nationalist right, which has its
representatives in the Serbian parliament, the message is sent that EU is no longer a
guarantee of good life and stability while terrorism is used as an argument that is no
longer safe.

Various political parties, groups, NGOs, the Serbian Orthodox Church, associates of
certain scientific institutes, portals and media professionals openly push for the Russian
thesis that Serbia has an alternative to the EU - the Eurasian Federation.

For the three-year balance of its engagement in the Western Balkans, Russia can be
proud of its success. Can the West say the same after having an absolute supremacy in
Serbia after the 2000? What activated the alarms about increased Russian presence all
of a sudden?

After 2000, Serbia defined its strategic orientation towards Euro-Atlantic


integration. The idea of joining NATO did not provoke as much resistance as it could be
expected at a time when the wounds of the 1999 bombing were fresh. How did Atlantic
Integration component in coming years lose sway and why does the idea of NATO
membership now have significantly fewer supporters than 17 years ago?

There is only one answer to this question: proven pro-Western politicians have begun -
for the sake of power - compromising with the nationalists. Thus, the open space was
created for the growing influence of conservative, clerical powers that see the future of
Serbia in the east, in strong ties with Russia.

You reap what you sow, goes the Serbian proverb. NATO as an idea is pushed to the
margins of political thinking. The European Union, overwhelmed with its crises, Brexit
and Donald Trump looks like a remote dream. Russia's influence in the publics
perspective was motivated by the Putin's authoritarian model of rule from Serbia to
Macedonia to Montenegro and Kosovo.

West has ignored the warnings that the deficit of democracy allows for destabilization
to occur. Its failure to demand from the Balkan leaders a strong respect of democratic
standards, opened the door to anti-European, pro-Russian forces that promote values of
the societies in which people serve the state, not vice versa.

EU, US and NATO are now determined to effectively control the Balkan processes since
they realized, a little too late, that the destabilization of the region puts Russia in
control.

If Serbia distances itself from NATO irreversibly, even from the EU, Russia will dominate
Western Balkans. Fortunately, by promoting the doctrine of military neutrality and
insisting that the West is the first and only strategic orientation of Serbia, the current
leaders in Belgrade will not allow us to wake up in a future world in which Serbia is part
of Eastern Orthodoxy instead of the democratic West.

Reinforced persistence with the Western Balkan states not to play with nationalism but
to start with genuine reforms and building of institutions, might as well be a collateral
gain of the obvious concerns of the West over Russia's penetration into the region.

A stronger and more concrete confirmation of its commitment to the Western Balkans is
expected of the Western allies. Before Moscow does so. A prerequisite is that the West
recognizes that there is no stability without democracy, as there is no democracy
without stability.