Events in the world have long since become difficult to predict. Not because secrets are better kept, on the contrary, secrets have been leaking more than ever, but because the world is more connected than before. Something unexpected could happen in any part of the world and it would immediately be felt on the other side of the planet.
At the beginning of 2021, no one predicted (nor could have predicted) that world trade would decline. And then in March, the huge ship Ever Given got stuck in the Suez Canal and blocked 12% of world trade, causing damage the size of Serbia’s annual GDP. A year earlier, all the world’s plans, including our private and family plans, were destroyed by the Covid-19 virus. We are still on guard.
Former Russian President and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev already has a crystal clear picture about what 2023 will look like. Poland and Hungary will occupy part of Ukraine, Germany will form the Fourth Reich with several “satellites”, Northern Ireland will secede from Britain, and Britain will return to the EU, because the Union will collapse by then, just like the euro. A civil war will break out in America, and California and Texas will declare independence.
This fortune-telling amused the audience on social networks, because it is crazier than the most twisted conspiracy theory, particularly because the author is not an old lady with a turban on her head, but a person from the innermost Kremlin circle, once the first man of the Russian Federation.
Nothing regarding Russia randomly came to Medvedev’s mind, except that oil will cost $150 per barrel, and gas $5,000 per thousand cubic metres. This is the only thing the Kremlin wanted from Santa Claus, but it is unlikely that it will come true, because Santa Claus does not exist. Nothing randomly came to his mind about Russia because in all likelihood he can’t get any good news from the future, and as a great patriot, Medvedev doesn’t want to spread defeatism.
Russia will, of course, be at the centre of the most important world events during the next year as well, but not in the way it expected. Its aggression against Ukraine will end in a military defeat and complete exhaustion of military and economic resources. It doesn’t require any turn of events on the ground, or palm reading.
Russia has been steadily moving towards such an outcome since the first days of its February invasion. In the past 10 months, it has been excluded from international financial operations, and one hundred billion dollars of Russian money in Western banks have been frozen, of which 300 billion are from the Russian central bank. Thousands of Western companies have left Russia, leaving it without technological support for any serious business – from aircraft maintenance, ATM servicing, to oil and gas exploitation. Lines of panicked people began to form in front of Russian banks, not being able to withdraw money from their accounts, because it was not there. The number of dead Russians in Ukraine is unknown. The Pentagon’s estimate from September was about 100,000.
Even if peace comes on January 1, Russia will need decades to recover from the murderous adventure it launched. For its strategic products – gas and oil, it permanently lost its biggest market, Europe. In addition to sanctions against Russia, Europe hastily began to “get clean” from Russian gas, taking on new suppliers. Three-quarters of German companies that use gas reported that they had reduced gas consumption without affecting production. Several European countries have already managed to cut off supplies from Russia, as they have reoriented to other suppliers, and the large Italian economy will reduce Russian gas imports to zero as early as 2024.
Russia cannot compensate for this loss because it needs new transport capacities for large exports to the East, which it cannot build without the participation of large Western companies. It is similar with oil, which can be sold at no more than 60 dollars per barrel, according to the new EU and G7 sanctions limit.
Peace in Ukraine will therefore be the day of the collapse of the Russian invasion, regardless of the fact that a new day of victory would be declared in Moscow. Until then, the world must continue to protect itself from Russian destruction, and from its attempts to do maximum damage to everyone in its surroundings, particularly Europe, which it considers an enemy.
For a long time, and especially since the end of the summer, the Balkans has been an important training ground for Russia’s attempt to provoke a crisis outside of Ukraine and thus divert the West’s focus from its most important front. In 2023, Russia will make maximum use of the vacuum created in the dialogue over Kosovo, rightly considering that an unresolved situation could easily turn into an open conflict between Serbs and Albanians, and in the most desirable case – between Serbia and NATO.
Russia most directly wants a conflict in Kosovo and about Kosovo. It is using its large disinformation capacity, its intelligence resources, money and political influence to help light the Kosovo fuse. It will continue to do so, until Belgrade and Pristina reach an agreement, mediated by America and the EU. This is a race against time in which the stake for Serbia is huge. It is a question of its safety and the safety of the Serbs in Kosovo.
We will not put much faith in unofficial announcements that an agreement could be reached in March, because so far there have been many similar expectations which have not materialised. But the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina has great prospects of being concluded in 2023, in large part due to the aforementioned race against time, in which Russian expectations for a new flare-up of the conflict in the Balkans stand against the agreement.
Serbia should not have a dilemma about where its true state interests are and who can help it realise them at this moment. It is not Russia, on the contrary, it works directly against the interests of Serbia, and will continue in the same manner as long as it is occupied with its number one issue, which is Ukraine. Serbia’s interest is good, and immediately after that, a compromise with Pristina as soon as possible. It is possible and realistically achievable in 2023. It is an opportunity that should not be missed.