RUSSIA NEEDS A MILITARISED SERBIA
Security and international relations expert from Belgrade Dr Orhan Dragaš talks about why Russia is responsible for the mired in corruption Balkans
Dr Orhan Dragaš is a security and international relations expert from Belgrade. He is the founder and director of the International Security Institute based in Belgrade. He is an expert of the European Commission for migration and internal affairs, the author of numerous expert articles, newspaper columns, as well as the books Modern Intelligence and Security Community, Utopia or Reality and The Two Faces of Globalization – Truth and Deceptions. He is a member of Chatham House, the British Royal Institute for International Affairs, and the RUSI Institute (Royal United Service Institute).
HOW MANY WESTERN BALKANS COUNTRIES HAVE BEEN THE TARGET OF DANGEROUS RUSSIAN POLICY AND HOW MUCH IS THAT INFLUENCE GROWING SINCE RUSSIA’S ATTACK ON UKRAINE?
– No one in the Balkans is spared from dangerous Russian influence, not even our neighbours who joined NATO – Montenegro and North Macedonia. For decades, Russia has had a clear strategy in the Balkans, and that is to keep the region from Western integration for as long as possible, and for it to remain unintegrated.
WAGNER GROUP RECRUITMENT
Russia sees its chance only in such a Balkans, full of corruption, without democratic institutions and with the constant danger of conflict. Unfortunately, Russia largely succeeded in doing so. Since the attack on Ukraine, Russia has laid bare its strategy in the Balkans and openly encourages conflicts where they are possible. It needs a new conflict in the Balkans like it needs air, because it has been suffering defeats in Ukraine, its economy is on its knees and it is looking for a way out in a new conflict, and the Balkans is very suitable for that.
ALEKSANDAR VUČIĆ DENIED THE PRESENCE OF THE RUSSIAN UNIT WAGNER IN SERBIA. HOWEVER, THE POSTERS WERE UP ON THE STREETS OF BELGRADE, AND RT BALKAN PUBLISHED AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR ADMISSION TO THIS GROUP. WHY ADVERTISE IN SERBIAN IF THERE ARE NO MERCENARIES IN THAT GROUP, AS WELL AS THEIR REPRESENTATIVES IN SERBIA?
– That case is very illustrative, as part of a wider and continuous hybrid operation that Russia is conducting against Serbia. The goal is to take advantage of the already existing fertile ground, which is widespread sympathy for Russia, and to go one step further, to militarise Serbian public. This militarisation does not have to mean Serbs going to war in Ukraine. It is quite enough for them to be militant towards someone in their environment – Albanians, Bosniaks, and Croats, for example. Russia needs a militarised Serbia and a warrior narrative, because if that happens, then there is only one more step left before a war breaks out. Wagner is the most notorious mercenary organisation in the world. It is now recruiting convicted mass murderers, paedophiles and rapists for the war in Ukraine, and the Russian state media collective farm RT publishes their recruitment call as a good job offer. This is a serious criminal act of recruiting “dogs of war” and I hope that it would not end with the removal of that shameful text from the portal.
DID YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO TALK WITH RUSSIANS AND UKRAINIANS WHO FOUND SALVATION FROM THE WAR IN SERBIA? WHAT DO THEY TELL YOU, WHAT ARE THEY HOPING FOR?
– I often talk with both, even with friends who stayed in Russia, even though they strongly oppose their country’s aggression against Ukraine. They are desperate, not so much for the loss of their jobs or that they cannot travel, but they feel a moral shame that their generation will not be able to overcome. They have no expectations except for the war to end as soon as possible, but even after that they see no future for themselves or for Russia if Putin’s regime manages to survive. They are a minority, and I’m afraid that almost the entire Russian population wholeheartedly supports this conquest campaign. Some are vocal about it, but a large number of Russian citizens are silent and accept everything their state leadership does. They will not revolt. There has never been an authentic revolt against repression and autocracy in Russia. That did not change. That is why everyone will bear the consequences of the unreasonable decisions of their leader, whom they admire.
HOW MUCH WOULD THE SOLUTION TO THE KOSOVO ISSUE CONTRIBUTE TO THE TURN OF THE ENTIRE BALKANS TO WESTERN VALUES AND DO YOU THINK THAT IS CERTAIN?
– When it is said – a solution, then I mean an agreement that would be complete, without a possibility of a new conflict in 10, 20 or 50 years. The previous solutions were not like that, but they have all been tried and tested, so the only thing left is a compromise in which both parties would be dissatisfied. It seems to me that we are moving in that direction and it is really the only way to close a difficult historical period. Kosovo is the weakest point in the region, because it has the greatest potential to turn into a conflict. With the agreement, this would be eliminated, which means that the next day Serbs and Albanians should turn to the real job, which is the organisation of their areas and societies according to European criteria. It would be a win for the entire region, because the biggest open question would be behind us.
WHICH PATH WILL SERBIA CHOOSE IS A VERY IMPORTANT SUBJECT FOR THE WHOLE OF BIH, PARTICULARLY BECAUSE THE ENTITY OF REPUBLIKA SRPSKA POLITICALLY INSISTS ON HARMONISING BIH FOREIGN POLICY GOALS WITH SERBIA? BIH HAS BEEN SENDING THE REFORM PLAN TO NATO HEADQUARTERS FOR YEARS. THE ALLIANCE’S LEADERS ARE FREQUENT VISITORS TO SARAJEVO. DO WE HAVE REASON TO HOPE FOR ADMISSION?
– Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot expect to join NATO as long as the group led by Dodik is in Banja Luka. He did not hide much before, but since the Russian aggression against Ukraine, he has been acting completely openly as an outpost for Moscow’s direct influence in the Balkans, so it is inconceivable to me that there will be any progress towards NATO with Dodik and his politics. This does not mean that BiH should give up its ambitions for membership of NATO, because it is a path to membership of the European Union. But I am convinced that as long as the Russian aggression against Ukraine continues and, based on that, Moscow’s strong influence on the leaders of Republika Srpska, BiH’s move towards NATO is out of the question.
DID THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, AT THE BEGINNING OF ITS AGGRESSION AGAINST UKRAINE, UNDERESTIMATE FIRST OF ALL THE EU, REGARDING ENERGY DEPENDENCE, WHICH IT WAS COUNTING ON BECAUSE OF GAS?
– You are right. It was quite shocking for Moscow and even for some Europeans. For years, Putin has persistently worked and invested in the disunity of Europe and NATO, bribed politicians and business people, led destructive operations, and it seemed that he had a lot of success.
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However, both the EU and NATO have shown surprisingly strong unity since the start of the aggression against Ukraine. It was an answer that Putin did not expect, particularly in the field of energy exports, because that was the backbone of his influence on Europe, which was enabled by some of the most influential countries, primarily Germany. More surprising is the speed with which Europe ended supplying from Russia. Even Germany reached zero at the end of the year when it comes to importing Russian gas, many European countries did it before. The Europeans have shown that Putin cannot blackmail them, they will pay more, but they will no longer finance his aggressive wars. Russia has permanently lost the largest energy market and will never be able to make up for it.