Russia has delivered the first two of six MiG-29 fighter jets to Serbia in a free exchange of military aircraft to a traditional ally and fraternal people.
In the late-modern period, Serbia’s connection to Russia became most clear during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. It was during this war that Russia liberated much of the Orthodox Balkans after centuries of Ottoman Turkish imperial rule. Serbia which first declared independence from Ottoman Turkey in 1804, became a fully independent state as a result of the Russian victory over Turkey. Bulgaria also became de-facto free of Turkish rule as a result of the war.
While the Soviet-Yugoslav alliance ended in 1948, Serbs and Russians continued to view one another as a fraternal peoples in spite of the intricacies of Cold War power politics.
Today, Serbia is in an increasingly difficult position. Serbia currently seeks to join the European Union, in spite of the fact that leading EU states, including and especially Germany, strongly advocated for and funded the insurgencies against Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which in most cases ended up being little more than ultra-nationalistic militant upheavals directed at ethnic Serb civilians.
Were Serbia to join the EU, much of its trade with Russia would be curtailed by Brussels due to its current sanctions policy. Furthermore, the issue regarding the Serbian Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija complicates things further. Russia, like much of the world, continues to view Kosovo and Metohija as an integral part of the Republic of Serbia. However, most EU countries view the so-called Kosovo as an independent state, recognising the leaders of a NATO occupying regime as statesmen, in spite of their lack of global recognition and their use of terrorism to achieve regional domination.
This issue is generally cited as the main reason why Serbia’s ascension process to the EU has been unusually long. NATO member Albania which supports its effective puppet regime in occupied Kosovo and Metohija, is also vying for EU membership. Worryingly, the Albanian leader Edi Rama recently stated that Albania would annex parts of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro if his state was not allowed into the EU.
Russia’s recent delivery of fighter jets to Belgrade was praised by Serbian Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin in the following way,
“We are proud to say that our aviation is obtaining new equipment for the first time since 1987. We are glad to make our military more powerful, well-organised and up-to-date”.
In reality, while Russia has gifted Serbia six jets and runs a humanitarian centre in Serbia, Russia’s military links to Serbia are more limited than NATO propaganda would suggest and also more limited than many Russian and Serbian patriots would like.
Russia’s military aid to Serbia amounts to gestures of good will, but it does not amount to making Serbia’s armed forces a kind of ‘proxy-Russian force’ in the Balkans. Many Serbs continue to reject the notion of EU membership and would like closer relations with Russia, but the mainstream parties in Belgrade are attempting a balancing act between Russia and the EU which is ultimately impossible, as former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych found out the hard way. Many Russians who remember the shared experience of an Orthodox people bound by a similar history, seek to do more for Serbia, but ultimately, geo-political realities limit Russia’s ability to do more for Serbia, unless Russia seeks to establish a permanent military presence in southern Europe. Currently, Russia has no such plans.
While Russia’s aid to Serbia is well intentioned and limited, Serbia is rapidly being encircled by NATO. Unlike Russia which has no military presence in southern Europe, NATO has effectively encircled Serbia from all sides. Albania which has a history of profound hostility against Serbia has been a NATO member since 2009 and NATO troops have occupied the Serbian Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija since 1999. Meanwhile, Croatia is also in NATO. Furthermore, against the wishes of most of its citizens, Montenegro joined NATO this year.
NATO is currently working towards making Macedonia into a member state while the US and its European allies continue to encourage Albanian extremism as a means of destabilising Macedonia, in the hope of forcing the hand of Skopje.
While NATO’s vast presence in the region means that the US has direct military access to the Balkans, Russia does not have direct access to Serbia. Furthermore, due to geographical distance, NATO could effectively shut Russia out of the Balkans in the event of a new Balkan war.
While Russia’s strong military could still aid Serbia in the event of a war, Russia is not interested in fighting a war in the Balkans. By contrast, NATO seeks to draw Russia into a Balkan war for the following reasons:
–By forcing Russia to fight a new European war, NATO could distract Russia from her geo-strategic interests in Asia and the wider ‘global east and south’
–NATO would be able to more easily bring harm to Serbia and its Russian ally due to its heavy presence in the region.
–NATO would try and in some regions, succeed in once again slandering Serbia and Russia as aggressors even though neither Serbia nor Russia has any remote interest in starting a new Balkan war.
Ultimately, the key to the Balkans is not Russia, but China. The western Balkans in particular forms an important part of China’s One Belt–One Road and already, China is quietly investing in the region, including in both Serbia and Albania.
China’s views on the region are based on geographical and economic pragmatism, although China has certainly not forgotten that during the illegal NATO war on Yugoslavia in 1999, the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was bombed, thus heightening tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Because of this, China is all too aware of the dangers inherent in investing in the region. But rather than exercise caution, China is instead interested in encouraging regional stability for the sake of One Belt–One Road. Inversely, the US has been doing anything it can to disrupt progress along One Belt–One Road whether it be the war in Afghanistan which impacts China’s relationship with Pakistan, US meddling in East and South East Asian Affairs, US destabilisation of the Middle East, and the Kiev-Donbass conflict.
In this sense, while some see the current Balkans crisis as a test of will between NATO and Russia, the reality is that it is a battle between Chinese economic pragmatism that could potential;y bring both increased prosperity and increased political stability to the region versus the United States which seeks to encircle Serbia with hostile western backed client states.
Russia could benefit from the Chinese business model coming to the Balkans just as sure as Russia would face uncomfortable calls to defend Serbia in the event of a new war.
The fact that such a war could break out at any moment is a reality that Serbia fears, Russia detests and China seeks to avoid.