However absurd this question may appear to some, paradoxical to others, and even monstrous to others still, it has been made relevant and even possible thanks to the latest ‘revolution in the international situation’, following the Russian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The dilemma may indeed appear contrived and even outrageous, given the fact of Russian ambassador [to Belgrade] Konuzin’s agile attempts to assure his hosts that Russian support for Serbia in regard to Kosovo remains unchanged. This dilemma nevertheless serves to highlight some of recent Serbian policy’s strategic delusions. Its failures, moreover, have inevitable consequences.
The Serbian foreign ministry’s cautious reaction to Russian president Medvedev’s decision to sign the decree to recognize the secession of the two Georgian regions represents a rational effort not to consider the implications. Maybe also a kind of regret for the continuous underestimation linked to the initial implementation of Kostunica’s approach to state policy towards Kosovo according to which reliance on the Russian card would sooner or later prove costly. It proved far too easy to succumb to the fatal attraction of ‘Russian love and loyalty to fraternal Serbia’, ‘Slav solidarity’, ‘Orthodox unity’, and the belief that ‘this time round Moscow will not betray us’, but will remain to the bitter end loyal to ‘the principled defence of Serbia and international law’. Serbia fell (willingly, of course) into the trap, which – nurturing the false hope that it was possible to keep Kosovo – on the one hand fanned an anti-Western mood and internal division, and on the other gradually made the state a hostage to Russia’s calculations of its state interests.
The Mevedev-Putin twins’ latest ‘revolution’ has served only to lay bare the fact that Serbia and Kosovo have for them been ideal small change to be used in their bargaining with the West.
The long-standing warnings that Russian support for Serbia would last as long as suited Russian interests, and would acquire a wholly different – and indeed true – meaning once Moscow decided that the Caucasian region was more important to it than the Balkan one, used to be called an expression of Russophobia and globalistic tittle-tattle and rejected with a large dose of animosity.
In the end, however, Serbia has lost its ‘strongest ally’ (which, in fact, it never had), while Russia has used Kosovo (with Serbia) to launch its own ‘imperial reawakening’. It scrapped the principles on which Serbia has for long confronted ‘the anti-Serbian world’ and its own self, leaving Belgrade to conclude that it had been a mere instrument of the more powerful; cheated and left to itself; driven crazy by the psychedelic impression that, with its most recent moves in the Black Sea region, Russia has whether directly or indirectly recognised Kosovo’s independence. And that it had all been a great delusion, hiding the Russian ambition to proclaim itself anew – on the back of Serbia and Kosovo – a superpower that would not exclude military intervention and renewal of the Cold War in defence of its awakened expansionist interests and ambitions.
Although it used to stress that to ‘seize’ Kosovo from Serbia would open a Pandora’s box, Moscow did not wait for others to do so, but did it itself, with its militaristic promenade through Georgia and its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Enslaved historically speaking to the oft repeated illusion that Russia was its ‘only natural partner’, Serbia lost many opportunities to help itself. To begin with, to realise in time that Kosovo was lost not because of the great powers’ geopolitical and strategic interests, but because of Slobodan Milosević’s catastrophic policy.
Instead of seeking to establish a reasonable relationship with Kosovo and its Albanian majority, for the sake of realising its own interests – such as protecting the remaining Serb population, and historical and cultural monuments; and compensating for the loss of Kosovo, with EU assistance, by a European perspective for the whole region, within which Serbia and Kosovo could come together on a more solid basis and cultural values – Serbia shunned reality and opted instead for a creeping but nevertheless constant confrontation with Brussels and Washington, in the vain hope that ‘the awakening of the Russian bear’ would help it to regain what had been lost.
What was bound to happen happened, however: Russia ‘woke up’ and, in the wake of its attempt to check the collapse of its former Soviet (ideological) empire after the fall of the Berlin Wall by fostering crises in its relationship with the new states of the former USSR, Serbia ended up being alone. Like an orphan seeking to find some elder person to look after him, who always makes the wrong choice.
Will now Serbia come to its senses and sober up, or will its decline into irrationality continue while waiting for the great powers’ passions to subside and their relations to normalise in some way or another? Vojislav Kostunica [of the Democratic Party of Serbia] and Aleksandar Vučić [of the Serbian Radical Party] are clear. They seek to prolong Serbia’s agony by calling on the government to ‘stand once again unconditionally by Russia’ and to recognise ‘the new states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia’ – motivated possibly by a crazy calculation that Russia in its renewed role as a ‘creator’ of world politics will sooner or later compel the Western countries to consider a great trade-off: return of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgia in return for dropping the recognition of Kosovo and its return to Serbia.
This outcome is perfectly feasible according to the logic of the Serbian nationalists and Russophiles, despite the fact that it would reopen a military conflict in the Balkans and the frustrating dilemma of its cost for Serbia. The worst option at this moment would be for the government – which has still not found its feet, or a way of preventing obstruction and destruction on the part of the opposition so that it can actually govern – to adopt this or some similar idea about a new national consensus based on the platform provided by parties and policies which would keep Serbia as an testing ground for confrontation between the Great Powers, and whose original contribution is to ask for a new international division of spheres of influence, a Cold War in any form, and a confrontation that would annul all that has been achieved in the world following the collapse of the East European socialist project.
The truth is that Serbia finds itself suddenly in a very delicate position, and it is also true that it has itself made this happen by relying so much on Russia. Now, however, when Russia’s support has become (or remained) counterproductive, the essential dilemma is whether to insist on the current losing policy towards Kosovo and risk further Serbian involvement in renewed confrontation, or whether to rid itself of the burden of Russia’s false and manipulative support and turn instead towards Europe.
The Georgian-Russian conflict has given Serbia a bad headache. Any further hesitation on its part in the direction of a radical change of policy and strategy is bound to leave it exposed, far from the European story. It is possible that this new crisis gives Serbia one last chance to grasp that there is no alternative to the European Union. The customary playing of the card ‘to Kosovo by way of Russia’ has proved to be an irresponsible gambling with its own future. If the proper lesson is not drawn now after so many adventures, every one of Serbia’s future moves will be but a further precipitate rush towards disaster. It will end both without Kosovo and without the European Union, and without any perspective, weighed down by Russia’s empty promises.
Translated by Bosnian Institute