Balkans at a dangerous crossroads

Balkans at a dangerous crossroads

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin stopped in Serbia, to attend a military parade celebrating Belgrade's liberation from the Nazis, on his way to the European-Asian summit in Italy, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

Serbia is widely considered as Russia’s ally in the Balkans, even though Serbia is a candidate for accession to the European Union.

The EU is quite firm that Serbia, in the course of the accession process, should join the sanctions against Russia. It has also asked Serbia not to get involved in the construction of Russia’s South Stream gas pipeline which is financed by Russian energy giant Gazprom.

The pipeline will transport Russian gas through Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria into the EU. Competition rules in the EU forbid oil and gas producers from owning or operating pipelines.

President Putin is lobbying strongly in Serbia for South Stream, stressing its advantages for European consumers. He is also offering Serbia interesting markets for its agricultural products. His radical, pan-Slavic statements appear to be extremely well received with the public in Serbia.

President Putin received a rapturous reception in Serbia. President Tomislav Nikolic of Serbia called Russia Serbia's closest ally. But Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic stressed the importance of Serbia’s relationship with the EU.

GIS highlighted the danger of Serbia having to choose between Russia or the EU in a statement ‘Could Serbia be the next Ukraine?’ on August 20.  It appears Serbia is already leaning heavily towards Russia and Russia has always supported Serbia's nationalistic aspirations, especially in Kosovo.

It is quite obvious that Russia sees Serbia as part of its zone of interest. But it does not stop there.

When Bulgaria, a member of Nato and the EU, wanted to replace its military aircraft with American rather than Russian equipment, Russia's deputy prime minister in charge of the defence industry, Dmitry Rogozin, twittered harshly, that Bulgaria was betraying Russia.

Russians consider Serbs and Bulgarians as their Slavic brothers, and Serbs especially, who are nationalistic, agree with that.

The Balkans are easy to destabilise. Serbia feels entitled to a number of neighbouring areas and other ethnic groups and non-Orthodox religious denominations feel threatened.

Europe has to take care with its Balkan politics and must not neglect this area.

Related reports

Serbia faces toughest choice for EU seat - Kosovo or Russia

EU’s credibility at stake over South Stream pipeline

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