Monday, July 13, 2015

‘Moscow is Losing Serbia Just as It has Already Lost Ukraine,’ Kirillova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 13 – Russia and Serbia have a long history of warm and close ties, reflecting their similar situations and especially the propensity of people in each to draw parallels between the Serbian-Croatian wars and the Russian-Ukrainian ones, Kseniya Kirillova says. But despite that, Moscow is on its way to “losing Serbia just as it has already lost Ukraine.”

            The reason for that, the US-based Russian analyst says, is that Moscow is overplaying its hand, supporting Serbian nationalists against the Serbian government which has shown itself more than willing to cooperate with Russia but does not want to break all ties with the European Union and the West (

Moscow’s miscalculations, she suggests, is that Serbian nationalists like their Russian counterparts find it “very difficult” to imagine that members of their nation can live beyond their state borders and are inclined to declare territories beyond their own borders as “sacred” to their nation and state.

Like many Russians today, Serbs call for the annexation of Kosovo in the name of defending their co-nationals and demand that borders be redrawn on the basis of the ethnicity of residents and that they should all be included “in the borders of “’a single large country.’” And also like Russians, the Serbs feel that those attacking them represent “a mortal danger” to them.

In addition, both Serbs and Russians, the Russian analyst says, view their own sufferings as holy, “do not see their own guilt” for specific crimes, and “do not remember the evil which their people visited on others,” even though they “well remember” that which was imposed on them.

“The majority of Serbs do not recognize the crimes of Milosevic” or the genocide they carried out against Bosnia Muslims, Croatians and Kosovo Albanians. They talk about these events in religious terms and view themselves as having defended their own people against “’a satanic attack on the Orthodox world.’”

Thus, it is not surprising that “many Serbs sincerely approve the annexation of Crimea by Russia” and that Girkin-Strelkov, notorious for his actions in Ukraine, “fought on the side of the Serbs during the Bosnian war,” attracting “not a few Serbs” to join in the fight against Ukraine for Moscow.

And it would seem, Kirillova says, that “the policy of Putin and the spirit of Milosevic should tie Serbs and Russians even closer together.”  But that has not happened, and it has not happened because Moscow has decided that the current Serbian government, despite its tilt to Russia on many issues, has not tilted far enough.

That sets the stage for Russia to lose Serbia as it lost Ukraine. “It is important to understand,” the Russian analyst says, “that Russia lost Ukraine not after the victory of the Euro-Maidan but only when it began a war against it.”  Prior to that, Ukraine did not view Russia as an enemy the way it does now.

Moscow’s “all or nothing” attitude led it to invade Ukraine and it is leading it to back Serbian nationalists against the Serbian government. “The Serbian radicals promise a complete break with the EU, unqualified recognition of the annexation of Crimea and ‘Novorossiya,’ the fullest integration with Russia.”

All these things may be what the Kremlin wants, but they go far beyond what many Serbs do – and that is generating a kind of backlash among them and especially among members of the current government. What such people can see is that its deference to Moscow has only encouraged Moscow to push harder.

As a result, “despite the close historical, cultural and spiritual tie with Russia … and the imperial complexes of the Serbs themselves,” she concludes, “Serbia can become a beautiful European country: economically developed, educated and what is most important free.” In short, it can move in the same direction that Ukraine is moving -- and for the same reasons.

(For background on the complicated history of Serbs and Russians and how and why the relationship can go wrong, see this author’s “Dangerous Liaisons: Moscow, the former Yugoslavia, and the West,” in Richard Ullman’s The World and Yugoslavia’s Wars (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1996), pp. 182-197.)

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