The relationship with Russia and the progresses of Serbia towards European IntegrationAuthor: Massimiliano Gobbato
BELGRADE, 28 October 2009. The last Report of the European Commission and the recent visit of the Russian President Medvedev have highlighted the strategies and the aims of the Serbian foreign policy. After years of marginality for the well-known vicissitudes which followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Serbia quickly begins to emerge as a strategic actor in the Western Balkans. The current foreign policy of Belgrade reminds the one of the former Yugoslavia, although that experience is de facto unrepeatable. Instead, the main challenges are represented by the not yet achieved political maturity and the necessity to improve the conditions of its market economy.
The visit of Medvedev comes just after the ones of Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States in May and Xavier Solana in July. The 20th of October has been the turn of the Russian Minister Medvedev. Received in a flashy way, Medvedev held meetings with the President Boris Tadic, the highest personalities of the government and the parliament, the representatives of the Serb-Orthodox Church. The arrival of Medvedev has been organized for the 65th Anniversary of the Liberation of Belgrade by the JNA (the former Yugoslavian Army).
This event should not appear unusual as Russian elections have been interestingly followed in Serbia and, just after the announcement of the victory of Medvedev, Mr. Kostunica, Serbia's Prime Minister, President Tadic, the leader of the Radical Party Mr. Nikolic and the President of the Socialist Party Mr. Dacic have immediately sent to Moscow they congratulations.
Behind the gaudiness of the event and an outspoken rhetoric of friendship, other more concrete interests are actually at stake. Credits of billion of dollars, the conclusion of seven bilateral treaties (from the mutual collaboration in cases of emergency to the economic and cultural cooperation), but overall the negotiations regarding gas issues and the renewal of the Russian support in the regional and international chessboard were probably the real main matters of discussion.
Medvedev has in fact declared that "the relations between Russia and the Serbia proceed well. The great plans on which we have come to an agreement indicate the strategic character of ours partnership". Medvedev has anyhow added that he is favorable to an EU membership of Belgrade, while Tadic enforced the declarations of his colleague by asserting he took in consideration a series of issues within the Russian-Serbian relations and by stating that for a long time the two countries will have a strong convergence. He concluded adding that Russia today is "an unavoidable factor in international politics".
Serbia and Russia have greatly linked their interests both in political and economical terms. The Russian support to the opposition at the independence of Kosovo, the acquisition of the national gas and oil company NIS and the future Serbian-Russian joint venture (51% Gazprom, 49% Srbijagas) for the construction of a gas storage site in Banatski Dvor have irreversibly twisted the relationships between the two parts.
The efforts of Belgrade in order to catch up a more soothed diplomatic climate with the United States and the progressive engagement in inner reforms in order to obtain the candidate status for UE membership makes Serbian foreign politics remember former-Yugoslavia. Already defined as "the diplomacy of the three pillars", notably Russia-Europe-US, (but some experts add a forth one, China), Serbia has visibly the desire to regain a central geopolitical role taking advantage of its strategical position both in geographical and in political-diplomatic terms. Whereas, talks with Europeans and Americans counterpats focus on an effective collaboration of Serbia for the structural overcoming of the political-institutional impasse in Sarajevo and for the good outcome of the European mission EULEX in Kosovo.
Increasing positive remarks came from Brussels. The Irish referendum seemed to scatter some positive effects by lightening the misused rhetorical on the so-called enlargment fatigue. Delic, the Minister for European Integration, declared that now Serbia is closer to the candidacy status. Positively has also reacted the Ambassador of Sweden asserting that "the result of referendum in Ireland offers a stimulus for a renewed engagement of the UE in Serbia". Nevertheless, this positive events will not replace the reforms which Belgrade should further and finalise. Even though the positiveness has been confirmed by the European Commission Report, judged by many analysts as the best received until now, practically no political and institutional path has been established nor for the candidacy and logically neither for the membership.
Massimiliano Gobbato holds an MA in European Studies from the College of Europe, where he specialised in EU politics and policies. Massimiliano published several articles both as a freelance and as a junior analyst. He previously worked for the Veneto Delegation to the EU and for the newspaper European Voice