The recent White House summit between the Balkan leaders of Serbia and Kosovo, which resulted in economic deals being signed and further integration of the two former-belligerent nations, was a sea change for Balkan geopolitics, one that did not end well for the Kremlin.
As an example of movement of Russian-influenced nations away from Moscow, Serbia has dropped out of a planned Belarus-Russia exercise – ‘Slavic Brotherhood 2020’ – which is planned for October. The war games were set up by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in a bid to divert attention away from the demonstrations demanding his resignation over the recent election which was widely seen as rigged.
“We are asked, at the cost of leaving our European future… to abandon the planned military exercises with Belarus,” said Serbia’s Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin.
Serbia, which is militarily neutral, faced “great and undeserved pressure from the European Union” and would suspend military drills with all partners for six months, he added.
Belgrade is also vying to join the European Union, and won praise from Western ambassadors last month when it backed an EU statement criticizing the disputed presidential elections in Belarus as neither free nor fair, reported The Moscow Times.
Washington apparently seeks to reduce Serbia’s dependence on Russian gas and weaken Moscow’s political influence in the region, the paper says. According to Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University-Higher School of Economics Dmitry Suslov, the EU and the US view Moscow as a rival in the Balkans, wrote Russian state news agency TASS.
Besides, more opportunities are emerging for Serbia’s cooperation with NATO. “Membership in the North Atlantic Alliance is also not ruled out. The agreements with Washington create preconditions for boosting Serbian-NATO cooperation. This will certainly weaken Russia’s influence,” the political commentator said.
Pointing to the consequences for Russia, Suslov noted that they are unfavorable since they create stronger preconditions for Serbia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. “The unsolved Kosovo conflict was one of the reasons hindering Serbia’s rapprochement with the EU and NATO. The gradual ironing out of this conflict will speed up this process. In turn, this weakens Russia’s influence in the region,” he pointed out.
Russia and Serbia still harbor resentment against the NATO alliance for the bombing of Serb forces in the 1990s during the Balkan Wars, which gave Kosovo its independence.
China is also heavily investing in the region; the Trump administration looks to confront the growth of Beijing’s influence as well.
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