The Balkan Peninsula and the region of the Southeast Europe historically have been one of the most important focal points of the Russian foreign policy, cultural influences and attempts to spread ideology of the Orthodox solidarity and the Slavic reciprocity as well. These ideas are common to almost all trends of the Russian public life in the past and today. After the lost Crimean War 1853–1856 Russia intensified its cultural influence in the region of the Southeast Europe for the purposes of beating the Habsburg (Roman-Catholic) rivalry and to spread idea of the Pan-Slavism in this part of Europe.
Undoubtedly, the political and economic rivalry between Russia, on one hand, and the Habsburg Monarchy (Austria-Hungary from 1867) and the German Empire (from 1871), on the other, over the dominance in this region was strongly affected in Russia by the growth of the Pan-Slavic sentiment, based on the common Slavic origin, mutual Paleoslavonic language, and above all grounded on emotional sentiment to liberate those South Slavs who were under the Ottoman rule.
Historically, Russia had two pivotal interests in both the Balkans and the Southeast Europe: 1) strategic, and 2) cultural/ religious. From strategic point of view, the Russian diplomacy concerned the Balkans and the Southeast Europe as essential for the Russian state security and above all for the stability of the Russian state frontiers. The Russian intention as to obtain favorable frontier in Bessarabia (today independent Moldova) and to have a control over the Bosphorous and the Dardanelles, which became very important to the Russian commercial and economic development; in particular for the shipment of surplus grain (from present-day Ukraine) to the world markets. The Bosphorous and the Dardanelles became a part of Russia’s “security zone” (in both economic and political terms). The Russian main concern was to safeguard free passage through the Bosphorous Straits to the Mediterranean Sea. Simultaneously, Russia intended to block the expansion of other European great powers, particularly Austria-Hungary and Germany into the region. Taking religious and cultural aspects of the Russian interests in the Balkans and the Southeast Europe, largely due to the Russian Pan-Slavic agitation, Russia succeeded to develop from 1870 a strong interest in the fate of the Balkan Slavs and the Southeast European Orthodox Christians. The Pan-Slavism, based on the myth of the Slavic solidarity and primarily on the Orthodox Slavic reciprocity, which created a strong ethnic, religious and cultural sentiments among the Slavic Orthodox population, became at the end of the 19th century one of the dominant driving forces behind the Russian policy in the Balkans and the Southeast Europe. The myth of the Slavic solidarity and brotherhood exerted a considerable influence on many intellectuals and found support in official circles in Russia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria.
Russia between the “Westernizers” and the “Patriots”
With the end of the Cold War, the Balkans, especially the question of the destiny of the former Yugoslavia, re-emerged as one of the major concerns in Russia. It has to be noticed that the USSR was simply dissolved by one man-decision – the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, who, concerning this matter, made a deal firstly with the European Community in 1985 and later in 1988 with the US administration at the bilateral meeting with the US President Ronald Regan in Rejkjavik in Iceland. The USSR was the only empire in the world history which became simply dissolved by its own government as the rest of the world empires were destroyed from the outside after the lost wars. In our opinion, there were three main hypothetical reasons for Gorbachev’s decesion to dissolve the Soviet empire:
- Personal bribing of Gorbachev by the western governments (the USA and the EC);
- Gorbachev’s wish, as the first and the only ethnic Russian ruler of the USSR to prevent a further economic exploitation of the Russian federal unit by the rest of the Soviet republics that was a common practice since the very beginning of the USSR after the Bolshevik (anti-Russian) Revolution and civil war of 1917−1921; and the most important
- Gorbachev’s determination to transform Russian Federation, which will firstly get rid of the rest of the Soviet chigoe republics, into economically prosperous and well-to-do country by selling its own natural resources (gas and oil) to the West according to the world prices.
These are exactly the real reasons why during the last 23 years Russian foreign policy is totally soft and even subservient to the West to which mercy Moscow left the rest of the world including and the ex-Soviet republics with c. 40 million of ethnic Russian population outside the motherland. For the matter of comparison, in 1991 Belgrade also left all other Yugoslav republics to leave the federation free of charge, at least for the second Gorbachev’s reason to dissolve the USSR, but with one crucial difference in comparison with the Russian case: the ethnic Serbs outside Serbia were not left at mercy, at least not as free of charge, to the governments of the newly (anti-Serb) proclamed independent states emerged on the wreck of (anti-Serb and dominated by Croatia and Slovenia) ex-Yugoslavia. That was the only sin by Serbia in the 1990s and for that reason she was and still is sternly fined by the West.
Russia’s policy and attitude towards the South Slavs in the Balkans during the last two decades is a part of a larger debate over Russia’s “national interest” and even over the Russian new identity after dissolving the Soviet Union. Since 1991, when its independence was formalized and internationally recognized, Russia has been searching for both its national identity and foreign policy. Intellectual circles in Russia have debated very much over the content of the Russian national self-identity for centuries. On one side there were/are those who believe that the Russian culture is a part of the European culture and as such the Russian culture can accepts some crucial (West) European values in its development, especially from the time of the emperor Peter the Great. This group, we could call them as the “westernizers”, have never negated the existence of Russia’s specific characteristics as a Euroasian country, but have always believed that staying within the framework of the “Russian spectrum” is equivalent to the national suicide. On the other hand, there are those who have tried to preserve all traditional Russian forms of living and organizing, including the political one and the cultural one, not denying at the same time that Russia is a European country too. This, we can name them as the “patriotic” group, of the Slavic orientation, partly nationalistically oriented, have believed and still believe that the (West) European civilizational and cultural values can never be adjusted to the Russian national character and that it is not necessary at all for the Russian national interest. The confrontation of these two groups characterizes both the Russian history and the present-day political and cultural developments. Very similar situation is in Serbia as well as Serbia’s society today is sharply divided into the so-called “First” (“patriotic”) and the “Second” (“western”) Serbia.
At the moment, the basic elements of Russian national identity and state policy are:
1. The preservation of its territorial unity;
2. The protection of its interior integrity and its external (state) borders; and
3. The strengthening of its statehood.
It means that contemporary Russia (“The Gazprom Republic”) rejected, at least for some time, the most significant element in its foreign affairs that has historically been from the time of the emperor Ivan the Terrible the (universal) imperial code – constant expansion of its territory or, at least, the position of a power that cannot be overlooked in the settlement of strategic global matters. At the present stage of her history, characterized by very harmonious (symphonic) economic and political relations with the West, especially with Germany, Russia in fact became a political colony of the West which is seen in Moscow eyes only as a good source for making money. The results of such kind of Russia-West relations are Russian tourists all over the world, an impressive Russian state gold reserves (500 billion euros), buying real estate properties all over the Mediterranean littoral by the Russians, huge Russian financial investments in Europe and finally, Russian authorization of NATO and EU foreign policy that is mostly visible exactlly at the Balkans.
Russia’s foreign policy is surely a part of its national and cultural identity as for any other state in world history. In the last 23 years, Moscow accepted the western academic and political propaganda as a sort of “new facts” that:
- Russia is reportedly no longer a global super or even military power, although its considerable military potential is undeniable and very visible;
- Russia allegedly has no economic power, although it has by very fact an enormous economic potentials, and
- Russia, as a consequence, can not have any significant political influence which could affect the new international relations established after 1989/1991, i. e. the NWO (the NATO World Order), or better to say – Pax Americana.
It makes Russia a western well payed client state as in essence no strategic questions can be solved without Russian permission, however for certain sum of money or other way of compensation. For instance, the Kosovo status was solved in 2008 between Russia and NATO/EU on this way that Russia de facto agreed to Kosovo self-proclaimed independence (as US client terrytory) for western also de facto agreement to South Ossetian and Abkhazian self-proclaimed independence (as Russian client territories) too. Russia as a country is unpredictable when it is isolated, and its unpredictability can be dangerous for the surrounding regions as well as for the global international relations. This thesis has had its confirmation in the events concerning the conflicts in both former Yugoslavia (the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia/the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (the FYROM). The cultural, religious and historic ties with the Orthodox Slavs who live in the Balkans (together with the western money) determine the Russian attitude and politics towards the political challenges in the Southeast Europe during the last decades especially what concerns the Orthodox Slavs in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosmet (Kosovo and Metochia) and Macedonia (i.e. the Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians).
In Russia emerged after Gorbachev’s dissolution of the Soviet Union two ideological-political streams in the general debate in the Russian society about the national interests. The first emphasizes the importance of Russia’s long-standing ethnic, cultural and religious ties with the Balkan peoples, especially with the Serbs, Montenegrins (“Montenegrins” and the Serbs from Montenegro) and Macedonians. The second stresses the importance of good ties to the West and integrating Russia into a broader Euro-Atlanticist framework.
Since Russia formally has lost all the attributes of a super power after the disolution of the Soviet Union, its political elite has in the early 1990s become oriented towards closer association with the institutional structures of the West – in accordance with its oficially general drift towards liberal-democratic reform (in fact towards the taycoonization of the whole society and politics). Till 1995 Russia had become a member of almost all structures of the NATO, even of the Partnership for Peace Programme what is telling the best about real aims of the Gazprom Russia’s foreign policy. In May 1997 Russia signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, which meant de facto that it accepted the NATO as the core of the Euro-Atlantic system of security. Whether or not the ruling structures in Russia had expected a more important role for their country in its relations with the new partners, since 1995 there has been certain stagnation in the relations with the West, accompanied by the insistence on the national interests of Russia. In practice, this was manifested in the attempts to strengthen the connections with the Commonwealth of Independent State (CIS) with which it had somewhat more stable and secure relations. However, the state of relations within the CIS, accompanied with a very difficult economic and politically unstable situation in some of the countries in the region, prevented any organizational or other progress in this direction. Still, the CIS has remained the primary strategic focus for Russia, especially when it comes to the expansion of NATO towards these countries.
Russia, the West and ex-Yugoslavia
The economic and political situation in Russia, the changes, as well as the rate and the content of its fitting into the existing international relations influenced Russia’s attitude towards the wars in the regions of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugosavia (the SFRY), the State Unity of Serbia and Montenegro (former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia-the FRY) and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (the FYROM). Since the beginning of the disintegration of the SFRY, Russia has taken very diplomatic position that these conflicts are the Yugoslav domestic matters and consequently should be settled peacefully, without use of force, with the UN or the OSCE as mediators. Russia kept this official position throughout the wars in Yugoslavia, till the end of the military conflict in Kosovo in June 1999, but even and during NATO military occupation of Kosovo & Metohija followed by the expulsion of majority of the ethnic Serbs and all other non-Albanian ethnicities by Albanians from the region (1999−2013). In view of its position in Europe and the world (especially in relation to the USA), characterized by her need and wish to become a respectable partner to the most developed countries, Russia is blindly following the decisions of its partners from the West, especially at the time of the “western clown Boris Yeltsin”. So, for instance, Russia recognized Croatia and Slovenia in February 1992 as independent states, in May 1992 it did the same with the FYR of Macedonia and in August of the same year with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although it was formally on the side of Serbia and Serbs, mainly because of deep historic, cultural and political linkages with the Serbs, it actually accepted the decisions of its western partners and followed their obviously anti-Serb Balkan policy. Such attitude was the result of its orientation towards getting closer to European economic, political and security institutions, but also the result of a different orientation. For Russia, the Balkans is still just a part of its European (economic) strategy, but not the main task of her European (political) policy.
This is quite similar with the case of the NATO military aggression on the FR of Yugoslavia in 1999 for the real reason to occupy and separate Kosovo & Metohija from Serbia for the final sake of creation of a Greater Albania. Formally, Russia remained resolute in her demand that the conflict in Kosovo & Metohija had to be resolved in the Security Council of the UN or in the OSCE, but in fact nothing did to realy help the Serbs in their fight against Albanian nacionalism and US imperialism – exactlly what Washington and Brussells wanted and needed from Moscow. From the very fact, when several western countries decided to intervene against Yugoslavia in 1999, Russia did nothing concrete to change that decision, although Moscow nominally disagreed because there was no formal decision in the Security Council of the UN and it was against the use of force in regional ethnic conflicts in general. In fact, the Russian pro-western taycoon authorities did not wish to get directly involved in the conflict in Kosovo & Metohija in order to keep very prosperous relations with the West. Formally, during the NATO military aggression on Yugoslavia Russia tried to sustain contacts with Serbia. These attempts met with the approval of a part of the public, which, along with the nationally oriented intellectual and political elite, was pushing Russia into a conflict with the West, with the USA in particular, for the matter to defend the Orthodox Slavs in the Balkans as historically Russia was a natural protector of them during the time of existence of the Ottoman Empire. That is how it came about that during the Kosovo Crisis and War of 1998−1999 the relations between Russia and the USA became the worst since the end of the Cold War period, but in essence nothing was changed after the war in relations between Russia and the West.
Nevertheless, the Russian participation with the NATO in international contingent of “peacekeeping” forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina (the IFORS/SFOR) and Kosovo-Metohija (the KFOR) shows that (Gazprom) Russia became highly opportunistic and even smarmy to the West as she consciously accepted to participate in these NATO military missions only for the reason to internationally legalize the new NATO World Order that is obviously in the first place de facto anti-Russian. However, it is very unconvincing explaination by the Russian “Westernizers” that this decision to participate in the NATO “peace keeping missions” in the Balkans in the 1990s was for Moscow only possibility to “prove” that Russia is still no out from international politics of the Great (western) Powers and to have some influence in the region.
But it is known that this participation is under the full-scale dictate of the NATO what is clearly visible from at least three facts:
- Russia did not get its own sectors of protection either in Bosnia-Herzegovina or Kosovo-Metohija nevertheless Russia required them. The territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina was divided into three sectors of protection: the Canadian, the US, and the French once. However, it was no single Russian one.
- A brigade of the Russian peacekeepers has been based in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the US sector, the Multinational Division North, since January 1996, numbering only some 1,200 airborne troops. The Russian zone of responsibility was running between the predominantly “Croat and Muslim Federation” of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the predominantly Serb “Republika Srpska”. However, about 30 US soldiers were permanently stationed at the Russian brigade’s headquarters in Ugljevik (the Northeastern Bosnia-Herzegovina) while the Russian peacekeeping troops were in fact under the US supervision and command. In this respect, can you immagine the US military brigade under the Russian supervision and command in Afganistan or Iraq? We have also to notice at this place that in 1877 Russia entered the war against the Ottoman Empire because of Bosnia-Herzegovina (the so-called “Eastern Crisis”) and even the First World War in 1914 after “Sarajevo Assassination” and Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia. However, it was an Imperial Russia (not at all in much better possition to the western Great Powers as today Russia is), but not the Gazprom one.
- The Russian peace keeping contingent in Kosovo-Metohija of some 3,150 soldiers (out from total 45,000 international NATO troops in Kosovo-Metohija) was deployed in three sectors in the US-led Multinational Brigade East, in the French-led Multinational Brigade North, and in the German-led Multinational Brigade South. In June 1999, when the NATO troops occupied Kosovo-Metohija, the NATO headquarters in Brussels decisively rejected the Russian demand that Russia should have its own sector of protection in Kosovo-Metohija. We also have not to forget that the Russian troops (came from Bosnia-Herzegovina) occupied the Prishtina airport in June 1999 before the NATO troops from the south reached the administrative centre of Kosovo-Metohija. That was at the moment a greatest victory of Russia over the West from the time of dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, very soon the same Russian troops left the Prishtina airport under the western pressure what shows at the best a real self-wanted possition of (Gazprom) Russia in the NATO World Order after the end of the Cold War (1949−1989). Consequently, Moscow in 2001 left Afganistan in full mercy of the US occupation – the land which was only three decades ago (in 1979) understood by Kremlin as excusively its own sphere of dominance without western interference.
Obviously, only limited and formal Russian participation in the the so-called “peace-keeping forces” in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo-Metohija, that is in fact just international legalization of the NATO occupation of these lands, is very welcomed by the NATO headquarters as it gives NATO a legitimacy of “human rights protection” in the Balkans. Following its orientation towards the “well-to-do Russian home”, combined with its new national security concept of protecting Russia’s state borders, but without crossing them in international relations, Russia is trying to achieve the optimum of such kind of politics – to play a role of a formally respectable power on the international scene which will take its part in the most significant strategic changes in the world done by the NATO and US administration followed by its European client – the European Union for the sake of keeping perfect economic relations with the West. Therefore, Russia’s attitude towards Republic of Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia is regarded in the contexts of its attempts to put into practice its common westernization policy with the ultimate goal to integrate Russia into the western political scope and system. Having in mind this, it is quite predictable that Russian forces will took participation in the NATO peace keeping forces in Macedonia (MACFOR) or Vojvodina (VOJDFOR) or Sandžak (SANDFOR) in the near future under the same conditions as in BosniaHerzegovina and Kosovo-Metohija.
For the mattar of better clarification, Serbia’s northern region of Vojvodina, populated by the Serb majority and non-Serb minority (predominantly Hungarian one) and southwest region of Sandžak (Sanjak), populated by mixed Orthodox Serbian and Muslim Boshniak (Bošnjak) population, are scheduled by the West (the USA, NATO, EU) as the next regions of separation at the Balkans where the western peace-keeping troops are going to be located. Thus, such Russian role in the Balkan affairs fits to the ideas of the main Russian proponents of the so-called “Atlanticist School” (for instance, a former Russia’s Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev), which tends to play down the idea of Russia as the protector of the (Orthodox) Slavs in the Southeast Europe. However, instead of this idea, the Russian “Westernizers” emphasize the crucial importance of co-operating with the West for the Russian economic (and cultural) development in the future. Subsequently, they explicitly reject a policy based on ethnic, religious and cultural ties with the Balkan Orthodox Slavs, particularly with the Serbs. Absolutely the same situation is and with the Serbian “Westernizers” (the “Second Serbia”) who are rejecting any ties with Kosovo-Metohija for the sake of (remains of) Serbia’s “prosperity” in the (western) future.
The myths of a fundamental Slavic brotherhood and the pan-Slavic solidarity, based on common Slavic origin, and especially with the Orthodox South Slavs, based on shared culture and the same religion is by now put aside as an ancient history by Moscow. It was visible, at least, twice in relations to the Serbs: 1) when the Parliament of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia proclaimed a state unity with Russia in 1999 during the NATO aggression and 2) when Kosovo-Metohija Serbs (c. 100.000) required Russia’s citizenship in 2011. Moscow in both cases simply was deaf, but it would be a perfect opportunity and excuse for Russia to do realy something for the Serbs and to stop a NATO machinery at the Balkans. However, some of influential Russia’s political leaders and representatives are still ardent to the ideology of the Pan-Slavic common ethnolinguistic origin, cultural reciprocity, solidarity and brotherhood. For instance, during a visit to Serbia in January 1994 (the Jew) Vladimir Zhirinovsky warned the West that any attack on Serbia or Bosnian Serbs would be considered by the Russians as an attack on Russia itself. However, when it happened in reality in 1995 and 1999 Russia did simply nothing. It is interesting that on the same occasion he called for a union of all Slavic nations from “Knin to Vladivostok”. Zhirinovsky was also the main advocator of a radical revision of the territorial map of Europe, especially in the Southeastern Europe. In his conception of reshaping the political map of Europe, the new (Russian) order in the Southeast Europe has to be based on the (by now utopian) “Slavic pyramid”:
1) Bosnia and Herzegovina would be divided between a Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia;
2) A Greater Bulgaria would be created with its capital in Sofia;
3) Greece would be given parts of European Turkey, and finally,
4) Hungary would get back Transylvania from Romania.
It is quite predictable that idea of the Pan-Slavic solidarity, reciprocity and brotherhood will be put on agenda of the Russian national interest if the Russian “Patriots” and “Pan-Slavic nationalists” gained political power in Russia (after the next revolution or not). In this case, the concept of reshaping the Southeast Europe on the model of some kind of the “Slavic pyramid” will surely play a significant role in the Russian foreign policy and presumably in the next and last world war.
At the end of this text we will express several of our basic conclusions in relations to the topic of contemporary Russian relations with the Balkans, or better to say, to the debate of the main issue of the present-day Russian foreign policy – between West and herself:
1) Post-Soviet Russia is politically very deeply involved in the western system of international relations and cultural values that is basically giving to Moscow a status of the western client partner on the international scene of the NATO World Order.
2) A full victory of the Russian “Westernizers” allow them to further westernize Russia according to the pattern of the Emperor Peter the Great with the price of Russian inferiority and even servility at the international relations. For that reason, the West already succeeded to encircle Russia with three rings: the NATO at the West, the Muslim Central Asian at the South and the Chinise one at the South-East.
3) The West is buying Russia’s inferiority at the international scene by keeping perfect economic relations with Moscow that is allowing Russia, especially Russia’s taycoons, to become enormously reach. These harmonious West-Russia political-economic relations are goint to be broken in the future only under two circumstances: if the Russian “Patriots” with take political power in Kramlin, or if the West will introduce any kind of economic sanctions against Russia (i.e. to restrict importing Russian gas and oil or to limit business operations of the Russian oil and gas companies outside Russia).
4) Up to now, the Souteast Europe is left to the western hands by Moscow and the region is already incorporated into the NATO World Order. Russia in this region has only and exclusively economic-financial interest (the “Southern Stream”, investments, buying the real estate properties, selling its own products, etc.). The region is becoming more and more under the Russian direct financial control and as the best example is Montenegro with 40% Russian investment out of total foreign one.
5) The only political and national losers at the Balkans, as the outcome of such West-Russia post-Soviet relations, are the Serbs who as a nation have been expelled from Croatia and lost their Republic of Serbian Krayina, lost 20% of their land in Bosnia-Herzegovina, lost Kosovo-Metohija and will lose Vojvodina and Sandžak in the near future. The state territory of Serbia, according to the western designes from the very end of the Cold War era, would be reduced to the borders of “Bismarck” Serbia after the Berlin Congress in 1878 up to the Balkan Wars of 1912−1913.
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