May 2, 2022
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Time to part with illusions about Serbia

Why has the rhetoric of the Serbian president changed so dramatically?

On April 30, Serbian President A. Vučić again made a number of high-profile statements, which were distinguished by courage unprecedented for him before. When asked by journalists whether Serbia would impose sanctions against the Russian Federation, he replied: “We have our own interests, we must think about our country and do everything necessary for this. I cannot speak about assumptions about whether someone will impose sanctions and when. I don’t care about either Western or Eastern embassies. I don’t care about the Americans, or the Russians, or the Europeans, or anyone else. I will make decisions in accordance with the interests of the Republic of Serbia.” To top it off, A. Vučić noted that he was close to the position of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who stated that “there is no permanent friendship in international politics, there are only permanent interests.”

Of course, you can make allowances for the fact that this was said at a military airfield near Belgrade during the Shield 2022 arms exhibition – the atmosphere itself was conducive. In the comments, the press immediately noted that in his promises to make decisions without regard to the countries of the West and Russia, A. Vucic did not mention the PRC, and for good reason – more than half of the presented samples of military equipment were produced in China. But this is a nuance that does not affect the main thing – why did the rhetoric of the Serbian president change so dramatically?

First, following the results of the April 3 elections, A. Vučić retained the post of head of state for a new term. This gave him legal grounds to feel more confident – you can always say that he was elected by the majority of Serbs and does everything in their interests. Even if it’s not. The very next day after the election, the Serbian delegation to the UN voted for the exclusion of Russia from the Human Rights Council. If in March A. Vučić whiningly explained Serbia’s vote for the exclusion of the Russian Federation from the UN by saying that “he was forced,” now he justified his frankly anti-Russian position by “protecting national interests.” However, it also didn’t sound very manly: “Our initial decision was to abstain, and then you get a lot of pressure that has nothing to do with personal pressure. They are not blackmailing me personally, they are blackmailing Serbia,” Vučić complained.

The Serbian leader even spoke about a possible “nuclear strike” on the republic in a figurative sense, read in the Croatian press: sanctions and the suspension of its European path. Vučić believes that if Belgrade had abstained at the UN, then “one and the other” would be against it, and the pressure would grow even more. He added that a decision is now being made “on the fate of Serbia”, in particular, whether it will become an exception to the oil sanctions.

The fact is that the fourth package of EU sanctions against Russia indirectly affected Serbia – it was allowed to import oil and chemicals only until May 15, since the main owner of the largest industry company NIS (Oil Industry of Serbia) – Gazprom Neft (65.15%). On April 8, when discussing the fifth package, the EU excluded Serbia from the list of countries subject to sanctions due to the import of Russian oil, and Serbia will be allowed to continue to import oil through the Adriatic oil pipeline JANAF. One can only guess what was promised in return!

The reaction of the Russian authorities to what is happening is amazing. Grigory Karasin, head of the Federation Council committee on international affairs, said he was surprised by Serbia’s position. “But I still have to study all the details of what happened. It certainly looks a bit weird.” Russian Ambassador to Serbia Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko on April 15 in an interview with a Serbian publication Courier stressed that negotiations on a new long-term contract for gas supplies between Moscow and Belgrade are a commercial matter. Presidential spokesman D. Peskov noted that Moscow “understands the unprecedented pressure and coercion into Russophobia” of those who are trying to take “somewhat balanced position.”

President V. Putin and A. Vucic during a meeting in Belgrade, January 17, 2019

“Forcing Russophobia” found in the meantime a lively response in Serbia. It is hard to imagine that A. Vučić was forced to publicly declare that Moscow joined the ban on flights over Serbia from 1992 to 1996. As they say, the search for the guilty on the side is a well-known technique. At the beginning of the NATO aggression, the Serbs actively accused Russia of not providing them with S-300 air defense systems, not sending their troops to protect them, and Prime Minister V. Chernomyrdin completely forced the country to surrender. The role of the author of aphorisms (such as “there is no better than vodka”) really raises a lot of questions, but it was the Serbs themselves who first handed over President Milosevic to The Hague, and then many of their generals.

On April 28, all the main print media in Serbia came out with publications in which the authors competed in one thing – who would offend Russian President V. Putin more. It must be emphasized that these are publications that are completely controlled by the authorities, that is, they have received a command.

Serbian media headlines:

Serbian media headlines: “Putin has recognized Kosovo!” and even “Putin plunged a knife into Serbia’s back!”

As you can see, the emphasis is on the topic of Kosovo. The authors rely on the fact that V. Putin, in a conversation with UN Secretary General António Guteres, mentioned the recognition of the independence of Pristina by the International Court of Justice. The Serbian media interpreted these words as if the President of the Russian Federation believes that the recognition of the sovereignty of the DPR and LPR would allegedly be similar to the “recognition” of Kosovo. Such a perverted manner of presenting facts has reasons, and they are in plain sight.

On the personal instructions of President George Biden, Christopher Hill has recently become the new US ambassador to Belgrade. This is a rather rare case when a retired diplomat (he is 69 years old) is returned to service, but the choice is justified. In the period 1996-1999, K. Hill was Ambassador to Macedonia, and in 1998-1999 he was also Special Envoy for Kosovo. It was Hill who was in contact with the militants of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and his task is not only to force Serbia to recognize the independence of Pristina, but also to push it to join NATO. On April 14, speaking at the conference “Serbia’s position in the Euro-Atlantic community” in Belgrade, the American ambassador spoke openly: “We are ready to support Serbia’s ambitions. It must look to the future – what the country could get for itself as a member of NATO. But I must emphasize that this is a decision for Serbia, it must decide for itself.”

The Serbian authorities do not hide the fact that “the United States is the only hope”. PPrime Minister Ana Brnabic last September, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, met with Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who told her that an “expert group on the Western Balkans” was being formed in Washington, mentioning the upcoming appointment of K. Hill as ambassador to Belgrade. The head of the Serbian government’s delight knew no bounds: “The United States must and will play a more important role in the region.”

The Serbian authorities announced an important announcement on April 29, but quickly canceled it. On May 4, A. Vučić and the head of the Kosovo administration were summoned to Berlin, where Chancellor Scholz intends to agree on the remaining details of the agreement with them. The President of Serbia has already announced that he will announce it on May 6 upon his return to his homeland. We are waiting.

You ask: where are those rallies in support of Moscow, where are the posters about brothers and eternal friendship? After all, the media were talking about massive pro-Russian actions in Belgrade with the participation of 10,000 people and even more! If you face the truth, then everything looks a little different. Ten thousand people is just one of the filled stands during a football or even basketball match. Second League. Serbs love sports.

As for the actions on the topic of the article, they also took place. For example – April 15 in memory of Tsar Nicholas II. This is also a feature of the Serbian mentality: in the center of Belgrade, all the main streets are named after princes and kings. Among them was Tsar Nicholas. Serbs call him the man who saved their country from destruction. Let’s try to figure it out.

On November 6, 2014, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia consecrated the monument to Nicholas II in the center of Belgrade. Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, members of the government, as well as representatives of the official Russian delegation took part in the celebrations. The main funding for the project was undertaken by the Russian Military Historical Society (RVIO). This is the third monument to the autocrat in the Serbian capital – earlier a sculpture was installed in the memorial to Russian soldiers who died in the Balkans in World War I, and a bust in the Russian Center for Science and Culture (the so-called “Russian House”). Why is this last Russian tsar who abdicated the throne remarkable for the Serbs?

The motivation is simple. In 1916, Tsar Nicholas II sent Russian troops to the Macedonian front (more precisely, the front of Thessaloniki in Greece): the 2nd and 4th special Russian infantry brigades, totaling approximately 18 thousand people, to assist the Serbian army and jointly repel the Austro-German-Bulgarian attack on Serbia. Our troops were subordinated to the French army and partly to the Serbian, the battles were tedious and hard. In 1918, after the adoption by the Soviet government of the “Decree on Peace”, our soldiers demanded an immediate return to Russia, but the French command stated that this did not apply to Russian troops abroad. As a result, they were divided into three categories: those who agreed to emigrate to France, those who remained in Serbia as wage laborers, and those who demanded a return to Russia (they were sent to North Africa). Most of the combat losses our troops suffered in Greece, where the dead were buried with honors, about 750 more found their last shelter in Serbia.

Monument in honor of the dead Russian soldiers of the Macedonian Front at the Zeytenlik Union Cemetery (Thessaloniki, Greece)

Monument in honor of the dead Russian soldiers of the Macedonian front on Zeytenlik Union Cemetery (Thessaloniki, Greece)

…Historical memory is a great thing. And she does not tolerate distortions or omissions. On October 28, 1944, Marshal Tito declared: “In the battles for Belgrade, the soldiers of the glorious Red Army and our soldiers united to fight together against the Germans. The streets of Belgrade were watered with the blood of the sons of all the peoples of Yugoslavia and the blood of the heroes of the Red Army, the sons of the great Soviet Union. That is why the struggle for Belgrade is of exceptional historical significance.”

However, in Belgrade there is not a single monument to marshals R. Ya. Malinovsky and F. I. Tolbukhin, commanders of the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian fronts, which liberated Yugoslavia. There is no monument there to General Zhdanov, whose tankers were on fire in the streets of Belgrade, having received an order not to shoot at historical buildings! Soviet soldiers saved this city at the cost of their lives, just as they saved Prague, Warsaw and many other European cities.

It’s time for Moscow to get rid of illusions.

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