Richard Kraemer:”Serbia on the edge”

In his analysis about Serbia’s current political standing in the region and the world, Richard Kraemer, a fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Programme, says: “The time has come to openly regard the Republic of Serbia for what it is: A stalwart Russian and Chinese ally run by a semi-authoritarian government that proactively pursues ideologically irredentist territorial expansion in the Western Balkans.”

He claims that today’s Serbia poses a threat to both regional and transatlantic security as it is rapidly building its military while “overtly backing ultranationalist provocateurs in neighboring states, cementing Belgrade’s ties to Moscow, and consolidating partnerships with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Integral to its efforts to actualize the “Greater Serbia” ideology, Serbia’s and Russia’s Orthodox Church leadership cooperate closely and in concert with their political counterparts. Without a significant Westward shift in its orientation, Serbia will continue on an authoritarian trajectory aligned with U.S. adversaries.”

Kraemer goes on to say that “contemporary Serbia presents a quandary for U.S. and European strategists and policymakers. A genuinely democratic and Euro-Atlantic-oriented Serbia has been sought by Brussels and Washington alike. Yet, decades after Yugoslavia’s violent dissolution and related North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) interventions in the 1990s, most Serbians reject NATO cooperation and are lukewarm towards the European Union (EU). Consequently, the U.S. and its democratic allies in Europe are less able to leverage prospective memberships as a means of transatlantic integration. Further complicating relations with Serbia is Aleksandar Vučić’s overt embrace of Beijing and Moscow. “

Kraemer also claims that Vučić’s dependence on China and Russia is a threat to both the US and European security while his “endorsement of ultranationalist narratives and their subversive purveyors continues to intensify discord in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. Its military build-up is gravely disconcerting; Belgrade responds only with specious explanations. The country’s ever-greater reliance on Russian oil and gas as a client and transit state for Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant, puts it at odds with Brussels, Washington, and several Central-Eastern European capitals. Belgrade and Beijing’s economic, technological, and increasingly military cooperation accelerates as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) further entrenches itself in southeast Europe. In sum: Serbia’s expanding alignment with authoritarian powers and regional anti-democratic forces reflects its illiberal worldview and disabling narrative of national victimhood.”

As far as the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina goes, Kraemer says the following:” Crisis is again looming in the Western Balkans. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a member of the country’s presidency, Milorad Dodik, and the Republika Srpska (RS) Assembly in Banja Luka are cooperating in an unprecedented push for state secession; preparations are underway for potential violence.”

Commenting on Montenegro, he says that “the Montenegrin society is arguably more politically divided than ever in its modern history. Recalling the 2016 attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government in Podgorica, there stands the potential for internecine political violence.”

Kraemer claims that Serbia under Vučić is a key source of this instability:”Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) government politically, financially, and culturally aids ultranationalist groups active in its neighboring countries. The SNS government works in tandem with the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), a ceaselessly reliable opponent of greater European/ transatlantic integration, socio-religious tolerance, and the recognition of Kosovo’s statehood. Categorically integral to the Serbian government and church’s machinations is the symbiotic backing that they receive from Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin.”

He goes on to say that “accordingly, there exists a Belgrade-MoscowRusso-SOC triumvirate united in their joint and separate agendas. Together, they have, for decades, strategically fomented bigoted and irredentist messages through local anti-Western/ pro-Russian proxy actors. Their influence operations and propaganda campaigns have succeeded in curbing broader public support for European integration, membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and liberal democracy. These operations produce— and reinforce—ethnically Serb populaces that are largely sceptical of, or opposed to, liberal Western institutions, alternatively backing authoritarian-trending elites beholden to Moscow and, more recently, Beijing.”

Kraemer concludes that “with this groundwork laid, Vučić has positioned Serbia to promptly take advantage of potential conflagration in the region. His objective is Serbia’s territorial expansion, sought at the opportune time.”


About the author:

Richard Kraemer is a Fellow of FPRI’s Eurasia Program and formerly senior program officer for Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey at the National Endowment for Democracy. Previously, he oversaw projects in the aforementioned countries and the Levant at the Center for International Private Enterprise. Earlier, he further taught and researched at the Jagellonian University in Poland. He is also an affiliated expert of the Public International Law and Policy Group, having advised the governments of Georgia and Montenegro. He has a particular interest in the role that democracy assistance plays in the maintenance of U.S. national security.

(N1, 24.03.2022)





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