Sarrazin:”Pro-Russian propaganda is keeping Serbia further away from Europe”

On the occasion of the recent extension of the German Bundeswehr’s mandate in Kosovo, the Welt newspaper published an interview with Manuel Sarrazin, the special envoy of the German government for the Western Balkans in which he spoke about the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, the current situation in Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the strong Russian influence in the region.

Russia in the Balkans as the Schrödinger’s Cat experiment

“Perhaps there is still no agreement between the two sides (about the formation of the Community of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo), but now, at least for the first time, there are concepts on the table about how Serbian interests, on the one hand, and Kosovo’s ability to act as a state, on the other, could be reconciled. Until now, this has always been only a theoretical discussion,” says Sarrazin, while being hopeful that “if we manage to embark onto a positive process and build mutual trust, then we can go very far.”

Answering a question about Moscow’s influence in the Balkans, the German envoy says: “It is relatively clear that Russia has no interest in supporting a peaceful solution. It doesn’t support Serbia per se, but rather wants to keep the European Union busy with conflict and undermine the European future of the Western Balkans.”

Sarrazin notes that one should be careful with hurried assessments: “On the one hand, we hear that Russian influence, especially in North Kosovska Mitrovica, now comes directly from Moscow, that is, no longer through third parties. On the other hand, it can also be a good excuse for the Serbian government, because it can now say: ‘We have nothing to do with it, it’s the Russians’. It’s a bit like Schrödinger’s cat: Russia is there, but nobody can prove to which extent.”

When the interviewing journalist stated that “the EU has been courting Serbia for a long time, especially since the beginning of the war in Ukraine” and asked “then why can’t Serbia commit to the European Union”, Sarazzin replied: “Because we still have a problem with the fact that many political actors are waiting and want to make strategic decisions only when they know how the war in Ukraine will end. I think this is the wrong way. I think now is the time to stand together and commit ourselves unequivocally to Western values, as soon as possible.”

“I am not concerned about the Serbian-German friendship on the economic front. Everyone in Serbia knows where the country will be better off in the future. But the population’s mood and the country’s foreign policy give me a headache. There is so much pro-Russian propaganda there that distances Serbia more and more from Europe,” Sarazzin adds.

To the journalist’s remark that “friendship with Russia can be used to get into a better negotiating position”, he replies that that cannot be ruled out but he also says: “I would take very seriously what is currently happening in Serbian society. I notice this in reporting of many important Serbian media and how many lies are being disseminated. At the same time, there is still a lack of empathy for the people of Ukraine, even though I know that the Serbian people are very good at empathizing.”

Chinese influence

Finally, the German envoy also spoke about China’s influence, assessing that Beijing “understands very well why the Western Balkans is of strategic importance in Europe.”

“Maybe we, in Germany, should be aware of that more often and take a better look at the geographical map. The six Western Balkan countries are positioned in the middle of Europe and are very close to us in many respects. That’s why we, as the federal government, are so committed to that region,” Sarazzin comments.

“I am confident that China is not interested in that region to benefit the Western Balkans, but because of its strategic position and its prospects for EU membership. That’s why we finally have to start a debate on how to get those countries, as soon as they meet the required conditions, to enter the European Union as quickly as possible,” Manuel Sarrazin concludes.

(Deutsche Welle, 15.05.2023)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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