December 22, 2015

The Kremlin's Western Balkan “Reserve” Front

In view of the Kremlin's strategy to split the European Community on the basis of promoting anti-ISIS and business-energy platforms, as well as implementation into relations with the West of the tactics of “rate increase”, in Putin's environment are periodically discussed and revised plans for turning the Western Balkans into the next theater of “hybrid” confrontation on the European continent.

Protests in Macedonia, May 2015In this context, it should be said that in the spring of this year, Moscow already tried to destabilize the situation in Macedonia. However, the European Union and the United States managed to (thanks to a coordinated policy) neutralize Russia's subversive activities in Macedonia, whose leadership continues its policy of joining the EU and NATO, and has suspended cooperation with Russia in the sphere of gas transit.

Therefore, in the second half of 2015 the Kremlin strategists-advocates intensified their covert actions to destabilize the political situation in the Western Balkans, specifically using the pro-Russian forces, which traditionally have a high level of support in a number of the former Yugoslav republics, especially in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Republika Srpska) and Montenegro.

 

Of course, as the “base” country to impose its influence in the region, the Russian side has chosen Serbia. Russian secret services constantly inform the President of the Russian Federation on an unprecedented high as for the candidate country for accession to the EU, level of pro-Russian and anti-Western sentiments. V. Putin is being assured that, despite the material and pragmatic support by the majority of population of the State of the course to the EU, Serbian citizens have mainly anti-Western moods.

The Russian Intelligence Service and FSB believe that in the society and political circles in Serbia there remain stable bias towards NATO because the Alliance in 1999 bombed the territory of the country within the framework of “Operation Allied Force” in order to stop Belgrade's ethnic cleansing of Albanian population in Kosovo. The most negative position with regard to cooperation with the Alliance has been taken by the pro-Russian nationalist forces — the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), the Serbian People's Party, the Patriotic Movement “Obraz” (Dignity), and the Serbian National Movement “Nashi”, which are also antagonists of the European integration course.

As the “base” country to impose its influence in the region, the Russian side has chosen Serbia

At Lubyanka, Khodynka and Yasenevo such sentiments are explained by their organization and holding in the last decade of systematic implementation of Russia's strategy to involve the official Belgrade into Russia's sphere of cultural, humanitarian and religious influence with the help of “soft power”.

In the Kremlin, they rely on historically close and allied relations between Belgrade and Moscow, on the Serbian and Russian peoples' similar post-imperial traumas caused by the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union, on Moscow's absolute support to the extremely unpopular in the West Belgrade's position on Kosovo and problematic aspects of Serbia's relationships with some neighboring countries, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC)'s cultivation among Serbian citizens of the feeling of Orthodox pan-Slavic union with Russia, Belgrade's being interested in the maximum assistance from the ROC in sensitive for the SOC issues related to institutionalization of independent from it Macedonian and Montenegrin Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.

Russian special services do not mind using political blackmail against the leading party of the ruling coalition of “progressists” (Serbian Progressive Party), and maximizing the use of pro-Russian media resources to strengthen the more radical anti-Western opposition, first of all of the DSS. The Serbian “democrats'” pro-Kremlin positions in foreign policy is seen in particular, in the case of their leader S. Raskovic-Ivic, who visited the Crimea at the end of October to support Russia's annexation of this region of Ukraine.

A. Vučić meeting with D. Medvedev, October 2015In the case of “taming” the official Belgrade, Putin's environment is trying to use the desire of the Serbian leadership to strengthen the military potential of the country. Thus, at the end of October during the Serbian Prime Minister and leader of the Serbian Progressive Party A. Vucic's official visit to Russia, Belgrade and Moscow agreed on activation of the security and military-technical cooperation, including redeployment of the Russian MiG-29 aircraft with Russian crews, supply of artillery systems, and so on, and also agreed on the visit to Serbia of the curator of the Serbian direction in the government of the Russian Federation — Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Rogozin, and Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Most analysts believe that the Serbian government is using the intensification of partnership relations with Russia, first of all, as a factor of pressure on the ruling elites of the European Union in an attempt to get more favorable conditions in the implementation of its European integration course. At the same time, the Serbian side is interested in the support of the Russian Federation as a permanent member of the UN Security Council in matters of Kosovo and Bosnian issues, in particular in blocking Pristina's joining international organizations and non-unanimous recognition at the UN level of the mass genocide of the Muslim population in Srebrenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina), committed by the military units of Bosnian Serbs in 1995.

 

MontenegroMontenegro as an object of influence of the Russian Federation has been chosen due to the fact that, unlike Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, it has supported the EU sanctions against the Russian Federation and, despite Russia's persistent admonitions, has refused to sign a bilateral agreement on letting the RF Navy use the port of Bar.

After on the 2nd of December, 2015, Foreign Ministers of NATO member countries offered to enter into negotiations on the country's accession to the Alliance, it is easy to foresee the Kremlin's reciprocal steps. And first of all, that the Russian side will activate the methods of “hybrid warfare” in an effort to prevent the country's joining NATO and not to let M. Dukanovic's government implement the course towards Euro-Atlantic integration.

“Moderators” of anti-government protests in Montenegro have been pro-Russian and pro-Serbian political forces

It is with this purpose that the Kremlin initiated the mass anti-government actions in September and October this year, using the potential of “soft power” in the state, in particular, the existing division of the population into pro-Western majority, consisting mainly of representatives of the titular nation, and the pro-Russian minority, which includes mostly ethnic Serbs. “Moderators” of anti-government protests have been pro-Russian and pro-Serbian political forces, members of the opposition alliance “Democratic Front”, first of all, Socialist People's Party of Montenegro (leader — S. Milic), the party of New Serb Democracy led by A. Mandic, as well as the non-governmental organization “Movement for the Neutrality of Montenegro”. At this, the pro-Russian opposition uses in it propaganda campaign real facts of corruption of representatives of the leadership of Montenegro.

Despite this, M. Dukanovic's government controls the situation in the country and enjoys the support of the pro-Western majority society believing that the prospects of Montenegro, including in the context of the intensification of the fight against corruption, are connected with the country's integration into NATO and the EU.

 

Federation of Bosnia and HerzegovinaIn the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), the Russian side implements its plan to keep this country in the “split” state by encouraging irredentist (unrealized nationalist) moods in the Republika Srpska. For this purpose, Russia uses the larger than in Serbia, level of pro-Russian sentiments among the Bosnian Serbs, as well as inefficiency and corruption (the greatest in the Western Balkans) of the confederal state authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Thus, the recent mass protests of the Muslim-Croat population of the FBiH against the abuses of the local authorities ended in the resignation of some corrupt politicians of the FBiH, while in the Republika Srpska the determining factor is not an anti-corruption but nationalist political discourse. The Bosnian Serbs believe that Belgrade “betrayed” them as A. Vucic's government intensified partnership contacts with the authorities of the FBiH confederal government, publicly declaring its support for the national unity of the country.

Besides, residents of the Serbian enclave more willing support Moscow's revanchist policy in the former Soviet Union, especially with regard to Ukraine, projecting their irredentist and separatist aspirations at the Russian annexation of the Crimea. In turn, the Kremlin organizationally and financially supports a network of local pro-Kremlin structures, in particular, the Serbian People's Movement “Our Choice” and the association “Honor for the Motherland”. The leading pro-Russian force is the ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), headed by President of the Republika Srpska M. Dodik.

President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik

Russia encourages irredentist moods in the Republika Srpska

Moscow uses the aspirations of the ruling elite of the Bosnian Serbs, supporting it on the international stage, while promoting its own interests regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina in the political and economic sphere. At this, M. Dodik, who during his stay in office (since 2010) has been visiting Russia a few times a year, conducting coordinated with the Kremlin policy of promoting Russian business in the Republika Srpska and disrupting the reforms needed for the implementation of the official Sarajevo's European integration course.

In order to strengthen its dominating position in the local political circles, M. Dodik and his associates use the slogans of Serb nationalism and irredentism. However, the true aim of the course of the SNSD party leaders — according to experts in international law — is to prevent the investigation by law enforcement agencies of the FBiH of their corruption and to ensure their continued presence in the leadership. For this purpose, M. Dodik started endless “bargaining” with politicians, representing Bosnian Muslims and Croats. Recent evidence of this became twists and turns around the appointed by the leadership of Republika Srpska for November 15, but never held referendum on the status of non-recognition of the supreme status of the Court and the Prosecutor's Office of the FBiH, despite the fact that this initiative enjoys the Kremlin's political and financial support.

 

So, according to experts of the Borysfen Intel, in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Kremlin consistently feeds and controls “interrelated” processes of building up and /or attenuation of internal instability in the Western Balkans, in the zone of the Russian Federation's strategic military, political and energy interests (in South-Eastern Europe). For this purpose, Russia resorts to “hybrid” methods of destabilization of the situation: inspires ethnic and religious conflicts, military-political, economic and energy pressures, blackmails the local ruling elites with facts of their involvement in corrupt practices, and artificially fuels anti-immigrant and xenophobic attitudes in these countries.

Moreover, the Western direction of Russia's actions is directly in line with the Kremlin's policy in Syria, as building of internal and security instability in the Western Balkans is creating new (mainly migratory) challenges for the national interests of EU member states like Germany, Austria and Italy, so Moscow is trying to persuade their leaderships to lobby in European institutions lifting of economic sanctions against Russia, in exchange for the Kremlin's giving up further destructive actions in the region. Putin's environment expects to receive a “blocking stake of influence” on the situation in Serbia and the Republika Srpska of the FBiH, as well as to make Belgrade and Sarajevo permanently abandon the course to NATO membership.