Politico Playbook Interview with Jelena Milic by Andrew Hanna
Andrew Hanna caught up with Milić, who runs the Belgrade-based think tank Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, one of the staunchest advocates for Serbian membership of both the EU and NATO. Highlights below.
On EU-Serbia relations: Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić “got from Europe what he wanted. He boosted his power in a non-democratic manner. So the EU incentives mean nothing anymore. Unfortunately, they mean nothing to the Serbian public either.”
On the nationalist train incident: “The purpose was to create an incident that would go beyond control that would justify a phone call to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to say ‘do come and intervene here.’ … Whether Mr. Vučić was on board with it or it happened without his knowledge, is not my concern … He does not control the intelligence community and the security system in Serbia. This is why the entire atmosphere is very dangerous.”
On Federica Mogherini’s role in Serbia-Kosovo talks: “They [Serbia] thought that Mogherini would be harsher on the Kosovo side. Unfortunately, she was … I think that we also have to observe these latest incidents together as a pattern, not separately. We had an attempted coup d’etat in Montenegro … You combine that with Prime Minister Vučić’s rhetoric against NGOs and the rhetoric position of Russia in Crimea and ‘little green men’ operations. Right now in Serbia, we’ve had a year-long delegitimization and criminalization of NGOs, parallel with that you have the building up of a Russian case for intervention in Montenegro.”
What role will the US play in defusing tensions? “All these provocations were not there two or three years ago. They are here now when the U.S. is in transition, when Russia has increased its operations in Serbia and when the EU is in total disarray. I think they are really playing with fire and the U.S fireman is not going to jump in this time.”
On the expulsion of Russian agents from Serbia: “I’m still trying to put the puzzle together. I think this the crucial event that happened in the Balkans in the last year with consequences that are still not clear. I think that these people were not expelled from Serbia; they were tipped to leave.”
On Russian boldness in the Balkans: “Putin completed his mission in Ukraine, and now he is moving to Moldova and the Balkans. I think Mr. Trump’s administration, from what we can figure out so far, has this naive assumption that by giving Russia its zone of influence and trying to establish some sort of working relationship on a broad agenda, Russia will stay in their corner. It’s wrong.”