Jelena Milić, CEAS Director, foreword for the fifth issue of the CEAS electronic quarterly The New Century
“Traveling towards the EU is like buying a ticket for the Titanic. On the other hand, one cannot join the EU without joining NATO. NATO is the key for joining the EU. For now it is like this. You cannot be pregnant a little. If you are pregnant, then you are pregnant. This is not written anywhere in public documents, but it is how it happens in practice. And the opinion of some politicians that you can join the EU without joining NATO is very much naïve. Just look at the absurd that we reach. Serbia which has been linked to Russia for thousands of year, and we never went to war against each other, never found ourselves in opposing camps, might now find ourselves in completely opposing camps. I believe that every responsible politician must understand that joining NATO is not a simple move and that he will be held responsible for it before God. Our common history and life is all God-given. We are one orthodox brotherhood. We cannot betray that orthodox brotherhood and have them bring us to pieces. There are two US bases in Bulgaria now. And in line with the rules of the Army Chief of Staff, our rockets are aimed at those bases. Just in case.”
Leonid Reshetnikov, Director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI)
Serbia is faced with a choice – continuation of European integration and cooperation with NATO, as necessary but still insufficient processes for continued democratization of society and catching up with the stable and developed political West; or continuation of Putinization (Jelena Milić, The New Century no.4, August-September 2013), which obviously has support among the Serbian public itself, but is now accompanied by the naked Russian interest to “help” us in that process.
This is why it is good for Serbia that at its December session, the European Council adopted recommendations to have Serbia open negotiations with the EU in January 2014. Let us hope that the same will soon happen with the signing of the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), an agreement between Serbia and NATO through which relations with NATO would raise the level of cooperation from the Ministry of Defense to the Serbian Government level.
When it comes to relations with the EU, it is especially good that the “Negotiating Framework” adopted by EU ministers clearly states that normalization of relations between Belgrade and Prishtina will be included in Chapter 35, “at an early stage of negotiations” on membership with Serbia. It also states that “regulation of relations with Prishtina could be included in other chapters in duly justified cases”, and that “Serbia must ensure that its attitude towards Kosovo does not create barriers or influence Serbia’s implementation of the EU acquis”. That “Serbia will, as part of its efforts to comply with the acquis – the laws and regulations of the Union, specifically ensure that adopted laws, and their geographical ratios, do not work against normalization of relations with Kosovo, is also pointed out. The conclusions of the meeting of EU foreign ministers make it clear that “the Council of Ministers will continue to closely monitor Serbia’s further efforts “for visible and lasting progress in normalization with Kosovo”, with each side continuing its own way and not hindering each other’s’ path towards the EU. In this new phase of relations with the European Union, Serbia must “pay particular attention to rule of law, especially judicial reform and fight against corruption and organized crime, public administration reform, independence of key institution, media freedom, further improvement of business conditions and the economy”. (B92, 17.12.2013.)
It would be good to have Serbian and EU officials interpret the conclusions in the same way from the very start. One gets the impression that the British-German non paper is to a great extent well-woven into the conclusions, which is good for Serbia in the long-term, primarily given the fact that the Brussels Agreement itself is written in a way which leaves a lot of space for arbitrary interpretation.
The same Summit also discussed the future of the EU Common Security and Defense Policy. The Summit in November already adopted a rather extensive set of conclusions in which, among other, the EU is called upon to take more responsibility in guaranteeing security; and for the CSDP to have a strong role in the comprehensive approach of the EU to crisis management; but also that more cooperation between Member States is needed. The focus is also placed on improving the situation in the defense industry, with the reminder that this industry fosters economic growth, innovation and provides jobs. (EU Security and Defence news, issue #76, December 2013)
Significantly less was written in the Serbian media on this part of the Summits work, compared to the famous date of the Intergovernmental Conference, despite the fact that Serbia, in the process of enhancing cooperation and fulfilling the expectations of the EU which relate to the EU CSDP, did a lot in this field in the past period. Or maybe it is precisely because of this, that is, because of the Russians, so little is said on this publicly.
The Republic of Serbia signed two important agreements in the field of security and defense policy with the EU already in 2011:
1. "Agreement between the Republic of Serbia and the EU, which establishes a framework for the participation of the Republic of Serbia in EU operations for crisis management" and
2. "Agreement between the Republic of Serbia and the EU on security procedures for exchanging and protecting classified information". (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia, 04.12.2013)
The mentioned agreements were a prerequisite for participation of Serbian soldiers and police officers in international missions led by the EU, whose number and profile is steadily increasing, which is a multifaceted benefit for Serbia. The Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also points out that the establishment of trust through exchange of classified information with the EU, and the creation of a basis for participation in EU operations, is important in the sense of building a new partnership with the EU in the field of security and defense.
However, it seems that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also other centers where Russian foreign policy is articulated and implemented, whose representatives in Serbia are growing in numbers, primarily the Russian Institute for Strategic Research RISI, have their own view on these agreements as well as on Serbia’s convergence to the primarily to the EU, and not NATO. And there is a growing number of channels for dissemination of these, such as the newly-established Internet portal FAKTI, with unclear ownership structures.
One gets the impression that the pre-existing portals promoting more intensive cooperation between Serbia and Russia, such as Pravda and Nova srpska politička misao, became more active over the past couple of months. They regularly, in synergy, publish articles from FAKTI, and other sources, now on a daily basis, which was previously not the case for a long time. It is similar when it comes to daily newspapers such as the Politika daily and Večernje novosti and the weekly magazine Novi Standard. You can now read in Politika how NATO reminds of the Third Reich (Politika, 14.12.2013.). Unfortunately, the quality of arguments often put forward in support of intensification of Russian-Serbian relations is not always adequate. They do not even shy away from confuting facts such as those related to the volume of trade between Serbia and Russia, especially in comparison with the volume of trade with the EU (Jelena Milić, Blic blog, 14.12.2013.). Facts on the weaknesses of the Russian economy, which even Russian officials no longer hide, are being refused as well. Especially interesting is the one promoted by the first man of the portal FAKTI, a former correspondent from Moscow Djuro Bilbija, that Serbia should establish relations with Russia similar to those that Israel has with the USA. Bilbija oversees the “trivial” $118 billion which the USA, in the form of official grants, gave to Israel since the Second World War (Jeremy M. Sharp, U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, 11.4.2013.).
The majority of the newly-established and resurrected internet portals published a very informative interview with the RISI Director General- Lieutenant Colonel Leonid Reshetnikov, which was recently published, as FAKTI and NSPM say, an influential Moscow newspaper Stoletije. Reshetnikov who was, prior to his arrival at the Institute, Head of the Institute of Information and Analytical Administration of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation, in the mentioned interview, among other, compares RISI with the American RAND Corporation (NSPM, 16.10.2013.).
Reshetnikov became better known to the Serbian public when, during the summer, at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Belgrade University, whose pro-Russian infrastructure the Center for Russian Studies also recently resurrected, assessed that “Serbia has a choice – you are either on the Titanic or on our boat. Our boat may survive, but the Titanic will surely sink!” (Novi Standard, 11.6.2013.). The Titanic is, by the way, the EU and the political West in general. He gained Serbian glory in fall, when he directly accused the Serbian Minister of Energy, Zorana Mihajlović, for the sabotage of the South Stream (RTV, 6.11.2013.).
Somewhat at the same time when Reshetnikov compared the EU with the Titanic, the formally quieter Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev, one of the most important and closes associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin was on a visit to Serbia (Akter, 23.6.2013.). Prior to his arrival to the position of “Chief of all Russian secret services”, he headed the famous Russian Federal Security Service. The focus of the meeting that Patrushev had with Serbian high officials was cooperation in the field of security and defense. That topic was also one of the main points of the Agreement on strategic partnership between Russia and Serbia finally signed prior to his visit. Official sources report that the possibility of exchange of security information in the fight against terrorism and organized crime was also discussed during the visit, as well as plans for further joint projects and investments in the defense industry.
One gets the impression that precisely since that visit, which passed quite quietly among the Serbian public, having in mind Patrushev’s influence, as well as how often, when and where he travels, as well as what happens in those countries afterwards, a wave of naked Russian pressure on Serbia began. That too, is also good for Serbia in the long-term because Serbian-Russian relations finally began to be seriously debated among the Serbian and international public, but only if Serbia continues the process of European integration and cooperation with NATO.
The wave, whose sea foam – the position of Srbijgas Director Dušan Bajatović and his discussions with Minister of Energy Zorana Mihajlović, which culminated with a denial of the Ministry that Gazprom signed off $50 million of debt (Blic online, 17.12.2013), followed by undiplomatic statements of Shoygu and Russian Ambassador to Serbia Alexander Chepurin which were extensively written on (Jelena Milić, Less is also more than the “30 pieces of silver” mister Chepurin, it is a pity that you do not understand, 17.10.2013.), resulted in the signing of two Russian-Serbian Agreements.
The first one, the Agreement in the field of defense between Russian and Serbia was signed by the Serbian and Russian Defense Ministers, Nebojša Rodić and Sergey Shoygu, during Shoygu’s rather spectacular visit to Belgrade in mid-November. The Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić obviously had an exceptionally difficult task of defending the policy of Serbian military neutrality from Russian expectations. “Serbia will not join NATO, but neither will it join the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty which is under the umbrella of Moscow. Her goal is to be militarily neutral country”, Vučić stressed at the time.
The influential Večernje novosti evaluated the signing of the agreement as “After a dull decade and a half, this Agreement defines the relations of armed forces of these two countries on an entirely new basis. Although it is an umbrella agreement, based on which further military agreements will be negotiated, already now, its first results will be cooperation in the field of aviation, air defense and ground troops. Indications of a stronger partnership are joint exercises, but participation of armored units of the Serbian Armed Forces has also been announced at the tank competition which is to be held next year in Russia. Building stronger relations between the Serbian Armed Forces and the Armed Forces of Russia is envisioned as well. (Večernje novosti, 13.11.2013.)
Although some military analysts presented this agreement as relatively generalized and less important (Radio Slobodna Evropa, 13.11.2013.), they should certainly pay attention to it, as well as to future activities in intensifying military cooperation between Serbia and Russia, on time.
The second agreement, also uncomfortably non-transparent, is the Agreement on construction of the South Stream through Serbia, which was followed by an unusually fast commencement of operations on it (Večernje novosti, 24.11.2013.).
Serbia and the Russian Federation actually signed three contracts on the South Stream – a protocol on the loan, a contract on transport and a contract on carrying out activities of public interest. It appears that there is no consensus on the legal content of any of the three mentioned contracts. Whether Russia banned Serbia for crediting its part of investment in the South Stream from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) remains an open question, as well as whether the gas connection at Niš is built using grants from the European Fund for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA). Similar is the situation regarding the agreements Russia signed with EU Member States, through which the South Stream is supposed to pass, and their harmony with EU policies, primarily the framework of the famous Energy Community of South-East Europe.
Based on a series of interpretations of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, on the primacy of individual agreements and European legislation, the only thing that could be concluded is that even the Russians themselves are not sure in the stability of the mentioned contracts, and that the route of the pipeline through Serbia is gaining importance precisely because of this. In Heller’s famous book “Catch 22” there is a part when and American soldier and a skilled smuggler explains how he buys eggs at 18 cents, sells them for 16, and earns 4 cents for each egg. Here is what Medvedev says on the relation of the mentioned contracts: “From an international law point, EU laws represent national legislation, and intergovernmental agreements between Russia and EU Member States are regulated by international law. In international law, and law as a whole, there is a principle of primacy of international law over national legislation.”
Regardless of how much the pro-Russian lobby in Serbia tried to explain how Russia is doing Serbia a favor with having the pipeline go through us, perhaps even ambiguously through us, and not Romania, it seems that there is another reason behind this decision. In this way the pipeline does not pass EU Member States’ territory exclusively, which would probably strengthen the position of the EU in the ever more obvious dispute with Russia, on the legal foundations of the South Stream. EU officials have only recently started publicly speaking about the conundrums associated with the project. Both the Russian and the EU position, as well as the entire confusion and timing of when this question if finally opened leave a saddening and worrying impression. Deputy Director General for the Internal Energy Market at the European Commission, Klaus Dieter Borhart, stated only in mid-December at a conference on the South Stream that the bilateral contracts which the Russian Gazprom concluded with states involved in the South Stream project, among which is Serbia as well, are contrary to EU regulations and that they need to be renegotiated (B92, 10.12.2013.), to which the EU Member States to which this applies agreed. On the other hand, Bajatović is adamant that there will be no renegotiations (Tanjug, 5.12.2013.). Nevertheless, the position of the EU was reiterated by the European Commissioner for Energy, Günther Oettinger, who stated "Serbia is a member of our energy community and must accept our market rules. Serbia's accession negotiations with the EU, which should start at the same time as the EU-Russia negotiations on the revision of the contracts are two linked and parallel processes. Next month in Moscow I will meet with the Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak in order to start nagotiations on the revision of bilateral agreements in accordance with the mandate I was given by the Member States. There will no longer be a bilateral". (Blic online, 19.12.2013.)
News that officials from the region of the Western Balkans signed a Memorandum of Understanding between Azerbaijan, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro on cooperation in the project consortium Shah Deniz on the initiation of construction of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which will supply the south of Europe with gas from the Caspian Sea lakes, have been almost entirely suppressed in Serbia (Al Jazeera Balkans, 17.12.2013.). For some reason, it will turn out that this also has to do with the systemic Russian-Serbian deception of the public about the scale, importance and conditions under which Serbia agreed to the construction of the South Stream, as well as about the costs of energy in world markets (Blic online, 19.12.2013.).
The signing was also welcomed by the European Commission. On the day when everyone in Serbia was waiting to hear what Brussels will say on when and how negotiations between Serbia and the EU will commence, no one in Serbia, intentionally or not, paid attention to this statement of the European Commission on the matter (Europa press releases database, 17.12.2013.). The Politika daily reports that the documents signed in Baku encompassed investment decisions related to the project Shah Deniz, as well as the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). Total value of these projects is $35 million. The European Commission announced that in the long run, the decision on the project could ensure 20 per cent of Europe’s gas needs. The Shah Deniz is expected to deliver 16 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe by 2019, including six billion to Turkey. By exporting 150 billion cubic meters, Gazprom covers a quarter of Europe’s gas needs. As a reaction to Europe’s intention to acquire gas supplies from the Caucasus, Gazprom initiated a $39 billion project South Stream, which will deliver gas to northern Italy by 2015, going under the Black Sea. “Pipelines Shah Deniz and the Southern Corridor will not only change the energy map, but will also enable consumers in Europe direct access to gas resources from Azerbaijan for the first time”, said Bob Dudley, one of the managers of British Petroleum at the ceremony. TANAP will be built from the Turkish-Georgian border to Turkey’s border with Europe, with the preliminary price of $20 billion (Politika, 18.12.2013.). For Serbia, which is currently in a media black hole from which, just as from the Russian embrace, it must urgently escape if it wants recovery, this is perhaps most important in terms of Russians and the world: “European buyers are fighting to find alternatives to the Russian gas giant Gazprom, whose contracts are tied to the price of oil, which often makes is more costly compared to spot markets.” In short, the rest of the world ties the price of gas to gas, which is more readily available and cheaper (Blic online, 19.12.2013.).
The American Foreign Affairs (Foreign Affairs, 17.12.2013.) sees the signing of the Memorandum a lesson for the EU that when it tries for something hard enough, it can achieve extraordinary results, which the signing of the mentioned agreement in fact is. It is suggested that in the same way it refused to give up on Caspian gas, the EU should neither give up on its influence in former states of the former Soviet Union. Hardly anything is said on the Balkans. The USA is, on the other hand, criticized for focusing nearly all of its attention on Iran, instead of keeping it on the post-Soviet Eurasia as well. Russian missiles Iskander M (SS 26 STONE, NATO classification) deployed first in Kaliningrad, followed by deployment in the southern Russian army district, seem to have finally returned greater US interest in all of Europe, along with that related to the trade agreement with the EU, which was also systemically ignored in the Serbian public, and the construction of the missile shield (Večernje novosti, 17.12.2013.). Let’s remind ourselves that at last year’s NATO Summit in Chicago, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that NATO plans to establish a complete “anti-missile umbrella” over Europe by 2022. NATO’s so-called “European shield” involves deployment of the most advanced US anti-missile systems Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), also including the most sophisticated mobile radar observation system with X -band over horizon 3D effect - AN/TPY-2 (E-novine, 17.12.2013.). The Russians did not like this one single bit, and when the chance arose to slowly establish communication between the West and Iran, they showed that very explicitly.
Serbia, as the abovementioned, superficially follows the saddening developments in Ukraine, which has also balanced and traded between Russia and the EU for long, reducing everything to short-term economic benefit, ignoring the transformative effects of European integration. In Serbia, no one has officially publicly commented on the brutality of the Ukrainian authorities against the protesters, or on the systemic reduction of the number of protesters in Kiev in pro-Russian press. The Ukrainian opposition requests the details of the agreement with Russia, that is, to hear what Ukraine gave in return. In Serbia there is no opposition. The American POLITICO concludes that Putin just bought himself an entire state (POLITICO, 17.12.2013.). Maybe the question is whether Ukraine is the first one at all, and certainly the question is whether it will be the last one that Putin puts under his own rule in this manner.
Serbia does not even superficially follow another saddening story, that of a paralyzing political crisis and the Putinization of Bulgaria (Javor Siderov, The New Century no.4, August-September), even though it is a member of the EU and NATO in which Russians are very much present. And it should. Just as the EU and NATO should follow it more carefully.
It remains to be seen how all of the above will affect negotiations between Serbia and the EU. It seems that it is precisely this new phase of relations between Serbia and the EU, already previously expected to commence at the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014, that was the main target of the Russian wave of naked pressure from which we have not yet managed to pull out of, and not Serbia’s eventual membership in NATO, which is far-fetching anyway. Official Belgrade, it seems, is still trying to balance between the EU and Russia, which is very dangerous and must end soon, if we wish for Serbia to move forward, which also means choosing full EU integration. The fact that dissemination of poor and inaccurate arguments in debates on the future of Serbian-Russian relations can be interpreted as a sign of weakness as well, should not have us deceived. A weak and still value-confused Serbia can be seduced even by weak Russia, and the formal processes of cooperation with the EU and NATO can easily become a dead letter.
* The title Sad Stream is a game of words from the Serbian title for the pipeline - “Južni tok“ where upon replacing the first letter of the pipeline’s title it is spelled „Tužni tok“, which translates to „Sad Stream“.