Why Putin should not come to Serbia*

by Jelena Milić, Al Jazeera Balkans, 15.10.2014.

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Instead of Serbia slowing down the pace of strengthening its bilateral relations with Russia, it is intensifying them.

The debate on the visit of Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, to Serbia is reduced mainly to the question of whether it is inappropriate to move the Day of Liberation of Belgrade, due to his busy schedule, whether it is financially appropriate to hold a military parade in a country that barely maintains its budgetary expenditures, and if it is to be held, whose hallmarks should be allowed. the public is, in parallel, being lied to, with assessments that the EU and the political West in general have no objections to this visit. As an example, Putin’s presence at the celebration of D-Day in Normandy in June of this year is cited.
The political West has, during July and August, thus after the Normandy celebrations, introduced a third round of sanctions related to restrictive trade measures to the Russian energy sector and defense industry. And these are precisely the fields in which the signing of bilateral cooperation agreements is announced during Putin’s blitzkrieg visit to Serbia. Instead of having Serbia slowing down the pace of announced strengthening of bilateral relations with Russia from this moment and at least in these fields, it is intensifying it, being the only country in Europe to send its soldiers to a military exercise Dance of Tanks, announcing another one at the end of the year, a second one following Ravanica in 2014 held only with Russia.
Even a step further is taken, an simultaneously with a silent acknowledgment that an IPAP with NATO is expected, an increase in operability with Russian armed forces is announced, and as a pinnacle, a military parade is organized, again, only with Russian „colleagues“.
What is worrying is that the Serbian state leadership is more than aware that in the political West this is not looked upon favorably, and yet it still goes on. Why? Because it is lying that it wants to move towards the EU, or because it is somehow blackmailed by Russia and it cannot say no?
A controversial role
What is also worrying is that individuals in the opposition consider Putin as „a great leader“, but that only at this moment it is not convenient to have him drop by, as Zoran Živković said. How do you measure the leadership of a politician except by whether he leads his country and the international community in a democratic or in a dictatorial method of rule? It is also worrying that many civil society organizations, even those who have for moths, to the smallest detail, coordinated the role of NGOs in the process of negotiations with the EU, are not louder in alarming the public that support for EU integrations fell below 50 percent, nor are they more efficient in stopping this trend.
They should have indicated on time that for this, the increasingly loud and more numerous Putin’s Orchestra in Serbia and the allegedly pro-EU part of the Serbian authorities is to blame, who present EU expectations of candidate states, who entered the integration process voluntarily and democratically, as „pressure“. The public should also be warned in a more systematic and louder manner that the EU and Member States will not look favorably upon Putin’s visit and other anti-EU trends, which is additionally threatening to internal support for integrations.
In the meantime, because Russia is not respecting the cease-fire in Ukraine, announcements on cancellation of bilateral meetings of senior representatives of EU Member States with Putin are increasing in number. Aunts need their medicines. Due to the abovementioned, Putin should by no means be coming to Serbia at this moment in time, not to mention receiving a medal, signing bilateral agreements on energy and defense, and giving special status to the base in Niš, the so-called Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Center, through which this Center is de facto handed over to Putin and Russia.
The Center same already played a controversial role several years ago in supplying para-police and para-military units of civil defense in Northern Kosovo, suspected to have played a part in clashes with KFOR.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivica Dačić, announced the other day that, in fact, during Putin’s visit, a diplomatic agreement granting the Center „the same status granted by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which Serbia has with the USA and other states“ will be signed, pertaining to the „benefits, privileges and immunity of the Center and its staff“, comparing it with the various agreements Serbia has with different states on this matter, among others, with the USA – the SOFA.
SOFA is an agreement between a host country and a foreign nation on stationing military forces in that country. SOFAs often complement other types of military agreements, as part of a comprehensive security arrangement. However, independently, SOFA does not constitute a security arrangement; it establishes the rights and privileges of foreign personnel present in a host country in support of the larger security arrangement.
Dačić knows very well that it is at the least unusual to compare the announced new legal status of a humanitarian non-military base and its staff with standardized documents concerning the status of armed forces in a country, and yet that is exactly what he does. SOFA does not provide diplomatic immunity of armed forces of the country it is signed with. It is an agreement that determines how the USA military, or the military of another country, will operate in the host country, and how legal claims against military personnel or the Ministry of Defense of the guest country will be handled. SOFA makes these procedures transparent to the Government of the host country; in this case, the Government of Serbia. Therefore, SOFA is actually the opposite of diplomatic status.
On the other hand, the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Center in Niš, according to the Law on Ratification of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Government of the Russian Federation on the establishment of the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Center in Niš, is an inter-governmental, non-profit organization that enjoys the rights of a legal entity registered in the host country, and which may, with the accession of new participants, be assigned international coordination functions. However, there has been no accession of other participants yet, nor cooperation with European institutions, and therefore the Center does not have an international character, as the Serbian and Russian statesmen falsely claim.
The Center is registered as a legal entity in the Republic of Serbia in accordance with its national legislation. In addition, the Law stipulates that Russian personnel in the Center, during their stay in the territory of the Republic of Serbia, enjoys a legal status determined for the administrative and technical staff of the Embassy of the Russian Federation, in accordance with the Vienna Convention – as is, indeed, also provided by the Law on Ratification of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Government of the United States on protection of the status and access and use of military infrastructure in the Republic of Serbia.
Therefore, the current solution is not in dispute here, however, the need for assigning a special, diplomatic, extraterritorial status to the Center and immunity to its personnel remains unclear. Such a status can by no means comparable with an official agreement on the status of military forces in a third country which Serbia has signed with the USA, given the legal framework.
It will turn out that the issue at hand is not the ignorance of Minister Dačić and the Serbian Government, but all the more apparent insistence of Russia to boost military cooperation in the security-defense sector, which Serbia, for various reasons, cannot or does not want to resist, at a time when due to non-compliance with the peace agreement with Ukraine, the Western international community is considering greater compliance of candidate countries for membership in the EU with the official, common EU policies. As the President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolić knows that the EU has a common policy in some areas, but deliberately lies to the public that this is not the case.
Against the will of the citizens
However, apart from the mentioned phenomena that are worrying, and which have only been made bare by the forthcoming Putin’s visit, there are those that directly endanger Serbian integrations in the EU. The fall in support for integrations will certainly be used by Putin’s Orchestra to accuse the authorities in Serbia, as well as the EU, that it is pulling Serbia towards the West against the will of the citizens, referring to the new situation in the field. In the economic, financial and security sector in Serbia there are, primarily, many who do not see Serbia’s approximation to the EU as suitable. Why? Because it implies strong financial control of government grants among other things, and it has already been announced that Chapter 32 will be among the first to be opened.
Further EU integrations also increase the certainty of expectation for continuation of war crimes and crimes against humanity trials, as well as the establishment of democratic control of the system, which does not suit many in Serbia’s security system and state top. On the other hand, other than the vulture-like-economic, Putin also has other reasons for smothering, not only Serbian but generally, EU integrations across the Balkans. Through this he provokes the West and discredits the EU, demonstrating to his citizens that requests for greater democracy are no longer popular in Europe. The synergy of these common objectives, although with different interests, can be fatal for Serbia.
October 16, because of the abovementioned, will not see the marking of the „liberation of Belgrade from Fascism“, but paves the way for the occupation of Serbia by Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian Russia. If you consider this evaluation as too strong, remember Crimea and the Russian bases there. This is how it begins these days, with Russia and Putin.
* Unofficial CEAS translation. The original article is available here.