Serbia between EU/NATO and Russia

An interview with Aleksandra Nenadović, Voice of America, 27 October 2016

Nikolai’ Patrushev, Secretary of Russia’s National Security Council, met with Serbia’s President, Prime Minister and other ministers in Belgrade on 25/26 October 2016. The official aim of this visit was to discuss the security situation and options for a military-technical cooperation between Serbia and Russia. Patrushev also proposed a memorandum of understanding on a security cooperation between Serbia and Russia.

The visit coincided with the news that Montenegrin and Serbian police arrested two groups of Serbian citizens who are suspected of preparing a coup against the government of Montenegro.  Montenegro’s decision to join NATO has become a major controversy between the government and several opposition parties. Following a series of mass protests, the opposition alliance “Democratic Front” (Demokratski Front, DF) tried to frame the parliamentary elections of 16 October 2016 as a vote against the NATO membership of Montenegro. The government has claimed that Russia was financing and supporting the DF. Details from the ongoing investigations against the suspected coup-plotters indicate an involvement of Russian actors.

In the interview, I noted that Russia’s current political leadership is interested in using its influence and its hybrid methods of disinformation and covert action to prevent a further enlargement of NATO and to undermine the Europeanization of the Western Balkans. A closer military-technical cooperation between Serbia and Russia would raise doubts about Serbia’s commitment to accede the EU, because the EU has just renewed its sanctions against Russia and has agreed on cooperating with NATO to address hybrid threats from Russia. If Serbia wants to join the EU, Serbia’s government has to progressively align its foreign policy with  the EU’s common positions.

NATO would not categorically oppose a cooperation between Russia and Serbia, but would probably review the extent to which it shares sensitive information with Serbia in its Individual Partnership Action Plan, particularly if the envisaged Russian-Serbian cooperation will also include security services. However, since the Belgrade government is aware of the resonance a memorandum of understanding would cause in the West, it will probably seek to dilute its content and status. Given the current tensions between the West and Russia, little space is left for balancing between the two.

Download the VOA analysis (in Serbian):voa_161027