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Project Monitoring Russia Serbia Relations Second Roundtable held on 21 April 2009 at Medija centar Belgrade.
Full media file from the Roundtable can be watched here.

On 21 April 2009 ISAC Fund organized the Second Roundtable within the framework of the project "Monitoring Russia Serbia Relations". The ISAC Fund also presented two of its latest publications - Reports on monitoring Russia Serbia relations. These can be downloaded here.

The Roundtable was a significant event in Serbia, as it gave the opportunity to the Serbian people to hear well-known analysts and scientists from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and Serbia and their views on Russian-Serbian relations. Panelists at the Roundtable were: Modest Kolerov, PhD, Director and Editor-in-Chief of the Information Agency Regnum, Moscow, Nikolay Petrov, PhD, Scholar-in-Residence with the Moscow Carnegie Center, Yaroslav Pylynskyi, PhD, Director of the Kennan Kyiv Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars from Kiev Ukraine, Dusan Reljic, PhD, Senior Research Associate, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin and Aleksey Timofeev, Institute for Modern History of Serbia, Belgrade.

1. Participants of the panel discussion on Contemporary Russia, its Neighborhood Region(s) of Privileged Interests;

Zarko Petrovic, ISAC Fund Consultant for Russia and the CIS moderated this topic and stressed at the beginning the four main questions about the contemporary Russia, its neighborhood and region(s) of privileged interests, as well as about Russian values vis a vis the western values.

Nikolay Petrov linked Russia's internal and foreign politics and pointed out that, especially in the last eight years, institutions of the system in Russia weakened, due to the President's policy of replacing institutions with substitutions, which have no legitimacy. Today's Russia, according to Petrov, is over - centralized and over - bureaucratized state, with absence of checks and balances with its system consequently inefficient. Although this has not been such a big problem during the time of the economic prosperity in Russia, because the inefficiency has been compensated with huge finances but now, in the time of the crisis the money is running out and the scale of the problem is emerging. According to Petrov, Russia's real problem lies in the core of its political system and not in the economy, as it is often suggested by the Russian politicians who now, in the time of the economic crisis, deal only with economic aspect of the problem. It is the political system that needs modernization and improvement.

Russia's elites, according to Petrov, are divided into "keepers" and "doers". Keepers who constitute majority would like to wait until the time the economic crisis will be over, hoping that Russia will return to the situation as it was before the crisis. Doers, on the other hand, would like to change something immediately. Within doers, visible is a further division to those who suggest isolationism from the rest of the world, whose number is unfortunately higher than the number of those liberal doers who are suggesting liberalization and Russian participation in the globalization.

Apart from the economic crisis, Russia has two other crises: The first is the crisis connected to the acceptance of the new economic model. In 2007 a state corporation concept was adopted in Russia and the model comprises of huge investments into large projects resembling the industrialization of the 1940s and 1950s. This is, in Petrov's view, a flawed concept, which is not up for review in Russia anymore. The second crisis is connected to the foreign policy concept put forward in August 2008 in Georgia, which is also flawed according to Petrov. This concept is connected to the NATO expansion, Kosovo issue and decision making in Russian neighborhood without the participation of Russia and it resulted in the new policy and concept of the 'zone of privileged interest'. This, according to Petrov, is a Russian reaction to the Western policy to pass decision in Russia's neighborhood without Russian participation. This concept is, according to Petrov somewhat understandable and logical, regardless of the fact that it was overstated in August of last year.

In connection to values, Petrov emphasized that, traditionally speaking, the state is more important in Russia than the individual, and this is difficult to change in short time, but this is changing. Young people in Russia today have similar views as young people in the West. The question of values is connected to the issue of Russia's soft power, which hardly exists today, because of the lack of strategic thinking in Russia. The soft power concept, according to Petrov, requires strategic approach of the state.

In Russian political thought there is a view that the internal politics develops separately from the foreign policy. Changes in internal politics are inevitable in Russia but one should not expect them until the money, accumulated during the time of prosperity, runs out. Besides, one of Petrov's conclusions is that Russia will not return to the situation before the crisis.

Russia, according to Modest Kolerov lives in the time when global economy, investments and capitalism have died out. During the last 20 years Russia had to deal with neighbors who are guided by principles of both economic and political nationalism.

There are few proposals about how to modernize Russia in the time of crisis. In the time of the current crisis economic nationalism and turning towards internal demand is an ordinary thing even for Europe. The issue, according to Kolerov is not whether there is or there isn't authoritarian system in Russia, but the issue is that Russia, like everyone else in the world, was not ready for the economic crisis. The most progressive industrial branches, those which underwent capitalization in the West, were the first to fall as a result of the crisis. Therefore there is a natural orientation towards the internal demand and there is no political context in this.

Kolerov sees discussions at the time of the economic crisis as a talk between ruling bureaucratic liberals, bureaucratic Europeans and bureaucratic sovereignty - oriented elites. The system of political parties in Russia for a long time, corresponds to the system in Europe, especially in light of the fact that political parties in the way they existed in the 19 century have disappeared. Today, they are either political groups, or clubs or organized election groups.

As far as media in Russia is concerned, Kolerov pointed out that the state television converted itself in the means of a mass - cult, but that 90% of the press is oppositional and that the percentage of the internet media public equals to the percent of the printed media public.

In Russia, foreign policy is determined by the President and not by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The new Foreign Policy Concept from 2008, which the President of Russia determined falls behind the reality for ten years. Only last year it was recognized what Russia was doing all this time in the region of its privileged interest - to protect its interest in neighboring states in the region of privileged interests. Kolerov deems that this is not imperialism but a minimum protection of its house at its doorstep. The privileged interests of Russia are, according to Kolerov, the transit zone and security zone, among other things in this region. The concept of privileged interests is a copy of the US Monroe doctrine. The New Neighborhood and Eastern Partnership are also only a region of privileged interests of the EU. The difference, however, lies in the fact that countries which take part in the Eastern Partnership will not pass political decisions but will delegate its sovereignty to the EU, as Georgia and Ukraine already did by turning a military control over its armies to NATO. Finally, arch-factors of the Russian Foreign Policy are that many foreign economic projects are developed independently from the internal policy. According to Kolerov, this is wrong.

The basic thing that Serbia should expect from Russia, according to Kolerov, is that Russia re-confirms its investment projects, although, considering the complex relations between Russia and Ukraine, it seems that these energy projects, anyway, do not have alternative for Russia.

As far as the issue of Kosovo is concerned, the position of Russia was not planned and neither was its plan of action. The position of Russia on Kosovo was rather moral than pragmatic, but Russia has been intellectually ready for the Kosovo problem. Considering that the most skeptical and pessimistic prognosis for Kosovo seems like the most accurate one, Kolerov believes that the membership of Serbia in EU and NATO has no alternative. However, the accession to the EU does not guarantee the territorial integrity of Serbia.

Finally, Kolerov underscored that Russia is not an empire and that it cannot and shall not purchase love from anyone. Speaking about Ukraine, he said that Russia does not need pro - Russian, but pro - Ukrainian Ukraine. Kolerov expressed skepticism about the thesis that Europe is the bearer of the European values and about the existence of Europeans, which is, according to him, a myth. His view is that values must not be turned into a commodity. What Russia has and what is valuable for the world is great science and culture and real multi ethnic state. Kolerov deems that in the near future economic and political degradation is possible, which is why explosion of nationalism and internal strife is possible, so Russia has no other choice but to be strong.

Dusan Reljic emphasized that the US and NATO won a clear victory in a struggle for influence in the Balkans. There is a statement of the then President of the Russia Putin from 2001, given at Slatina airport in Pristina that Russia has, in the region of the South East Europe strategic interest in geopolitical sense and in cultural and religious kinship with peoples from the South East Europe. The incumbent Russian President Medvedev stated on 1 September 2008 that states which are in the region of Russia's privileged interest do not necessarily need to border with Russia. However, according to Reljic, these statements should be put in context of the expansion of the American influence and control in the Balkans since 1990 onwards. Considering the 1 April 2009 Croatia and Albania accession to NATO and probable membership of Macedonia and Montenegro, the question of Serbia and of Bosnian Serbs remains. Serbia is a country of particular interest for Russia and Bosnian Serbs may or may not agree with the membership of Bosnia into NATO. For now, the question of Serbia's entry into the region of Russia's privileged interests is open, considering that the support for Russia increased after the proclamation of the independence of Kosovo and that the support for the accession to the EU reduced. According to Reljic's opinion, there is a causal relationship between the degree of integration of Serbia into the EU and the degree of success of forces in Serbia which strive towards alternatives to the European integrations for Serbia. This, according to Reljic, limits the possibility of Russia in the Balkans and in Serbia and allows for different options for the future.

Russian expectations after the end of the Cold War was that it should also be seen as a winner and became partner to the West, which did not happen. The Guarantees which were given to Russia, within the framework of talks on unification of Germany that NATO will not expand, its military installations in the former Warsaw pact countries were not honored and there, Russia has the right to feel betrayed. Russia tried to enter the international community (bandwagoning) hoping that its privileged interest will be taken into consideration in the South East Europe. Since it suffered a crash of projection of its military might in Kosovo it started to re-examine this policy and last year in Georgia it showed that it will project its power where it can. The key moment for Russia and its interest was an attempt to project it military power in Serbia in 1999, after taking over Slatina airport. On that occasion and from that moment, a host of countries, which are at the same time a frontier for the projection of Russian might into the South East Europe, were established.

President Medvedev suggested last June in Berlin, topics for talks with the West: the issue of Kosovo, the issue of the rockets in East Europe and nuclear disarmament. Reljic is skeptical that apart from nuclear disarmament other topics will be on the table, which implies a period of an increased divergence between Russia and its western partners. Considering that the US refuses to acknowledge the privileged interests of Russia i.e. Russia's striving to be respected in the region of Southeast Europe, there is a possibility that in years to come there will be a continuity of Russo - American meeting heads-on in this area.

Dr Yaroslav Pylynskyi pointed out that Ukraine is an independent state for many years and that it strives to connect its development path to the western model, because the Soviet system proved to be ineffective. He underlined that the center must have a program for the periphery, and that the issue of separatism is always presented as a question of a lack of program of the center for the periphery. This was the problem of the USSR and of today's Russia. Ukrainian political elites in Ukraine often use Russia as an excuse for failures in internal policy and this is where Pylynskyi and Petrov agreed. Most Ukrainians sees Russia and Russians in a very positive light, unlike how Ukraine is seen in Russia. Pylynskyi pointed out that the responsibility for the past is a very important question for the future and that Russia did not go through it.

Prof Miroslav Jovanovic and Dragan Vuksic, representative of the Forum for International Relations from Belgrade also took part in the discussion during the first Roundtable. Prof Jovanovic pointed out in at the center - periphery that both in the former Soviet Union and in former Yugoslavia, many faults which in the real life were faults of central and federal authorities, have been connected to the capitals of new states, in light of the fact that new capitals, although striving to become successor s to the old ones, could not take over the blame for what federal authorities were doing. Dragan Vuksic stressed that the issue of privileged interests is not clear, because from what was stated at the Roundtable it seems that these are some 'special interests' and that the issue is who is 'privileged' in this relationship, Russia or countries from that region. Also, in regards to values, Vuksic expressed his disagreement with Kolerov as to whether values are marketable, pointing out that in the contemporary world everything is on the market but that real civilization values are only those which survive their creators.

2. Participants on Russia in the Balkans and on Serbia and Russian interests in the Balkans;

Prof Miroslav Jovanovic moderated this part of the Roundtable and he set the tone for the discussion asking from the participants an overview of Russia - Serbia relations, especially on stereotypical images of Serbia in Russia. Jovanovic pointed out that there are phases in Russia - Serbia relations of good cooperation but also moments of divergences. He underlined the necessity to avoid the frequent trap to view Russia - Serbia relations in stereotypical clich├ęs as mother and/or evil and prone to despotism Russia, considering that both are inaccurate and harmful. Jovanovic pointed out that Russia always acts diligently in each situation and protected understandably its own interests but that it was always present in the Balkans when major decision concerning the Balkans had been passed. Finally, he asked the participants for an interpretation of trends in Russia - Serbia relations, when compared with the whole of Russia's foreign policy interests, considering the discourse in the Serbian public that this is something continuous and unchangeable.

Aleksey Timofeev pointed out that the traditional Serbian views about Russia started to form before the 19 century when an image of Russia as the protector of the Serbs was formed. This, in his view, led to the stereotype that Russia always protected the Serbs, to the extrapolation of a term 'mother' to a foreign country and finally to leaning towards other extreme [that Russia never helped Serbs] which led to the frustrations and phobias in the part of the Serbian middle class. This division of the Serbian middle class survived to this day. The behavior of Russia towards peoples from the western Balkans did not have such continuity as it is often believed. It seems more logical to extract several particular and less connected between one another periods of these relations. Such periods were, according to Timofeev four, with some divided into sub-periods. Finally, historically speaking, it would seem erroneous to claim that periods of Russian politics in the Balkans have not been connected to one another.

H.E. Aleksandar Konuzin, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Serbia gave an insightful view on the theme of the discussion. He emphasized the significance of the Balkans and Serbia in Russian art and culture, something which every Russian comes across during the course of his/her education. The current state of Russia - Serbia affairs in the Balkan context is significant, considering that there are certain contradictory tendencies and conflict potential in some Balkan states. Events in one part of the former SFRY could cause instability in the whole region. There are, however, tendencies in the Balkans which contribute to stabilization. All states in the region are interested in achieving good neighborly relations, overcome unresolved issues and to be included in general European processes and European perspective. This enhances the peaceful potential in the Balkans. Russia is not interested in the prospect of new fronts for political confrontation opened in the Balkans, neither with states of the region nor with outside players. Contemporary Russian politics in the Balkans contributes objectively to the stabilization, which is visible on the example of Russo - Serbian relations, which in the last year or two achieved character of increasingly advancing relations. Russia cooperated with Milosevic's government and with the government after the democratic revolution in Serbia and is cooperating with the current government and always maintains the same line of support for Serbia and support for the Serbian people.

The current relations with the Serbian government are characterized by the systematically developed political dialogue. Never in the past were relations at such a high level and never in the past have they had such a potential for the future. It is up to the governments of both countries to realize this potential. There is a breakthrough in trade-economic relations, especially when considering project South Stream, but more and more attention is paid to the culture and humanitarian character of relations, which should play a large role in relations between two kin peoples because the development in Russia - Serbia relations contributes to the stabilization in the whole region.

Unfortunately, a tendency to present Russo - Serbian relations as an alternative to the relations between Serbia and other countries or the EU persist. Ambassador Konuzin is trying to persuade both Serbian partners and members of the EU that commonly beneficial relations, useful for the EU, Serbia and Russia can be established. Russia is politically and economically interested in the stability in the Balkans. This line Russia will, according to ambassador Konuzin, follow in the decades to come.

Professor Jovanovic in the further course of the Roundtable asked whether stereotypes in Russian public influenced Russian politics towards Serbia in the 1990s and how much stereotypes in the western public about century - old Russophile Serbia determined western discourse on Balkan events.

Dusan Reljic offered his view from the outside and pointed out that stereotypes in the West influenced the western discourse towards the crisis in the former Yugoslavia including the stereotype that Serbia is Russia's fifth column in Europe. He said that, at the end of the 1990s, there was a tendency to view the conflict in Yugoslavia as a conflict between democracy and resurfaced communism, i.e. conflict between peoples who are ready for integration in the Caroling Europe and Orthodox peoples who are not capable of integration. However, since 1999 there is a promise of the EU that those who fulfill the EU acquis will become EU members, and the NATO showed with the example of Albania and Croatia that it does not mind integrating nominally Islamic countries such as Albania. Stereotypes, according to Reljic exist, but they do not essentially determine politics.

Leverages of Russian influence in Serbia are visible in the West. Russia has, above all, the veto right in the UN Security Council. Apart from that, the question of reforming Bosnia and Herzegovina should not fall off the radar. This issue, unless based on the consensus of national and international stakeholders could also lead to prolonged conflict. According to Reljic, if Serbia maintains its international - legal claim over Kosovo and if it sees itself as a force - protector of the Republic of Srpska, than it will remain in a state of prolonged discord with the international public opinion which has different version of the situation. Apart from the Russian influence over this area lies also in the tradition. With one part of the Serbian elites, expressing themselves the New Serbian Political Thought publication, there is a tendency to accept the concept of sovereign democracy - an ideological matrix in contemporary Russia, supposedly different than the western concept of democracy.

As long as Serbia considers that Kosovo is a part of its territory it has to take Russia into consideration. Serbia needs energy security and market to sell its products. Russia, on the other hand will be more present in the EU if it has Serbia in the EU, because Serbia will look at Russia in a more positive way than the Baltic states or Poland. However, Serbia's accession to the EU is not a completed fact. In case of a slow down of modernization and if EU distances itself from Serbia and economic situation worsens, if the conflict about Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina deepens, the inclination towards seeking closer ties with Russia will strengthen in Serbia.

Modest Kolerov pointed out that history influenced Russian politics in the Balkans. Russian diplomacy and foreign politics in relation to Serbia has not always been consistent and was historically dependent. However, in the last 150 years Russian policies towards Serbia always had an all - nation consensus. The politics did not correspond to this all - national consensus and was sometimes in conflict with it, but the consensus was always there. From the point of view of this consensus, Putin's coming into power was a shock because of what Russia suffered in connection to Kosovo. For the majority in Russia it was clear that Serbia is only the beginning and that the same thing can happen to Russia unless it strenghtens. Kolerov stressed that in the EU official documents Serbia is neither a candidate for membership nor a potential candidate for membership [Dusan Reljic disputed that]. Finally, in connection to what Reljic has said, Kolerov said that Russia does need an agent of influence within the EU nor an intermediary, since Russia has a direct communication with the EU.

Professor Jovanovic further framed the Roundtable with the question of whether the Russian politics from 1992 onwards in relation to Serbia has been consistent or have there been at least two phases in this process: phases of Yeltsin's and Putin's policy.

Nikolay Petrov pointed out that Russia's foreign policy is more than any other policy closest to the national consensus,. According to Petrov, there is an understandable continuity between Yeltsin's and Putin's foreign policy. In Yelstin's time, Russian ambitions did not correspond to its might and certain Russian foreign policy actions have been developed already in Yeltsin's time.

As far as Russia - Serbia relations are concerned, there were four periods of essential anti-Americanism in Russia's foreign policy and two of them were connected to Serbia (first in 1999 and second after the declaration of Kosovo independence), although this should not be read to imply that Serbia is too important in Russia's foreign policy. Petrov disagreed with Kolerov's thesis that Russia's position over Kosovo was moral. He deemed that this position has been very pragmatic and it put Russia in difficult position with regards to its own problems with separatism. This is particularly important in the period when center weakens because Russia can face problems of separatism of Republics in the North Caucasus. Finally, one can often think that Russia's foreign policy in the Yeltsin time was too pro-Western, while in Putin's time it is too anti-Western. In Petrov's view in both cases it is not pro-Russian enough.

Zarko Petrovic and Dragan Vuksic also took part in the discussion. Petrovic pointed out the evolution of the term strategic partnership which evolved from strategic partnership in energy sphere to partnership which lost this qualification in energy sphere. He connected this transformation to the strategic partnership with close cooperation between Serbia and Russia in the international sphere, especially in connection to the Russian support for Kosovo Serbian policy, but also with Serbian support for the Russian initiative for conclusion of the new European Security Treaty, stressing that Serbia may be put in the position to choose between Russia and the EU if this initiative divides Russia and the EU. Both Kolerov and Ambassador Konuzin disagreed and thought that this term should not be read to imply such importance. Vuksic reacted in connection to Jovanovic's question about the view in Serbia that Russia never helped Serbs. For him the main problem is that Russia failed to prevent Milosevic in abusing Russia as an international factor to the fullest extent. This is the main grievance he held against Russia and not that it did not help Serbia.

Full media file from the Roundtable can be watched here.

Zarko Petrovic
06 May 2009

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