Which country has already suffered the greatest losses through the new U.S. strategy announced a year-and-a-half ago by President Donald Trump?
Clearly not Russia, whose relations with Washington were far from perfect even under the previous U.S. administration. Nor is it Mexico or Canada: even Trump is unable to turn the tables on the United States’ relations with its closest neighbours so rapidly and radically. With the exception of Iran, Syria, Cuba and the other habitual targets of U.S. attacks, Germany and China have the most reason to be unhappy with the current U.S. policy.
Trump has been applying particularly strong pressure on Berlin and Beijing; the two countries’ current and, more importantly, potential losses from America’s protectionist stance far exceed the losses of all the other US trading partners combined. In addition, Washington has a serious political axe to grind with Germany and China. Berlin is being chided for its “insufficient contribution” to the NATO budget and its unswerving commitment to the Nord Stream II gas pipeline, whereas Beijing is suspected of “hegemonic aspirations” in the Asia-Pacific and of its attempted “expansion” into the Indian Ocean.
If talking common sense, Chancellor Merkel and President Xi would be better off keeping closer to each other: they stand a better chance of weathering the pressure from the United States as a united front than on their own. Given the two countries’ impressive combined potential, the transcontinental Berlin–Beijing axis could become a worthy strategic response to the unprecedentedly strong and brutal U.S. pressure, even more so if this alliance secures the support of several other major countries between the Brandenburg Gate and Tiananmen Square. Including Moscow, which has its own agenda.
How likely is such a new alliance to emerge in the foreseeable future? What are the potential opportunities and limitations of a rapprochement between Germany and China? What consequences would increased cooperation between the two countries have for Russia? The answers to these questions are critical not only to the future of the Eurasian space, but also to the fate of the new world order as a whole.
The Chinese Groom and the German Bride
The Berlin–Beijing axis first manifested itself as a possibility immediately after the new president took office in the United States. Trump’s electoral victory raised serious concerns in China, and came as a true shock to the German political establishment. Symptomatically, on the eve of the G20 summit in Hamburg in July 2017, Trump paid a demonstrative visit to Warsaw at the precise moment that Germany–Poland relations were experiencing yet another dip. Coincidentally or not, Merkel was rolling out the red carpet for Xi Jinping in Berlin. Six months prior to that, China had been announced as Germany’s largest trading partner for 2016 for the first time in history.
Beijing’s interest in Berlin is not confined to China’s desire to further expand bilateral trade, boost investment and secure access to the latest German technology. With the new U.S. administration in power, the Chinese government is looking for ways to demonstrate its increased concern for the global problems Germany worries about, from climate change and WTO reforms to assistance to African countries. The Chinese leadership’s traditional statements as to the importance of free trade, the dangers of protectionism, the advantages of multilateral approaches and the need to adhere to the common rules of the game (Xi Jinping’s keynote address in Davos, Switzerland in January 2017 is one example) are primarily intended for Berlin’s ears.
It is hardly surprising that in the emerging romance between China and Germany, Beijing plays the role of the decisive and persistent young man, whereas Berlin is the wary and calculating girl eager to gain the most from the potential relationship. To begin with, China is much stronger than Germany in terms of its economic and demographic potential, geopolitical position and military might. China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and also possesses nuclear arms. In other words, China is a full-blown major power, whereas Germany right now is not. Therefore, any relationship between the two countries will inevitably be asymmetric, with the balance tipped in China’s favour, and this asymmetry will need to be compensated for in one way or another.
Second, China has greater room for manoeuvre in the international political arena than Germany. Currently, the country is not a party to any rigid politico-military or economic blocs; BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, these amorphous and barely binding associations, are beside the point here. Germany, for its part, has numerous fairly tangible obligations within NATO and the European Union. Berlin may be the driver of the European Union, but within NATO it often finds itself playing supporting roles. To continue with the romantic parallels, China the young man is single and free, whereas the girl is bound by close ties with numerous and often quite demanding European relatives, and is unwilling to sacrifice these ties under any circumstances. Whether the existence of “relatives” gives Germany extra bargaining chips in its contacts with China or actually weakens its position is a moot question, but the significance of this factor should not be underestimated.
Third, potential rapprochement is being hindered by the fundamental differences in values. It is difficult to build a strong relationship of trust if one of the partners has a conservative religious background and the other is an inveterate atheist. Germany today is perhaps the leading vector of traditional liberal values, not just in Europe but in the whole world. China’s political model of authoritarian modernization, for its part, is the exact opposite of Western liberalism. Predictions to the effect that the emergence of a middle class in China would inevitably result in the country drifting towards Western-style pluralistic democracy have so far been proven wrong. If anything, China appears to be drifting in the opposite direction.
Fourth, the Berlin Fräulein already has a young man, one that has for decades remained her key partner, protector and, to a great extent, an indisputable authority and guru. That young man lives in Washington. Germany and the United States have had their share of misunderstandings and even quarrels over the years; suffice it to recall Berlin’s resolute opposition to the U.S. intervention in Iraq back in 2003. Yet, until very recently, very few in Germany could picture their country’s future outside the close military, political and economic alliance with the United States. Remove that support, and the entire structure of Germany’s foreign policy would collapse in no time.
This last argument needs to be addressed in greater detail. It would be fair to say that in all of its long and sometimes dramatic post-World War II history, Berlin has never been exposed to attacks, threats, blatant pressure and even blackmail on the part of Washington on a scale similar to what has been going on in the past 18 months. Never before have the views of the leaders of the two countries been so far apart and the level of mutual trust so low.
One could, of course, argue that Trump will eventually go and the American people will remain. However, it was these same American people that elected Trump as their president in the first place in November 2016, albeit not unanimously. In fact, Trump’s popularity in America appears to be growing rather than declining. Whatever the case, it is obvious that Berlin will continue to suffer from the political and psychological consequences of the current transatlantic relations crisis long after the current president leaves the White House. The bilateral relations are not going to return to what they were during the times of the Obama administration any time soon, despite the hopes of German politicians and intellectuals with their orthodox Atlantic world view.
Five Lessons in Seduction
As we can see, China is to play the leading role in the emerging rapprochement. How can Beijing possibly dispel Berlin’s doubts as to the purity of its intentions? What price would the Chinese leadership have to pay for this? Let us take a closer look at Berlin’s main fears.
First, Berlin is extremely uncomfortable with Chinese investors methodically buying German businesses that specialize in the most promising sectors of technological development. Germany suspects that China is driven by more than just commercial interests; that it is, in fact, pursuing a national strategy aimed at gaining a technological advantage over the West in general and Germany in particular by the end of next decade. China invested nearly $14 billion in Germany in 2017, or almost two-thirds of its total investments in Europe.
Germany became aware of the potential threat. In 2018, Berlin partially nationalized one of the country’s largest power grid operators in order to prevent Chinese investors from buying into it. Preventive measures were also taken with regard to a major German hi-tech machine-tool specialist company that resulted in a potential Chinese buyer being forced to abandon its plans. These steps evidently contradict the general principles of Germany’ foreign trade policy, and would have been impossible just a few years ago (Russia’s Sberbank did fail to buy Opel at some point in the past, but then the deal fell through due to the position of General Motors, the U.S. owner of the German car maker).
What could China do in this respect? The most logical solution would be to provide for maximum possible reciprocity by granting German investors unhindered access to the hi-tech sector of the Chinese economy. This remains a problematic topic: China’s hi-tech sector is still largely impenetrable to foreigners. Greater transparency of business practices and a consistent fight against corruption would also raise Germany’s trust in Chinese investors. Beijing is sure to find these steps to be quite difficult and even risky, but a serious relationship with Berlin is bound to come at a price.
Second, Germany is concerned about the possibility of the balance of its trade with China changing dramatically in the coming years. Unlike the United States, Germany currently enjoys a significant surplus in trade with Beijing: exports stood at $96 billion in 2017, and imports amounted to $71 billion. Some fear, however, that the recently unleashed trade war between the United States and China may prompt Beijing to switch a significant portion of its exports to Europe, including Germany, which has the most capacious market in Europe. As a result, Germany could not just lose its current surplus, but would eventually find itself in a situation similar to that in which the United States currently finds itself.
These fears are justified: sooner or later, Beijing will ask Berlin to balance out bilateral trade. It would of course be a grave mistake to do so in the style of Trump, i.e., by twisting Germany’s arm. Quite on the contrary, the Chinese leadership has a great opportunity to demonstrate how different its balancing-out methods are from those used by the United States.
Furthermore, if the full-scale U.S.–China trade war eventually breaks out, Beijing could invite Germany to replace the United States as an exporter to the Chinese market. Germany already exports about twice as many cars to China as the United States, but U.S. exports are still significant at about 10 per cent of the market. China could discuss this opportunity with its German partners.
Third, Germany is rightly irritated by Beijing’s activity in Berlin’s “backyard” – that is, in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. One particular irritant for Berlin is the 16+1 cooperation mechanism created by China for these countries, which involves regular meetings at the highest level. This format is perceived in Germany as China attempting to undermine European unity and gain backdoor access to the European Union. First, because the format involves 11 EU member states alongside five non-aligned countries of the Western Balkans. Second, because the 16+1 mechanism gets to discuss, among other things, issues pertaining to the EU remit (infrastructure development, e-commerce, etc.). An additional vexing point for Berlin was the fact that the latest 16+1 summit took place just several days before the July 2018 EU–China summit.
One could, of course, dismiss Germany’s suspicions and fears as being unreasonable and even hypocritical. After all, Germany consistently opposes any “privileged interests” in Europe and promotes all countries’ sovereign right to choose their partners and cooperation formats. Should Beijing resort to such rhetoric, it would doubtlessly earn a standing applause from Moscow. It is, however, hardly in China’s best strategic interest to ignore Germany’s fears, no matter how unfounded: Berlin is more important to Beijing as a potential strategic partner than all of Central Europe and the Balkans. So, if the road to Berlin lies through Brussels, then Beijing will take it.
Beijing has already made token concessions to the European Union: in future, 16+1 summits will be held once every two years and not annually as before. The Chinese leadership has been consistent in stating unequivocally that Beijing is interested in a unified European Union. Beijing has been careful not to support Eurosceptics, populists, right-wing radicals and other marginal forces within the European Union. Yet China could do even better, such as offering Berlin a joint China–Europe development programme for the Western Balkans in order to refute any suspicions about a possible hidden agenda on the part of China that is aimed at “infiltrating” this very important European region.
Fourth, in assessing the advantages and disadvantages of closer cooperation with Beijing, Berlin naturally wonders how this rapprochement would affect its relations with other Asian partners: Japan, India, the ASEAN countries, Australia, New Zealand, etc. It would certainly be extremely short-sighted of Germany to sacrifice these relations or even give its historic Asian friends a reason to doubt its strategic political priorities.
It is, therefore, in Beijing’s best interests to promote the potential Sino-German axis not as a stand-alone bilateral geo-economic project, let alone a geopolitical one, but rather as an important component of a broader multilateral plan aimed at creating a single Eurasian economic space. The implementation of this plan should prompt individual Asian countries to gradually forget about their bilateral disagreements in the face of the common long-term development targets. It would be too foolhardy of Beijing to seek Berlin’s direct support for its stance on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, or to prompt Germany to side with China in its conflict with India.
Fifth, the most difficult obstacle to closer cooperation between China and Germany is the current gulf between Germany’s liberal political system and China’s authoritarian one. No sane politician in Berlin can possibly overlook the human rights violations in China, neglect the fate of Chinese dissidents, turn a blind eye to the discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, ignore the existing restrictions on the dissemination of information and many other manifestations of Chinese authoritarianism. These values have always been and will continue to be a bone of contention in bilateral relations.
However, just because a fundamental solution of the values problem cannot be reached does not mean no progress is possible in this respect. China’s symbolic concessions with regard to individual dissidents are absolutely important (in the latest such development, Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, was permitted to travel to Germany). It appears to be of even greater import, however, for the two countries to develop contacts along the lines of civil society, education, culture, youth and women’s organizations. For this to happen, China needs to turn Germany into a “fashion,” so as to change the Chinese public’s perception of the West as being primarily associated with the United States.
Why is Trump Not Afraid?
Even the remote and purely hypothetical possibility of a China–Germany alliance should be the cause of great concern for any serious politician in Washington. There is hardly any other geo-economic combination on the planet capable of posing such a threat to the United States, this key economic, financial, scientific and technological centre of the modern world. History teaches us that a war against two strong adversaries at once can rarely be won. A China–Germany alliance, even a short-lived one, should appear particularly threatening to the current U.S. administration, which is in the habit of assessing international challenges primarily from the standpoint of America’s short-term economic interests.
Is Trump afraid of a trade and economic war on two fronts? He appears not to be. If he were afraid, he would be behaving somewhat differently. At the very least, he would be more tactful and understanding with regard to one of his oldest and most reliable European allies. So far, however, quite the opposite is true. It seems at times that the President of the United States is actually pushing the German bride into the embraces of the Chinese groom. Such shocking behaviour needs some rational explaining.
Some of Trump’s political opponents tend to explain the President’s behaviour as manifestations of his personality quirks. In their opinion, he is simply unable to keep a comprehensive picture of the world in his mind, nor does he want to think strategically. Therefore, the reasoning goes, Trump views the United States’ relations with Germany and China as separate and unrelated prongs of America’s foreign policy. He does not give a though to the possible consequences for the Germany–China relations of America’s growing pressure on Beijing and Berlin.
Another explanation of the Trump administration’s policy can be described as “the presumption to power of the United States”: the White House is closely monitoring the progress of the attempted Germany–China rapprochement, but does not believe that it will succeed. The United States’ relations with both Germany and China remain asymmetric: the latter two are more dependent on the United States than the other way around. The White House may be under the impression that even if Berlin and Beijing unite efforts, they will still be unable to create a global financial, economic and technological centre that would be independent from Washington. Furthermore, neither China nor Germany has dared so far to resort to symmetric measures in response to the latest bouts of U.S. economic pressure. Therefore, the White House has no cause for concern, at least not in the foreseeable future.
The third and, in our opinion, most convincing explanation is that the Trump administration is simply incapable of imagining that German politicians are prepared to revise their views on the world, and of Germany’s desirable place in that world. U.S. political circles have long grown used to the periodic outbursts of anti-American sentiment in Germany; these outbursts are not perceived as posing any serious threat to the U.S.–Germany alliance for as long as they do not affect the German political establishment. This was the case during the German anti-war movement in the late 1970s and the early 1980s and during George W. Bush’s presidency. History may yet repeat itself under Trump, too.
One thing is obvious, however: Trump is applying much greater pressure on Germany than his Republican predecessors. The United States is making a show of demeaning not just the current German leadership, but the German political class as a whole, precisely when marginal German nationalism is beginning to awaken from its protracted slumber (as evidenced by the success of the Alternative for Germany party in the latest election). The combination of the imminent systemic crisis in Germany’s domestic politics and the loss of reliable international support in the form of the transatlantic partnership could create the prerequisites for an “ideal storm” in German politics with most unpredictable consequences.
The cockiness with which the current American leadership is treating Germany may eventually result in something similar to what Moscow got in exchange for its arrogance towards Berlin. Such a comparison might be farfetched, but we believe that it merits attention.
Russia had long believed that its “special relationship” with Germany would remain no matter what. Moscow was banking on the Germans’ “historical guilt” over the country’s role in World War II, and expected Berlin to never forget the role Russia had played in Germany’s unification. There were hopes for the rapid development of bilateral trade and economic cooperation, including with Germany’s leading major businesses.
Busy with all these calculations and hopes, Moscow overlooked the moment when it lost its erstwhile status as Berlin’s “privileged partner”; Germany stopped being an unconditional lobbyist for Russia’s interests in the Euro-Atlantic community. Moscow equally overlooked the moment of the generational change in German politics, with a new generation of leaders emerging in the political arena for whom the World War II and even the unification of Germany were nothing more than mere episodes in the country’s centuries of dramatic history.
It would of course be oversimplifying things to draw direct parallels between Germany’s Ostpolitik, which has long disappeared, and its modern, still fairly viable Atlanticism. Fidelity to Atlantic unity has always run much deeper in German society than its adherence to “Eastern politics” and Berlin’s willingness to maintain the “special relationship” with Moscow. Still, the Trump administration could benefit from looking at Russia’s experience, which is something that it is obviously not doing. Therefore, even without China factored in, it is obvious that the risks for the transatlantic partnership continue to grow.
An Axis or a Triangle?
Unfortunately, Russia does not appear to be in a position to play a leading part in the new game that is beginning to unravel in Eurasia. Its economic potential is too limited, and its positions in the emerging Eurasian interdependence system are too weak. On the other hand, Russia cannot afford to stay on the outside, since its future will largely depend on the outcome of the emerging confrontation of the Unites States with Germany and China.
The successful development of cooperation between Germany and China would be beneficial to Moscow, if only because it would deprive Washington of its current monopoly to determining the fundamental rules of the game in the global economy. There is very little hope that relations between Washington and Moscow will improve any time soon; for as long as the United States gets to dictate the rules, Russia will be consistently ousted to the periphery of the world economy. There is also the constant threat of extraterritorial U.S. sanctions, as illustrated by Iran.
In the meantime, China and Germany are Moscow’s main trade partners and are likely to retain this status for a long time. In fact, economic ties with Beijing and Berlin remain complementary for Russia: the countries are Moscow’s main points of entry into the global economy. It would, therefore, be entirely logical for Russia to feel enthusiastic about the possibility of taking part in the creation of the Berlin–Beijing axis and attempting to turn it into an equilateral triangle.
It should be noted that Russia has no interest whatsoever in the destruction of the present liberal world economic order, whose protection is to serve as the foundation of the China–Germany rapprochement. This, despite the fact that the term “liberalism” has recently acquired strong negative connotations within Russia. Just like any other participant in the international economic system, Moscow may have its problems with some aspects of this world order. However, excessive protectionism, the abandonment of multilateralism, the decline of universal international economic organizations and the world splitting into opposing trade blocs would do nothing to help Russia integrate into the global economy; nor will they facilitate the country’s economic modernization.
The opportunity to integrate into the China–Germany cooperation processes would provide Moscow with additional room for manoeuvre, enabling it to offset the “turn to the East” by a re-activation of contacts with the West. In the long run, the China–Germany axis could turn into one of the pillars of the “Greater Eurasia” concept, which has been actively discussed in Moscow of late.
However, a rapprochement between Germany and China per se would not automatically generate new opportunities for Russia. Beijing may well stick to its long-standing practice of pursuing parallel political courses in its relations with Moscow and Berlin. Germany in the current situation would certainly prefer to develop cooperation with China without involving Russia, which has only been creating problems for Berlin – at the very least until the Ukrainian crisis has been truly resolved. It is, therefore, extremely important for Moscow to not become the odd man out in the China–Germany alliance, and to contribute its unique advantages to the axis.
These advantages should certainly go beyond Russia’s geographical situation: there are plenty of transit options between China and Germany, not all of them passing through Russian territory. Moscow should, therefore, look for different kinds of opportunities, such as tripartite development projects for the Balkans, Central Asia and Afghanistan. Other opportunities could include initiatives that would marry security to development, such as migration management, the prevention of political radicalism and addressing the challenges associated with new technologies. In any eventuality, Russia’s value for both Germany and China will be largely defined by its ability to shift from the current inertial economic model to an innovative one.
In addition, as was already mentioned, no separate Russian or Chinese policy with regard to Germany can exist out of the broader EU context. Neither the United States, nor China, nor Russia will replace the European Union at the centre of Germany’s universe. Therefore, Moscow cannot expect to be on good terms with Germany while simultaneously being on bad terms with the European Union. Just like with China, the road to Berlin for Russia inevitably runs through Brussels. So, this road needs to be taken, no matter how long, winding and difficult it may turn out to be.
There may be different opinions about the chances the potential China–Germany alliance has to succeed. It is possible that an alternative geo-economic structure will emerge instead, such as a Berlin–Tokyo axis or a close partnership between the European Union and India. It appears indisputable, however, that the major actors in the global political arena are now required to make major, non-orthodox and perhaps even paradoxical decisions.
So far, most of these actors have been biding their time, hedging emerging political risks, carefully calculating the balances of group interests, maintaining the status quo and hoping that the situation would somehow rectify itself, solely on the strength of their having chosen “the right side of the barricades.” This is perhaps how Roman aristocrats behaved towards the end of the Empire.
Trump is not one of them. He is often rightly accused of being unprofessional, impulsive, lacking in strategic vision and of many other sins. That said, he is actually trying to solve the United States’ global problems rather than postponing them until the next term in office or not passing them on to the next generations. In other words, Trump is a man of action, a trait rarely to be found in the contemporary world. For this reason, until other leaders in Europe and Asia begin to demonstrate a similar capacity, Trump will always have, at the very least, an important tactical advantage over his opponents.
First published in our partner RIAC
Anti-government protests have continued over the weekend in Serbia, Montenegro and Albania. While the protesters in Albania once again clashed with the police, Saturday evening marked the first time that preventive force was used against the participants of Belgrade demonstrations, who entered the building of the country`s public broadcaster.
Protests in all three countries are aiming to overthrow the ruling parties led by President Aleksandar Vučić, Prime Minister Edi Rama and President Milo Djukanovic respectively. The regimes are accused of corruption, suppression of democracy and media freedoms as well as for bad economic situation.
On 16 March, dozens of demonstrators lead by opposition politicians Bosko Obradovic and Dragan Djilas, entered the headquarters of Radio-Television of Serbia (RTS), bypassing the security and demanding an opportunity to address the viewership live. Since the protests have begun in early December, none of the organizers has been invited to RTS, which is still the most watched television channel in the country.
There were no acts of violence, and the police managed to remove the citizens from the building after several hours, with some accusations of disproportionately harsh treatment.
President Vucic announced that he will be addressing the incident during an extraordinary press conference on Sunday afternoon. Breaking from the traditional protest walks on Saturday, the organizers announced in return that they will be staging protests in the front of the Presidency at the same time, demanding Vucic`s resignation.
Earlier this week, the parties gathered in the Alliance for Serbia, the country`s strongest opposition coalition, gave Vucic and other high state officials a month to resign from their offces, or face demonstrators from all across Serbia who will gather on 13 April in Belgrade if the demands are not met by then. This is the first protests explicitly organized by the opposition politicians, who have started to address the attending citizens more and more every week, taking the role from the popular public figures and representatives of civic initiative.
At the same time, protests in Albania have been openly organized by the opposition from the start. Democratic Party MPs, along with several other opposition parties, have resigned from their parliamentary posts in February. DP`s leader Luilzim Basha has been at the forefront of the demonstrations from their start.
On the 16 March, protesters in Albania once again tried to storm the offices of Prime Minister Rama, and then the national parliament. They were stopped in the latter attempt by the police, who threw tear gas and used water cannons to disperse them. At least one protester was incapacitated. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd, but many of protesters were prepared with gas masks. Protestants threw stones and smoke bombs at police, pulling down security fences that were erected ahead of the demonstration. The rally drew thousands of protesters from across the country. Opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha was cheered when he appeared in the crowd, leading them on a march to the Office of Prime Minister Edi Rama, where police were already positioned.
Basha announced that various forms of citizen`s resistance will be held across the country. Both US Embassy and EU delegation to Albania condemned the violence, and urged the organizers to prevent it from escalating during future protests.
From the most massive protest “Resist 97,000” so far, which were joined also by students, which was held on 16 March at the Independence Square in Podgorica, was announced that the government privatized the state and protesters again requested the resignation of top officials. Students, academics, civic activists who say they are not affiliated with any political party, marched through the center of Podgorica chanting “We are the state”, “Rebellion” and mostly “Milo thief”. Opposition parties support the protests which started in early February but their leaders have distanced themselves of taking prominent role in the organization or addressing the crowd. An informal group of NGO activists, academics, journalists stand behind the protests. Beside the resignation of President Djukanovic, who has ruled for almost 30 years, the protesters demand the resignation of the Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stankovic, and the Chief Prosecutor for Organised Crime Milivoje Katnic. They accuse senior law officials of ignoring evidence and not prosecuting widespread corruption in the country. Saturday`s protest was the fifth in a row. It follows the revelation of footage and documents that appear to implicate top officials in obtaining suspicious funds for the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). A video clip from 2016 aired in January showed Dusko Knezevic, chairman of the Montenegro-based Atlas Group, appearing to hand the then mayor of Podgorica, Slavoljub Stijepovic, an envelope containing $100,000, to fund a DPS election campaign. Knezevic, who is in London, has since than told the media he had been providing secret cash to the DPS for the past 25 years.
At the protest on Saturday, were more than 15,000 people, which is a big figure if we take into account that the official population of Montenegro is 620, 000 people and in reality due to emigration significantly lower. Gathering to demand the resignations of the most senior state officials, beginning with the President Milo Djukanovic, who has been in power since 1991. The demonstrations have been sparked by the numerous affairs that have revealed the extent of corruption in the ruling party. They are taking place every Saturday, and the next ones are announced for 23 March.
Recent years in the Western Balkans have been shaped by stabilocracies. Governments that first of all fulfill the geopolitical goals of the West. And because of that, by the West, as a reward they have the possibility of human rights violations, corruption and crime, full control of the media. Current protests are the answer to the stabilocracy.
In Albania, corruption and crime are out of control and the demands of the protest are completely legitimate. On the wave of fighting crime and corruption, along with promises for a better future, Edi Rama also come to power. However, the United States of America and the European Union are opposed to protests and for them Parliament is the place where all political solutions need to be found. However, in Parliament as well as in elections, nothing can change in Albania, primarily because of corruption. Because of corruption and crime, which are strongly rooted in Albania, as well as with bad economic situation, the emigration rate is high. Since Albania toppled communism in 1991 untill the end of 2018, more than 1.4 million Albanians, nearly half the current population of this Balkan country, have emigrated mostly to neighboring Italy and Greece and less to the Britain, Germany and the United States. The study, led by Rusell King of the University of Sussex and Albanian researcher Ilir Gedeshi, found that the country’s potential migration had grown from 44 percent in 2007 to 52 precent in 2018.
In Montenegro, the organizers of the protest are the biggest problem. Since the beginning of the protest, they are not conducted professionally, which lead to indignation in a part of the citizens. Protest organizers have offered the opposition parties an “Agreement about future“ which is more likely an ultimatum, in which there is an item that foreign policy of current Government, would not change. The document is submitted to the opposition on principle – take it or leave it. That’s why Dusko Knezevic spoke. Dusko Knezevic made an announcement and made it clear to the protest leaders that he will not allow them to make struggle on the opposition, but to fight against president of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic.
Certainly, the situation in Serbia is most interesting for monitoring, given that it is the most powerful state of the Western Balkans. In the West, it is clear to everyone that Vucic is hated among his people. Aleksandar Vucic put all media under his control, so the opposition is rarely seen on television. While Aleksandar Vucic is over-represented in the media, which causes frustration among the citizens. In addition, the poor economic situation and the constant false promises that it will be better reinforce dissatisfaction. Additionally Aleksandar Vucic “wants to solve the issue of Kosovo” by demarcation, which means that 90 percent of Kosovo would belong to Albania. Because of all of the above massive protests take place in 100 cities in Serbia.
The situation in Serbia is clear to the West, but there is no reliable pro-NATO alternative in the opposition, and the priority work of surrendering Kosovo to “Greater Albania” is not yet completed. West is afraid that protests in Belgrade and in 100 cities in Serbia are not going in the right direction. For this reason, they are forced to endure current Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic, who not only fulfills the requirements of the West, but in good terms anesthetizes Russia by saying exactly the words Moscow wants to hear: that Serbia will never impose sanctions to Russia, that Serbia will never enter in NATO, and that he is pro-Russian. Of course, according to agreements with NATO signed during the time of Vucic’s authorities and some other details, it is obvious that his affection for Moscow is a lie. Aleksandar Vucic persistently refuses to grant diplomatic status to the Russian Humanitarian Center in Nis, and if Russia repeatedly asked for it. At the same time, cooperation with NATO has been strengthened and NATO soldiers in Serbia have a diplomatic status. At the moment of a potential “delineation” satisfied with Vucic’s words, when Kosovo enters NATO, Vucic will probably say that “changed circumstances” force Serbia to reconsider its neutrality. Serbia would become NATO member, and of course, impose sanctions against Russia, given that it is a request of the European Union, and entering in the European Union is a strategic goal for Vucic. Russia already has an example of Vucic’s close friend in Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, who in his time was close friend of Russia, but later introduced sanctions against Russia, against the will of the people in Montenegro, pulled the country into NATO, and even blamed Moscow for engaging in a fictitious coup against him.
One of the opposition leaders in Serbia Vuk Jeremic, speaks openly that official Brussels and Washington made it clear to him that they are against the protests until Vucic does not solve the issue of Kosovo. It is precisely the geopolitical interests of the West that can disturb the success of protests in Serbia. All in all, in the Balkans, something similar to the Arab spring can not happen, because all the governments in Balkans are pro-Western. But certainly these protests will bring more freedom to the Balkans.
First published in our partner International Affairs
Albanian question in the Balkans
The Greater Albania project, which dates back to the 19th century is an idea of the unification of all Albanians into one state. Namely, the Prizren League then demanded the recognition of the national identity of Albanians and the autonomy of Albania within the Ottoman Empire. Today, Albanians live in two countries Albania and Kosovo and in neighboring countries Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Greece. The scenario of Great Albania includes separation of Western Macedonia (Struga, Kucevo, Debar, Tetovo, Gostivar, Kumanovo, part of capital Skopje) and then the other parts in the Balkans with the Albanian population, cities in southern Serbia (Presevo, Bujanovac and part of Medvedja), southern and eastern parts of Montenegro (the municipality of Ulcinj, and parts of the municipalities of Bar, Plav, Rozaje, Gusinje and Tuzi), as well as Greek southern Epirus. If necessary, these borders can be reduced if it turns out that it is impossible to create them in this form. Since the fall of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Albanian factor is among the main actor of instability in the Balkans. At the same time, Albanian political elite is the most loyal servant of the United States interests in the Balkans.
What makes Albanian politics in the Balkans recognizable is manipulation with their demography. One of the main weapons of Albanians is their birth rate. That is, the figures for which they claim to be the only accurate. With the support of United States, the number of Albanians in the region is is constantly adjusted, in line with the geopolitical interests of the West . It is therefore necessary to look at the real situation with the number of Albanians in the region. After decades of increasing the number of Albanians in Serbia, under the blessing of Yugoslav communists and the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, in 2011 census was carried out in Kosovo*. Final results for 2011 census showed that Kosovo (excluding North Kosovo) has 1, 739, 825 inhabitants. North Kosovo is dominantly populated by Serbs. Prior to the census, in the West was estimated that Kosovo had a population of about 2, 200, 000 inhabitants. The latest US Central Intelligence Agency estimate is that on Kosovo in July 2016 lived 1, 883, 018 inhabitants. However, in reality, all these data are artificially increased. According to the expert estimates, in Kosovo there are fewer than 1, 300, 000 inhabitants, including at least 150,000 inhabitants which are not Albanians. This assessment was based on the analysis of telephone traffic and mobile telephone connections per capita in Kosovo. However, what everyone agrees with is the fact that number of Albanians is rapidly decreasing in Kosovo. The main reason for that is high poverty and corruption. According to the information provided by the Kosovo secret service in the Kosovo parliament, just in December 2015 and January 2016, Kosovo has left more than 50,000 Albanians, including 6,000 elementary school students. Some media, however, stated that more than 100,000 people have fled from Kosovo since August 2015 until February 2016, but that officials hide this information, while others claim that this number is significantly higher, and that it exceeds 6% of the total population of the province. In that period the emigration reached a peak, but in smaller numbers was continued to this day. The situation is similar in Albania.
Officialy Albania is one of the most homogeneous countries in the Balkans, but in reality things look different. According to the 2011 census, Albanians made 2, 312, 356 (82.6%) of Albanian population, Greeks 24, 243 (0.9%), Macedonians 5, 512 (0.2%), Montenegrins 366 (0.01%), Aromanians 8, 266 (0.30%), Romani 8, 301 (0.3%), Balkan Egyptians 3, 368 (0.1%), and others 2, 644 (0.1%). Around 14% or 390,938 did not declared ethnicity and 44, 144 (1.6%) were not relevant. The census was accompanied by numerous complaints about irregularities.
According to estimates of Serbian organizations, in Albania lives more than 30, 000 Serbs, mostly in northern Albania. Most manipulations Albanian Government is doing about the number of Greeks. The real figure of the Greeks in Albania is 200, 000, and neutral Western experts also agree with that number. It should be pointed out that the Greek Government claims 300, 000 Greeks live in Albania. Unfortunately for Greek population, the US Government considers that 1.17% of Greeks live in Albania, although they know that number is inaccurate. In Albania also there is also a lot of emigration due to crime, corruption, and poor governance of the state. Since the fall of communism in early nineties until 2015, one million inhabitants has left Albania.
In southern Serbia, on the 2002 census, the Presevo municipality had 31, 098 Albanians and something below 4, 000 non-Albanians, the municipality of Bujanovac – 23, 681 Albanians and 19, 000 of non-Albanians, and the municipality of Medvedja something below 8, 000 Serbs and 2, 816 Albanians. The Albanians boycotted the population census in 2011 because over 30, 000 Albanians migrated from Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja municipalities to the West, which means that the ethnic structure changed. Representatives of Serbian associations from these 3 municipalities point out that the data, taken as official, are forged and that in this 3 municipalities live only half Albanians from official data. Local Serbs claim that under the municipality of Bujanovac there are currently under 12, 000 Albanians, which is twice as low as the 2002 census, which is only relevant to Albanians.
President of the Coordination Body for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja municipalities Zoran Stankovic said that the state is considering a new census, but that it is still early for the date of its maintenance, because it is necessary to prepare everything well. Mr. Stankovic stated this in 2013, but to this day, nothing has been done on this issue. The Serbs from Bujanovac claim that political discrimination in on the scene by playing with the number of Albanian inhabitants, which is why they have become citizens of the second order in their own country and expect the state to regulate the voters lists, which, they say, are filled with falsified names and non existent citizens.”We ask the government to adopt a program to stop the forced eviction of the non-Albanian population from Bujanovac – said Svetislav Velickovic from the Bujanovac Committee on Human Rights. – Of the total of 12 management functions in the city, 11 are occupied by Albanians. The Cyrillic alphabet is expelled, as is the Serbian language in communication with the local self-government. The toponyms are a special story, since in 2014 a decision was made to expel the giants of Serbian history from street signs and to replace them with terrorists from Kosovo Liberation Army. At the same time, such claims have been blackmailed in Macedonia also, where Albanians have territorial pretensions.
According to the 2002 census in Macedonia, Albanians account for 25% of the population. The census from 2011, Albanians boycotted after ten days of enumeration. Macedonian law forbids that citizens living abroad more than a year can be enumerated . Since a significant number of Albanians left Macedonia and went to the West, the real number of Albanians living in Macedonia would be shown. In that time ruling national-conservative Macedonian party VMRO-DPMNE drawn attention that there was manipulation in the census at that time. According to their data, 120, 000 Albanians who have not lived in Macedonia for long time were enumerated. And that is a significant problem. The Ohrid Agreement from 2001, which ended the armed conflict between Albanian separatists and armed forces of the Macedonian state has basis in the 2002 census. Under that agreement members of national minorities, primarily Albanian, are guaranteed greater political influence, both at the state and local levels. In places where they account for more than 20 % of the population, Albanians had received more rights in local government. There has also been an artificial increase of Albanians in Macedonia. After the NATO aggression against Serbia and Montenegro, a large number of Albanians from Kosovo went to Macedonia. According to some estimates of the UN and others organizations, about 300,000 Albanians went to Macedonia. Permanent refuge in Macedonia, from then until now, has found about 150,000 Albanians who received Macedonian citizenship. This also significantly influenced the ethnic structure of Macedonia.
According to the 2011 census, 30, 439 Albanians live in Montenegro. And they make up 4.91% of the Montenegrin population. In Montenegro, the Albanians complain that they are discriminated, although they have all rights. As in neighboring countries, they have also tried to cause problems in Montenegro. In anti – terrorist operation “Eagle`s flight” which was conducted by the Montenegrin police, was arrested a group of Albanians who planned terrorist attacs and an armed conflict in Albanian – inhabited parts of Montenegro. The group which was arrested in 2006 was sentenced on 51 year in prison. The group main goal was to “violate the constitutional order and security of Montenegro”, “cause instability, religious and national intolerance” and “endanger lives, property, religious and cultural facilities” stated Montenegrin Government.
Since US geopolitically conquered the Balkans, the Albanian question has again become open. The history of Albanian activity from the end of the 20th century is important because it shows us all the hypocrisy of Western powers. And if West officially stands for democracy, justice and protection of all religious and ethnic communities, on example of their allies in the Balkans, we can see that things do not work that way. When NATO carried out the aggression against Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in 1999, and after the signing of a military technical agreement in city of Kumanovo, the Serbian Army withdrew from Kosovo. And there we could see all the essence of US and NATO. Everything what happen later was with the approval of US. And in Kosovo, under NATO control happened terrible things.
Since the arrival of NATO in Kosovo, more than 250,000 non-Albanians have been expelled. In other words, ethnic cleansing was carried out. On 17 March 2004, under the eyes of NATO troops, Kosovo Albanians started attack against Kosovo Serbs. That was the largest unrest since war on Kosovo 1998 – 1999. The official reason for unrest was the drowning of two Albanian children in a river in the village of Cabra, for whose death the Albanian media and politicians blamed Serbs from a neighboring village Zupca. In fact, it was just an exuse for ethnic cleansing of Serbs. Everything was done with the tacit approval of the West. During the unrest it is estimated that some 4,000 Serbs were expelled from their homes throughout Kosovo. During the pogrom, 28 people were killed, 35 Orthodox monasteries were destroyed or desecrated, and about 930 Serbian homes were burned and destroyed. In addition to public condemnations of all international actors, many participants have remained unpunished to this date. A small group that was punished, was punished with a smashingly low penalties.
The same thing happened in Macedonia. On August 31, 2001, Aleksandar Damovski, director of the most circulating Macedonian daily Dnevnik, gave the following information for the portal “BH Dani”: ”Currently in Macedonia there are 60,000 Macedonians outside their homes, not with their own will. They were expelled from their own homes by Albanian extremists operating in the territory of Macedonia. The pressure on Macedonians, on the territory where the Albanian minority is in the majority, is getting bigger and bigger every day. Macedonians in Tetovo and Gostivar are locked in their homes, they can not get out…”
Basically, the Albanian question is artificially imposed. Today, the Greater Albania project is not just an extremist idea, but a project that enjoys the support of the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France and can count on the support of some Islamic circles. So far, US has invested heavily in the project of Greater Albania, so it is not realistic to expect changes on this issue in US policy. Namely, the US project of the creation of a large Albania has entered in the active phase after the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Since than to the present days has been implemented by military and diplomatic means.
Of course, there is a history of US and NATO engagement in the Balkans and should be payed attention to several key points:
1. The role of US and NATO in civil wars in Croatia and Bosnia, active fight against Serbs as well as sanctions against Serbia, which significantly weakened Serbia.
2. NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, and occupation of Kosovo.
3. A colour revolution that took place in Serbia on 5th October 2000, that meant a quiet occupation of Serbia, with wich started the destruction of powerful Serbian army, that in the war had embarrassed NATO.
4. A short war in Macedonia and Ohrid Agreement which was imposed to Macedonians, as a US project that began the process of “political” reforms in Macedonia through constitutional changes and the adoption of a number of new laws that provided much greater power to Albanians in Macedonia.
5. The US support of Montenegrin independence, which has weakened Serbia. With the separation of Montenegro from Serbia, Serbia has lost its access to the sea.
6. US played a key role in the declaration of Kosovo`s independence in 2008, although that was contrary to international law.
In both Albanian states today as earlier, there is a rule of crime and corruption. The logical question is why so much interest has US and some other Western powers in supporting the creation of a Greater Albania. The answer is in geopolitics and history. Great Albania is needed by the West as another whip against the Serbs. Because, Serbs in the eyes of Western historians and geopoliticians are the Balkan Russians. Far in 1876, during the time of the Serbian-Turkish war, Benjamin Disraeli, the president of the British government, accused Serbia of leading “a cold and criminal war against all the principles of public moral and honor.” He called the Serbian national liberation struggle “a Serbian conspiracy which is helped by Russian money and Russian soldiers”. He rejoiced at every Serbian defeat, and in the autumn of 1877 he suggested to the Austrians to occupy Serbia. Serbophobia, which prevails almost two centuries in the minds of strategists in London, occurred for one reason – the fear that the Serbs are “the main drivers of Russian Cossacks in the warm waters of the Mediterranean”. That is why since the outbreak of the First Serbian Uprising the main direction of British foreign policy was to preserve the territorial integrity of Turkey.
In achieving this goal, Great Britain today has the absolute support of the United States of America. The West, first of all United States and Great Britain, pursuses its policy in the Balkans, which for aim has a constant weakening of the Serbs. That’s why the West strongly supports Great Albania.
To make an end to disastrous US and British politics in the Balkans it is needed a stronger presence of Russia and China in the Balkans, primarily in Serbia. Strong Serbia is the best prevention of Greater Albania. Russia has done a lot in that direction, but still insufficiently. The cooperation of Russia and Serbia in terms of military cooperation has been raised to a much higher level. Today, in the Western Balkans, Serbia has the strongest military. But economic cooperation is not good enough. Russian investments in Serbia are primarily in the energy sector, which is a strategic sector for Russia, but with energy cooperation, investments in Serbian agriculture are needed. With investments in Serbian agriculture, Russia would strategically consolidate its position in Serbia. At the diplomatic field, it is necessary to block any solution for Kosovo, which is not in accordance with UN Resolution 1244. Without independent Kosovo, the project of Greater Albania is impossible.
First published in our partner International Affairs
The European Union and the East Wind
One characteristic trait of modern life is that the key global actors are much more focused on their own domestic problems than on international issues. This propensity for political introspection (some may even call it political autism syndrome) is present, to some extent, in the U.S., Russia, China, and India. However, it is particularly characteristic of the European Union, which currently has to simultaneously deal with Brexit, prepare for the upcoming European Parliament elections, restore financial discipline in the eurozone, and reconcile differing views on migration issues along with many other urgent and extremely important domestic issues. It is clear that Brussels is running out of time to come up with a common pan-European foreign policy.
However, the EU by its very nature is much more dependent on the surrounding world than the U.S., China, or Russia. In this sense, Brussels cannot really afford any manifestations of even selective isolationism. If the EU is not prepared to deal with external forces, then these external forces are quite prepared to deal with the EU. One good example here is China’s increased interest in Europe. In late 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Madrid and Lisbon; rumour has it that he is going to visit Rome and Paris in the near future, and he is speeding up preparations for two multilateral summits in 2019: with the EU as a whole and in the 16+1 format (China plus 16 countries of Central Europe and the Balkans).
“The east wind prevails over the west wind,” Mao Zedong said at a meeting of communist and labour parties in Moscow in November 1957. Sixty years ago, this formula was perceived in Europe as poetic hyperbole. Today, Europe cannot afford to neglect the east wind, which is gaining more strength each year, penetrating all the windows and crevices in the European building, swaying the unstable European structures, slamming doors in the Brussels corridors of power, and forcing European leaders to shiver in the draught and seek reliable shelter.
Experts and politicians in the EU are currently discussing ways to protect Europe from yet another Chinese advance. It is believed that China is going to use the EU’s soft “Mediterranean underbelly” in order to disrupt the already fragile European unity. Beijing apparently is seeking to gain control over European transport and energy infrastructure as well as establish control over the most promising European technology companies. There are fears that China will begin interfering more actively with political processes in European countries.
How justified are these fears? Is Brussels doomed to negotiate with Beijing from a position of weakness? After all, China needs Europe no less than Europe needs China. The EU with its five hundred million consumers remains the world’s largest market. Europe is the ultimate geographic target of China’s flagship Belt and Road project. Europe is the most important source of investment, management models, and social practices for China. Moreover, as Chinese-U.S. trade, economic, and political relations are worsening, the EU has taken on increased importance for China.
China is certainly a difficult and uncompromising partner. Its tactics include the ability to delay negotiations endlessly, return again and again to discussing general provisions, minimise its obligations, leave room for different interpretations of agreements already reached, and so on. The U.S., especially under the current administration, prefers twisting its partners’ arms in a rough and unequivocal manner, whereas China aims to outsit its partners and possibly avoid any unpleasant confrontation. One good example of China’s tactics is the Chinese-EU talks on mutual investments, which have not been particularly successful so far.
Nevertheless, in the current situation Beijing and Brussels are equally interested in attaining a new level of cooperation. Common sense suggests that the parties should demonstrate maximum flexibility, understand each other’s priorities, take into account the partner’s red lines, and be willing to make mutual concessions.
Both parties must resist obvious temptations. China is tempted to take advantage of the EU’s current problems and weaknesses in order to achieve tactical advantages in its relations with Brussels. Europe is tempted to demonstrate, once again, its unfailing loyalty to Washington by mechanistically replicating the U.S. position in trade and economic negotiations with Beijing.
Of course, it is unlikely that all tension in EU-Chinese relations will be eliminated in the coming months or even years. However, even symbolic positive changes would send an important signal to everyone.
This would be a signal to the Donald Trump administration, which needs to realise that it can no longer dictate the rules of the game in the global economy to the rest of the world.
It would also be a signal to Russian leaders, who need to understand that the idea of the contemporary world as an inevitable confrontation between the “aggregate West” and the “aggregate non-West” is not consistent with reality.
This would also be a signal to the entire international community, which very much needs to receive confirmation that the current fragmenting of the world economy and the rise of protectionism and economic nationalism are not a long-term path for development but merely a temporary, and by no means universal, deviation from the irreversible process of globalisation.
Most importantly, successful negotiations with China would send a very important signal to Europe at a time when such a signal is particularly needed: on the eve of the historic European Parliament elections, when the pressure being applied by Eurosceptics and right-wing populists to mainstream parties is growing every day.
The growing east wind means a new challenge for the European project, but it is not the end of the world. As Mao noted, “When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills”.
First published in our partner RIAC
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