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One in 300 Million: Serbia After Putin

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Authors: Ekaterina Entina, Dejan Novakovic, Georgy Engelhardt

President Putin’s visit to Belgrade on January 17, 2019 was a significant domestic political event for Serbia, and an “empty” one for Russia in terms of its prospects in the country, given the events of 2018 and the content of the meeting itself.

A Simplified Approach to Assessing the Results of Putin’s Visit

The arrival of the President of the Russian Federation did allow Aleksandar Vučić to demonstrate that he enjoys the support both of Washington (which in many ways is doubtful) and Moscow, a city beloved by a large part of the Serbian population. In terms of domestic politics, this position guarantees that the ruling party will score a convincing victory in the snap parliamentary elections, which could be held as early as this spring. The slogan being used to promote Putin’s visit was “one in 300 million” (a reference to a popular Serbian saying that translates “The Serbs and the Russians, there are 300 million of us, but without the Russians, barely enough to fill half a bus”), which turned into a direct response to the opposition’s phrase “1 in 5 million” (which came about in December 2018 as a reaction to the careless statements of the Serbian leader about the opposition’s rallies) and could be used as a “banner” during the election campaign in the country.

On the other hand, the scale of the open part of the visit clearly did not match the qualitative component. In terms of the size and emotional intensity, Putin’s visit to Belgrade had all the trimmings of a grand performance. Seven hundred journalists, 5000 security service officers, a good part of the Russian cabinet, a squadron of Serbian MiGs to accompany the President’s plane in Belgrade, 120,000 Serbs on the square in front of the Church of Saint Sava chanting “Putin! Putin!” and even two small but indispensable additions to the main program – the timely revelation of an attempted assassination and the free Tsarsky bread in the Maxi shops.

At the same time, the main results of the visit were the streamlined statements about TurkStream, the 21 agreements that will be worth a total of 660 million euros in the future (five of which are concerned with providing electricity to Serbian cities) and the Russian leader’s assertion that the “the resolution of the Kosovo issue should be handled by Belgrade and Pristina, but within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.”

The following outlines what may at first appear to be the main results of Putin’s visit to Belgrade.

A Tie

Putin’s visit to Belgrade, dare we say, was an historical event. It will take some time before we see its effects – either as a solid result in the Balkans or as the end of Russia in the region. Why is that?

Following the 2000 October Revolution in Yugoslavia, which led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević, fierce debates raged in Serbia over why Moscow did nothing to prevent the change of power in Belgrade. They also brought up the fact that Russia “did nothing” in 1995 when Milošević visited Moscow. Just like now, the expectations of ordinary Serbs back then (regardless of what social group they belonged to) were off the charts, and the Serbian leaders wanted to use Moscow to further its own domestic agenda. And, as we all know, there is nothing worse than disappointed expectations.

To be sure, it can be stated that, despite its pomposity, Putin’s visit went off without any global breakthroughs or prodigious gestures. Yet there were many fears about it: that attempts would be made to get Russia to achieve an agreement on the recognition by Belgrade of Kosovo’s independence; that the Serbian side would try to draw Putin into the country’s domestic confrontation; or, more importantly, that the whole deal could undermine pro-Russian sentiments within Serbian society.

The Russian leader managed to avoid the main traps rather skilfully. Putin did say that “Russia is in favour of Belgrade and Pristina achieving a viable and mutually acceptable solution,” words that Aleksandar Vučić had longed to hear, but continued by reiterating Moscow’s position that this should be done “within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.” This is precisely what Vučić’s opponents in Serbia are demanding, including the Kosovo Serbs, who fear that “bold and creative” solutions will actually turn out to be a banal form of capitulation and, instead of appeasement, the benefits of European integration will only lead to further crises and the split of the country.

Putin was equally skilful in his refusals to engage in the domestic political struggle in Serbia. Presenting Vučić with the Order of Alexander Nevsky and praising him for his personal contribution to the development of bilateral relations (which is certainly fair, as Serbia is the only European country that does not display a hint of anti-Russian sentiment at any level), Putin made note of other Serbian greats who had the honour bestowed upon them in the 19th and early 20th centuries – the founder of independent Serbia Miloš Obrenović and the famous Prime Minister Nikola Pašić. However, Putin politely refused to take part in a mass rally organized by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) led by Vučić. The SPP chartered hundreds of buses to bring in activists and employees of government-funded organizations from across the country, attempting to use the meeting with the most popular foreign leader in Serbia to offset the mass protests organized by the opposition. Despite Vučić’s persistence, as well as the fact that Putin’s participation in the rally had been announced a week before his visit to Belgrade, the Russian leader merely thanked the people for their friendly attitude towards Russia. Refusing to support either of the sides in the domestic political confrontation helped prevent any damage being done to the Russophile portion of the opposition. It would seem that, in terms of its positions, Moscow did not lose anything from Putin’s Belgrade visit. But did it win anything? That is the question.

In order to answer this question, it is important to understand the regional context in which the official visit took place.

The Regional Dimension

The Macedonian parliament recently passed a vote on changing the country’s name to the “Republic of North Macedonia,” opening the way to NATO and EU membership. The Hellenic Parliament has not yet voted on the issue. It will do so on January 25, 2019.

Two days before Putin’s visit to Serbia, the U.S. administration addressed the request to lift the customs barriers imposed on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to Kosovo Albanians. The pressure on the Kosovan authorities to take part in the hearings on the atrocities of the 1990s is thus increasing. Such actions, as well as the developments of the past six months, demonstrate that Washington sees itself as the main arbiter and future guardian of the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. Donald Trump was candid about this in his December 2018 letters to President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić.

At the same time, the Kosovan and Albanian authorities bilaterally abolished the border regime between the two countries and implemented joint control over crossings, meaning that the two countries have de facto entered the final stages of the “Greater Albania” project. It would seem that such steps would logically put the issue over other “great” countries (for example, Serbia and Croatia) on the agenda too. But we should not count on this right now, as, unlike the Albanians, Belgrade and Zagreb do not have great power behind them.

The only thing that is new in Serbia–Croatia relations are the reasons for the tensions. Tensions themselves are part and parcel of the relationship between the two countries.

In this context, symbolism surrounded the Russian President’s visit to Belgrade. Aleksandar Vučić presented Putin with a Šarplaninac (also known as a Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog, a Macedonian Shepherd Dog and a Kosovan Shepherd Dog). Does it mean he presented Kosovo to Moscow? Probably not. However, it was almost certainly an invitation to step up efforts and an attempt to shift part of the responsibility for the outcome of the negotiations regarding the region onto Russia.

What is more, in the context of the regional trends mentioned above, Putin’s visit can be interpreted not only and not so much as Russia demonstrating its support for Vučić and Serbia, but rather as a meeting with all the region’s Serbian leaders (the leader of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik, the leaders of the Montenegrin opposition Andrija Mandić and Goran Danilović, and the leader of the Serbs in Macedonia Ivan Stoilković). For the first time ever, Putin, albeit it in passing, touched upon the issue of the fragmentation of the Serbian people across a number of states: “There was an attempt to pull the Serbian people about and scatter them across different states, but these decisions are unlikely to be durable if they are not fair.”

What Can Russia Get out of Putin’s Visit?

On the one hand, everything we have mentioned so far can be used to marginalize Moscow’s role in the region.

The ruling party in Serbia will, through the state-controlled media, paint the visit as support for its efforts to cut the “Kosovan knot” and one of the main trump cards for possible parliamentary elections in the future. In this sense, it will tear out a part of the pro-Russian opposition’s program, which is actively participating in the “Union for Serbia” movement, and also deprive it of its main argument that “the government pursues the treacherous policy of recognizing Kosovo and acceding to both the European Union and NATO.” In reality, while Aleksandar Vučić consistently rejects the prospect of Serbia joining NATO, it is clear that the pressure on Belgrade continues to grow. Before Putin’s arrival, the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Serbia reported that negotiations on the second phase of the Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAP) with NATO had been successful.

Both a final solution to problem of Macedonia’s name and NATO pressure on Bosnia and Herzegovina indirectly point to the Alliance strengthening its positions in the region. The only recourse available to Belgrad would be either joining NATO or secession of Republika Srpska and work for the creation of the so-called “Great Serbia” as the Albanians do.

The pompousness with which the President of the Russian Federation was received will, from a moral point of view, allow European bureaucracy and the western media to double down on its campaign to stigmatize Russia in the region and accelerate the integration of the Balkans into NATO. At the same time, the economic results of the visit, which have been described by the well-known saying “the mountain gave birth to a mouse,” open the way to marginalizing Russia’s role in the economic structure of the region and the pedalling of this fact on the part of the European Union. We must admit that Aleksandar Vučić covered all the bases here: in the run-up to the visit, he assured all the European ambassadors that Putin’s arrival in Belgrade was in no way connected to Serbia’s main desire – to become a member of the EU. The fact that Russia and Serbia have not yet managed to complete technical negotiations on the creation of a free trade area between the latter and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which were launched back in 2015, is further evidence of this.

At the same time, the absence of economic breakthroughs indicates that the visit was needed primarily by Belgrade, which had fought so hard for it to take place. The contractual agreements that were reached do, however, demonstrate that Russian business has an interest in the Serbian market. Also, while “digitalization” is seen by many in both countries as a “modern toy of the authorities,” the agreements give IT companies certain opportunities: Russian companies will gain access to the Serbian market and Serbian developers will be involved in Russian projects.

Most importantly, the visit clearly demonstrated to the West that, politically speaking, Russia has no intention of leaving the Balkans, that it understands the intricacies of the domestic political situation and uses them elegantly. Through Serbia (and not only Serbia, like in Slovenia), Russia has influence and weight in all the countries in that region. And the main thing (in terms of it going against the Western concept of economic dominance) is that Russia’s lack of economic influence in the region continues to be compensated quite easily by its historical power and the psychological and emotional communality shared by the Russian and Serbian peoples. It is possible that such a timely visit from the Russian patriarch to the region could bridge the financial void in the Russia–Serbia story.

However, in the short term, all of this default potential may sink into oblivion if Russia does not find a way to become actively involved in the resolution of the Kosovo issue, and in the ethnic issues in the region as a whole. It would be wise for Moscow to include a number of questions on the agenda:

  • Why do the European Union and NATO tolerate this kind of Balkans (stagnating politically and economically, and thus combustible and living exclusively in the past)?
  • Why does the inclusion of the United States and the United Kingdom in the negotiations on Kosovo does not mean inclusion of Russia?
  • Why do both the United States and the European Union turn a blind eye to the growing tension in the region (the emerging split between the Orthodox Church and the radicalization of the Islamic environment)?

Moscow should then propose searching for answers to these questions within the framework of a new international conference on the Balkans.

*Dejan Novakovic President of the Adriatic Council (Belgrade, Serbia), Georgy Engelhardt Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

First published in our partner RIAC

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EU: The stalemate in negotiations brings Serbia ever closer to Russia and China

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Serbia has been waiting since 2012 for the European Union to respond to its application to become a full member of the EU.

In spite of exhausting negotiations, this response is slow in coming and the main cause of the stalemate has a clear name: Kosovo. Before accepting Serbia’s application for membership, the EU requires a definitive solution to the relations between Serbia and that region that broke away from it after the 1999 conflict – when NATO came to the aid of the Kosovo Albanians – and proclaimed its independence in February 2008.

Serbia has never recognised the birth of the Kosovo Republic, just as many other important countries have not: out of 193 UN members, only 110 have formally accepted the birth of the new republic, while the rest, including Russia, China, Spain, Greece and Romania – to name just the most important ones – refuse to recognise the independence of the Albanians of what was once a region of Serbia.

The European Union cannot accept that one of its members is in fact unable to guarantee control over its borders, as would be the case for Serbia if its membership were accepted.

In fact, since the end of the war between Kosovo and Serbia, there is no clear and controlled border between the two countries. In order to avoid continuous clashes, Kosovo and Serbia have actually left the border open, turning a blind eye to the ‘smuggling economy’ that thrives on both sides of the border.

In this situation, if Serbia were to become a full member of the European Union, it would create a gap in the borders of the entire Schengen area, as anyone passing through Kosovo could then move into all EU countries.This is not the only obstacle to Serbia’s accession to the European

Union: many European chancelleries are wary of Serbian foreign policy which, since the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation, has maintained a privileged relationship with Russia, refusing to adhere to the sanctions decided by Europe against Russia after the annexation of Crimea to the detriment of Ukraine.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Serbia even agreed to produce the Russian vaccine ‘Sputnik V’ directly in its own laboratories, blatantly snubbing EU’s vaccine offer.

For the United States and some important European countries, Serbia’s formal accession to the European Union could shift the centre of gravity of Europe’s geopolitics towards the East, opening a preferential channel for dialogue between Russia and the European Union through Serbia.

This possibility, however, is not viewed unfavourably by Germany which, in the intentions of the CDU President, Armin Laschet, the next candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor, has recently declared he is in favour of a foreign policy that “develops in multiple directions”, warning his Western partners of the danger resulting from “the interruption of the dialogue with Russia and China”. In this regard, Laschet has publicly stated that ‘foreign policy must always focus on finding ways to interact, including cooperation with countries that have different social models from ours, such as Russia, China and the nations of the Arab world’.

Today we do not know whether in autumn Laschet will take over the leadership of the most powerful country in the European Union, but what is certain is that Serbia’s possible formal membership of the European Union could force Europe to revise some of its foreign policy stances, under the pressure of a new Serbian-German axis.

Currently, however, Serbia’s membership of the European Union still seems a long way off, precisely because of the stalemate in the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations.

In 2013 Kosovo and Serbia signed the so-called ‘Brussels Pact’, an agreement optimistically considered by European diplomats to be capable of rapidly normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo, in view of mutual political and diplomatic recognition.

An integral part of the agreement was, on the one hand, the commitment of Kosovo’s authorities to recognise a high degree of administrative autonomy to the Kosovo municipalities inhabited by a Serb majority and, on the other hand, the collaboration of the Serbs in the search for the remains of the thousands of Kosovar Albanians presumably eliminated by Milosevic’s troops during the repression that preceded the 1999 war.

Neither of the two commitments has so far been fulfilled and, during the meeting held in Brussels on July 21 between Serbian President Alexander Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, harsh words and reciprocal accusations were reportedly exchanged concerning the failure to implement the ‘Pact’, to the extent that the Head of European foreign policy, Josep Borrel, publicly asked the two parties to ‘close the chapter of a painful past through a legally binding agreement on the normalisation of mutual relations, with a view to building a European future for its citizens’. This future seems nebulous, to say the least, if we consider that Serbia, in fact, refuses to recognise the legal value of degrees and diplomas awarded by the Kosovo academic authorities also to members of the Kosovo Serb minority.

Currently, however, both contenders are securing support and alliances in Europe and overseas.

Serbia is viewed favourably by the current President of the European Union, Slovenian Janez Jansa, who is a supporter of its membership because “this would definitively mark the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation”. The vast majority of European right-wing parties, ranging from the French ‘Rassemblement National’ to the Hungarian ‘Fydesz’, also approve of Serbia’s membership application and openly court the Serbian minorities living in their respective countries while, after the years of US disengagement from the Balkans under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the Biden administration has decided to put the region back on the list of priority foreign policy commitments, entrusting the ‘Serbia dossier’ to the undersecretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Matthew Palmer, an authoritative and experienced diplomat.

With a view to supporting its application for European membership, Serbia has also deployed official lobbyists.

Last June, Natasha Dragojilovic Ciric’s lobbying firm ND Consulting officially registered in the so-called EU ‘transparency register’ to promote support for Serbia’s membership. ND is financed by a group of international donors and is advised by Igor Bandovic, former researcher at the American Gallup and Head of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, by lawyer Katarina Golubovic of the ‘Committee of Human Rights Lawyers’ and Jovana Spremo, former OSCE consultant.

These are the legal experts deployed by Serbia in Brussels to support its application for formal European integration, but in the meantime Serbia is not neglecting its “eastern” alliances.

Earlier this month, the Head of the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, paid an official visit to Belgrade, a few weeks after the conclusion of a joint military exercise between Russian special forces (the “Spetznaz”) and Serbian special forces.

In the Serbian capital, Naryshkin not only met his Serbian counterpart Bratislav Gasic, Head of the ‘Bezbednosno Informativna Agencija’, the small but powerful Serbian secret service, but was also received by the President of the Republic Alexander Vucic with the aim of publicising the closeness between Serbia and Russia.

The timing of the visit coincides with the resumption of talks in Brussels on Serbia’s accession to the European Union and can clearly be considered as instrumental in exerting subtle diplomatic pressure aimed at convincing the European Union of the possibility that, in the event of a refusal, Serbia may decide to definitely turn its back on the West and ally with an East that is evidently more willing to treat the Serbs with the dignity and attention that a proud and tenacious people believes it deserves.

A piece of news confirming that Serbia is ready to turn its back on the West, should Europe continue to postpone the decision on its accession to the European Union is the fact that China has recently signed a partnership agreement with Serbia in the field of pharmaceutical research, an agreement that makes Serbia one of China’s current largest commercial partners on the European continent.

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NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.

Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.

This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.

Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.

When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.

As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.

In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4

It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5

Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7

Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8

A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9

Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10

Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.

And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

From our partner RIAC

[1] Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.

[4] British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.

[5] Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.

[6] In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.

[7] Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.

[8] ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.

[9] Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.

[10] Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.

[11] Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.

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Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy

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The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.

Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.

On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa.  And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.

Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society  as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.

In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.

So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions.  And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.

The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.

The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy  in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that  human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko. 

Therefore  the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the  recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds  about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.

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