To get a sense of what Russia wants in the Balkans look at what Russia does: Tentative dialogue with prof. Hadzidedic
On 14 February, Modern Diplomacy published “What Russia Wants In The Balkans” by Prof. Zlatko Hadzidedic. Whilst the esteemed professor stops short of providing a definitive answer to this question, his piece seeks to surreptitiously score a few points. First, it makes a masquerade of Balkan history by describing Russia’s regional influence as entirely simulated. Secondly, it tries to associate Moscow and Ankara to then exploits the inveterate ‘fear of the Turks’ to cast this “castrated” Russia as an existential menace to the geopolitical status quo in Europe. To be fair, prof. Hadzidedic does not conclude its piece claiming to have a definitive answer to this question. Yet, his entire argumentation hints in a rather specific direction, suggestion a rather maladroit reading of the facts. The purpose of this response is to start a respectful dialogue around this issue, as the writer finds some short-comings in his argumentation that might seek to progress the debate on geo-politics and geo-economics in the Balkans.
Introduction, or what’s the fuss about?
Needless to say, “What Russia Wants In The Balkans” seems to bite off more than anyone can chew. In a sense, the text’s inconclusiveness suggests that the author himself is well aware of it. After all, no analyst – and, probably, not even policymakers themselves – can pretend to know what Russia’s endgame in the region is. To be fair, prof. Hadzidedic does not conclude its piece claiming to have a definitive answer to this question. Yet, his entire argumentation hints in a rather specific direction, suggesting a rather maladroit reading of the facts.
Figure 1 Retired Serbian army men showing their support for Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Serbia in January 2019 © Radio Sarajevo
The two parts of this essay address some of the least consensual points of that column. First, §1 takes a historical look at alleged ‘Western’ attempts to throw sand in Russia’s eyes in the Balkans. The, §2 addresses the issue of Russia’s alleged “simulation of influence” over Serbia. Based on (arguably wrong) historical assumptions, the Author leads the reader to worry about the risk of Russia’s quest for real control over the region leading to a disastrous new war. Finally, §3 debunks the possibility that, with Russia’s condescendence, Turkey may destabilise the regional order and affirm itself as a major power in the Western Balkans by using Bosnia and Albania as proxies.
The century-old anti-Russian plot
Hadzidedic argues that ever since the 19th century, Russia has put vain efforts in steering Balkan politics towards a certain direction. In reality, London – with Paris’s and, later, Washington’s support – deceived Moscow by acting as the “true patron” of local elites in the pivotal moments of independence struggles and the wars of the 1990s.
Independence struggles in the 19th century
On independence movements, Hadzidedic’s stance can be summarised with a few quotations. First, Russia has never had any real influence in the region. It was the strategic interest of “West European powers” that determined the course of history.
True, France and England wanted to expand their colonial empires on Ottoman lands. But they had little reason to seek Austria-Hungary’s ruin. On the contrary, Britain had somewhat of a preference for Vienna in its confrontation with Moscow over the Balkans.
Meanwhile, Russia was set to gain from the fall of both Istanbul’s and Vienna’s empires. The Russians fought countless small wars against the Ottomans to gaining control over the Caucasus, free access to the Mediterranean Sea as well as acquired territories on the Caspian and Black-Sea basins— which Austria also aspired to. Moreover, Moscow craved at least a harbour on the Mediterranean, a scenario London never accepted. Hence, it was pitted against Austria in the Balkans and against Britain in the Mediterranean.
The dissolution of Yugoslavia
Hadzidedic’s bases his account of the Yugoslav Wars on this assumed lack of any reality behind Russia’s standing in the region. Consequently, his analysis of Serbia’s war crimes and their impact on regional stability are dubious at least. Assuming that France and the UK are the only key actors, the Author underlines the “continuous support” they had secretly offered Serbia. True, England and France had opposed Germany’s attempt to recognise Croatia’s independence as long as they could. Izetbegovic, Milosevic, Tudjman bear responsibility. And, so do the thousands of fighters recruited from all parties in conflicts. From the war criminals of Vukovar and Musala to the authors of massacres during OperacijaOluja, in Srebrenica and Križančevo. Yet, those “gigantic campaigns of ethnic cleansing” are blamed on no in particular, making it seem likely that external interference alone made war atrocities possible — with a surely-unintended exculpation of local political and military leaders.
Meanwhile, Hadzidedic gives a much distortive account of the “narratives” around the Yugoslav Wars in which Russia’s support for Serbia and the Islamist presence in Bosnia become focal points. Thence came the image of “clashing ‘civilizations’,” as Huntington would have put it. True, western media played a key role in consolidating these frames by characterising “all Bosnians, whatever their religion, as ‘Muslims’,” and prof. Hadzidedic is right to remind it once again. But such a practice was far from an instrument of psycho-warfare. On the contrary, accounts of chaos, disruption and confusion overwhelmed Western imaginariesfrom the White House to the suburbs of Western Europe. Most media clearly presented reports of war crimes being committed by Bosnian Serbs against Bosnian Muslims. One can argue whether this distinction casted the former apart from the rest of the Bosnian polity, thus reproducing divisions. Still, that is a different issue. If there was a ‘clash of civilisations’-sort of narrative, it was fraught with incomplete and imperfect reports. Clear-cut distinctions failed to materialise in a collective subconscious dominated by the idea of unjustifiable Rwanda-like, mass violence.
Finally, it is untrue that Yeltsin’s foreign policy generated “a public image of Russia as a promoter of pan-Orthodox ideology.” As eminent scholars have argued, Moscow’s foreign policy in this period was rather trendless. Yeltsin was trying to bring Russia back to ‘Europe’ while failing to understand that ‘its’ idea of Europe had died. Hadzidedic also supposes an “Anglo-American strategy of drawing Russia into inter-religious conflicts in Central Asia, in line with Huntington’s theory”. Yet, the facts argue against such a theory. If anything, “the refusal of the West to help Chechnya during the war” reveals the opposite intention. Some may have auspicated for Russia to remain ‘weak’ for years to come. But no one wanted the former-Soviet nuclear arsenal to fall in the hands of unknown local feudatories and extremists.
The Balkans are not a playground
In Hadzidedic’s narrative, “it is highly questionable how influential Russia really is in Serbia, despite its public support for it.”Actually, one can agree with the premise of this statement (and only partly so), but not with its corollary. True, Moscow’s backing for Belgrade’s rather adversarial stances vis-à-vis its neighbours has not bought much loyalty. Hence, acute observers agree that Russia has little actual effect on Serbia’s international policies Yet, what Hadzidedic misses on is both Balkan States’ own initiatives and China’s looming shadow. In fact, the region faces a metaphorical geostrategic crossroad summarisable in the trilemma: (1) Russia, (2) NATO and the EU or a (3) risingChina ?
Here the determining variable is perceived national interest and/or local leaderships’ self-interest. These two principles inform the oftentimes incoherent, indecisive and volatile outcomes of Western-Balkan countries’ foreign policy. In this sense, analysis striving to be up-to-date in the 2020s must acknowledge that, in the Balkans, the ‘great game’ is turning multipolar. Thus, medium-sized States in the region enjoy an in viable degree of freedom. As shown below, multipolarity makes each external actor more vulnerable to local contingencies and leaders’ changeable orientations.
Regarding Russia, one thing is clear:
The symbolic gestures and pro-Russian exhortations many Serbian politicians overindulge in mean very little when the reality is that the [Serbian government elites] have signed a number of agreements with NATO over the past few years […].
Therefore, there surely is a simulation of influence on Russia’s part. However, contrarily to what Hadzidedic argues, the hyperbolic accentuation of the Russo-Serb friendship is not a show set up to deceive the US. More than a mere Russian tactic, this narrative is a double*edged sword that regional actors can use to play all sides of the trilemma against each other.
For instance, the scarecrow of Russia’s incursions in the region exacerbates concern that the EU may be losing ground. In Montenegro and Macedonia, this mechanism has led to a flood of EU funds which local elites appreciated.
The EU and NATO
Hadzidedic downplays EU integration as a slow, but steady and inevitable mechanism working in the background. In his view, former-Yugoslav countries’ accession to the EU looks a bit like an ineluctable leap of faith “driven by national interest.” After all, in non-EU countries citizens’ welfare should benefit from joining the Union. Yet, the EU is becoming unpopular amongst large popular strata. Thus, it is not surprising at all that the enlargement process has become more unpredictable and its outcomes unreliable.
To oil the gears of the enlargement machinery, the EU resorts to ‘buy’ local consensus bestowing billions in grants. Furthermore, Brussels has also exploited the pandemic to pull non-EU States closer by granting more money and free vaccines. Thus, Sofia has promised vaccines to Skopje; Athens to Skopje and Tirana; Bucharest to Chisinau; and the Commission to Bosnia, Kosovo and even Ukraine.
Finally, China’s rise in the region is what Hadzidedic’s analysis completely omits. In effect, Central- and South-Eastern European countries exploited the pandemic to widen their room for manoeuvring between the poles of the trilemma. Hence, non-EU and EU member States in Eastern Europe are reaping this opportunity to enlarge the wedge between external powers. For instance, Hungary has just received 500,000 doses of Chinese Sinovac’s vaccines against the EU’s advice. It is not random that the same country recently signed a new contract with RosAtom — Russia’s State-owned nuclear-energy conglomerate.
Meanwhile, the EU has failed on multiple levels with its non-member neighbours. First, it did not manage to impose its political conditionality on Serbia in exchange for the transfer of vaccines. On the contrary, Serbia outperformed the EU in vaccination per capita “thanks to the Chinese and Russian vaccines.” Brussels’ ineptitude has led to an increase in Russia’s and China’s political and economic clout due to their ability to make good on vaccine delivery. These are the cases, besides Serbia, of Bosnia, Moldova and Montenegro. Meanwhile, Serbia more than fulfilled Bulgaria’s failed promise of delivering vaccine doses to North Macedonia. In doing so, it is shifting away from Russia’s preferred stance of principled hostility towards neighbours. At the same time, Belgrade is rowing against Brussels’ desiderata and becoming a reliable regional partner that does not bow to the EU’s normative power.
The limits of Russia-Turkey cooperation
In the last paragraph, Hadzidedic poses a question that finally reveals his preoccupation with the region’s future. Overall, the Author seems worried about the possible consequences of Russia’s imagined change of heart in the Balkans. He fears that Moscow might trick Serbia into igniting pre-extant tensions, plunging the region into another calamity.
The intervening variable that should explain the causation of these catastrophes is the alleged “tacit strategic alliance between Russia and Turkey.” Thus, it is necessary to debunk this quasi-conspiratorial theory by tackling its implicit assumptions: (i) Russo-Turkish military cooperation; (ii) peer-to-peer relations; and (iii) Turkey’s ability to pursue a proactive foreign policy.
The military history of a non-alliance
True, Moscow was not overly supportive of Armenia during the last war with Azerbaijan. Yet, in building a comparison between Nagorno-Karabakh and Kosovo, Armenia should be placed in the EU’s shoes — not Serbia’s, and by far. Moreover, searching for similarities between the two cases is a misguided quest.
In addition, a fairly strong argument could be made that Libya and Syria disprove the existence of such an “alliance.” After all, neither Russia nor Turkey have a real long-term plan to enact after the civil war subsides in these two countries.
Ankara is not as ‘great’ of a power as Moscow is
For these reasons, instances of bilateral dialogue have not “elevated Turkey to the status of a great power.” Nor could they do it, since Moscow does not boast the international stature to raise Ankara to that status. Actually, Russia is already punching above its weight on the international stage, and its dwarf economy shackles the country to the rank of co-primary actor beside the US and China, the two real superpowers.
Turkey’s looming economic crisis
Finally, standing on the verge of bankruptcy, Turkey is facing a difficult phase of its trajectory under Erdogan. It is highly unlikely that in such dire budgetary conditions Ankara would stage a large-scale subversion of the international order. Furthermore, Turkey cannot stand on the international stage with the resolve Russia can rightfully claim thanks to its nuclear arsenal.
Thus, any worry of Kosovo being absorbed into Albania with Turkey’s placet and Russia’s condescendence is vain: Pristina is not another Sevastopol.
Forecast: great-power competition in South Eastern Europe beyond former Yugoslavia
Against this background, whatever Russia does or does not do, peace in the region will not depend on it. There are many countries in the Balkans. A few of them have limited chances of pursuing a truly autonomous foreign policy, even despite international recognition. EU membership poses strong constraints on others’ ability to do so, while the dependency on EU funds fetters many. Serbia may look to be an exception since it has managed to float somewhere in the middle without fully relying on the West, Russia or China. Yet, its foreign policy cannot but adapt to its partners’ and neighbours’ policies.
Concerns for the future of the region are rarely unwarranted and it is hard to overstate them. But this is where Hadzidedic’s piece exceeds most measures of caution. First, it fails to understand the Balkans as a region that goes beyond former Yugoslavia. Then, it adopts a monolithic view of politics in which great powers play pool while everyone else is a ball. This rigid framework bulldozes nuances and details, degrades the region to a playground and revives the ghosts of a (recent) bloody past.
Many challenges lie ahead. Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece and Romania are struggling to navigate the pandemic. Bosnia and Kosovo have to deal with uncertain statehood while sharing with North Macedonia, Montenegro, Moldova and Serbia an oligarchic and backward economy. Albania and North Macedonia are waiting on the EU’s doorstep with no real assurance of effective membership. Yet, each of these risks hide a correlative opportunity. Publications like Modern diplomacy should contribute to laymen’s and investors’ knowledge of the region to emphasise those key, realistic focal points. This is the effort to which this piece wants to offer a contribution.
The Author thanks Dr. Fabio Bettanin, Professor of Contemporary Russian and Eastern-European History at the University of Naples “l’Orientale” for his valuable contributions to this article.
Sweden’s NATO Predicament and the Nations whose Destinies Connected
Exploring the Historical Bonds of Sweden, Poland, and Turkey
The Swedish monarch, Charles XII, exuded pride and arrogance as he led his formidable army towards Moscow, still in his twenties. He believed his forces to be invincible, drawing comparisons between himself and his soldiers to the legendary Leonidas and his valiant 300 Spartans. Several factors contributed to the young king’s unwavering confidence on the path to Moscow.
A mere few years prior, in 1700, a powerful coalition comprising Denmark-Norway, Saxony-Poland-Lithuania, and Russia had launched a coordinated assault on the Swedish protectorate of Holstein-Gottorp, as well as the provinces of Livonia and Ingria. Undeterred by the overwhelming presence of enemy armies, Charles XII triumphed in successive sieges, vanquishing his adversaries one by one. Following the Battle of Narva, even the formidable Tsar Peter the Great of Russia sought terms of agreement, but Charles XII disregarded these pleas. By the time they arrived at the gates of Moscow, the Swedish army had emerged victorious against foes two or even three times their own size, bolstering the commander’s sense of invincibility, akin to the great conquerors of the past like Leonidas or Alexander the Great. However, the seemingly indomitable Charles XII committed the same error as dreamy conquerors such as Napoleon and Hitler before him: underestimating the challenges posed by the vast Russian steppes. The army of Charles XII suffered a devastating defeat, compelling the young monarch to seek refuge in Ottoman territories, accompanied by a mere thousand men.
The Swedish king and his men remained guests in the Ottoman Empire, which is today Ukrainian territory, for more than 5 years. The Ottomans treated Charles like a king and cherished him, and he and his Polish and Ukrainian entourage were generously borne. Turkish Sultan Ahmed III was aware of the importance of Sweden for Ottoman security. The King, who could not return to his country, hoped to defeat Russia through an alliance with Poland and Ottoman Turks. The presence of the Swedish King in the Ottoman Empire also strained Turkish-Russian relations and eventually brought them to the brink of war. The most important reason for the Ottoman-Russian Prut War (1710-11) was the Turks’ refusal to surrender Charles XII to the Russians.
Nations whose Destinies Connected
If one were to ask residents of Istanbul about the location of Sweden or Poland today, they might draw a blank. In the minds of modern Turks, these countries no longer hold strong alliances or close ties. Similar sentiments can be found on the streets of Stockholm or Warsaw. Relations between Turkey, Sweden, and Poland have weakened and even become uncertain since the days of the Ottoman Empire. However, during the Ottoman era, particularly in the 16th-18th centuries, the sultans in Istanbul viewed Sweden and Poland as crucial counterbalances against Russia in Eastern Europe, and they prioritized these relationships.
For the Ottomans, it was advantageous that Russia was engaged in a conflict with Sweden in the north, as it alleviated pressure on the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman wars with Russia also presented an opportunity for the Swedish Kingdom to launch attacks against Russia. In line with Ottoman foreign policy, the corridor spanning from the Ottoman Empire to the Baltic Sea, encompassing Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states, and the Kingdom of Sweden, was considered a unified entity and treated as such. Presently, the prevailing method of interpreting maps primarily revolves around an east-west orientation, neglecting the various other facets of geography. Restricting the analysis of Russia’s perception of Eastern Europe solely to the East-West dimension would be highly deceptive. When examining the map from the vantage points of influential decision makers or political scientists situated in Istanbul or Stockholm, it is crucial for them to perceive a comprehensive geographical corridor extending harmoniously from Sweden to Anatolia. This broader perspective is essential in formulating appropriate policies aligned with the geographical realities at hand. While it can be acknowledged that Ottoman efforts were insufficient, their approach to map interpretation holds validity, and a comparable perspective remains relevant in contemporary times.
Growing Russia Shrinking Nations
The Russian threat necessitated cooperation and coordination among Sweden, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire. Since the time of Peter the Great, Russia’s objective had been to expand its reach to the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, which inevitably led to westward and southward offensives by Russian armies. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine draws its origins from these historical objectives as well: Russia seeks to establish a lasting and greater presence in the Black Sea region and gain access to war seas.
Over the centuries, Moscow (Russia), a relatively insignificant principality in the 15th century, rapidly expanded at the expense of three states: the Ottomans, the Kingdom of Sweden, and Poland. As Russia grew stronger, these three states gradually declined. By the end of the 18th century, Poland lost its independence and disintegrated, while the Swedish Empire diminished to the status of an ordinary state. Although the Ottoman Empire persisted until the 20th century, numerous Russian attacks eventually contributed to its collapse.
History, known for its repetition, serves as the best teacher of world politics. Hence, learning from the past is a paramount virtue for adept statesmen. Following the Ukrainian War, “old history” resurfaced in Eastern Europe, prompting regional states to seek reliable havens in anticipation of a potential Russian assault. Even Finland and Sweden, traditionally regarded as the world’s most pacifist states, found themselves lining up for NATO membership during the Cold War years. Countries under the NATO security umbrella, such as Poland and Turkey, experienced some degree of reassurance.
NATO members, particularly the United States, warmly embraced the applications of Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. However, Ankara surprisingly vetoed both applications, citing national interest. The Turkish government argued that these two states harbored anti-Turkey sentiments and terrorist groups within their borders. At least, these were the explicit reasons given. Finland managed to persuade Turkey within a year and became the fastest member state after applying to NATO. However, Turkey’s veto on Sweden’s membership still remains in effect. Sweden even made constitutional amendments in an effort to sway Turkey. While Sweden’s desire to join NATO can be understood from various perspectives, Turkey’s expectations from Sweden, as well as the key NATO member, the United States, appear more intricate.
The timing of Sweden’s accession as the 32nd NATO member remains uncertain, but statesmen should draw lessons from history. The realities faced by Poland, Sweden, and the Ottoman Empire still hold relevance in today’s international relations. Setting aside current crises, the relationships between Poland, Sweden, and Turkey fall short of their potential. These countries must strive for closer and more coordinated cooperation to maintain peace and stability in Eastern Europe while safeguarding their vital and existential interests. Furthermore, this cooperation should not solely be based on hostility towards any specific state, but rather on deterring hostilities altogether. (*)
(*) For Turkish-Polish relations also see: Laçiner, Sedat, et al., Turkish-Polish Relations: Past, Present and Future, (Ankara: ÇOMÜ Press, 2015).
Sino-European Relations Souring as Russia-Ukrainian War Intensifies
Since the establishment of Sino–European relations in 1975, there have been significant changes toward building a China-driven agenda in the past 15 months. These changes are intrinsically related to China’s rise, which diverted the EU-American international protagonism.
While there is no common ground among EU members on how to counterbalance the dependence on trading with the second-largest economy in the world, the G7 Summit imparted to the collective endeavors of the largest economies to ‘de-risk’ from China. The EUA, Canada, the UK, and Japan have joined the club.
The Russo-Ukrainian War Context
In March 2019, the European Union adopted a two-folded stance on its relationship with China, defining it as competition cooperation. This dualism underlines the need to understand how to play politics the Chinese way. Since then, the EU has sought to adopt a more assertive tactic, and the ‘systemic rival’ approach has thus prevailed. Besides, the recent Russia-Ukrainian war has contributed much to this decision. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently stated, “How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward.”
China’s close ties with Russia have been around for a while. Their connections in the global arena intensified to counterbalance the American world leadership. Sino-Russian relations were built through symmetric ideological concepts, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is still rooted in the Marxism-Lenist ideology.
China’s foreign affairs are based on non-interventionism principles, but its alignment with Putin has been questioned instead as support to the current war that possibly includes military intelligence and economic aid to Russia. China’s abstention from voting on the resolution that condemned Russia’s latest actions in Ukraine in October 2002 and the recent visit of Xi Jinping to Moscow days after the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin contributed to the EU to build the narrative that China does support Russia’s point of view and justifications to the war.
The EU strongly condemned Xi’s trip, voicing worries about China’s role in the war and power balance in its relations with Russia, which now favors China. In late March, Von der Leyen delivered a speech on EU-China relations to the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the European Policy Centre, stating, “President Xi is maintaining his ‘no-limits friendship’ with Putin.”
As Xi voiced “peace talks” and “responsible dialogue” over the war, a joint statement with his Russian counterpart raised the flag of a possible siding with Russia. The joint statement contained criticisms of sanctions and the contributions of NATO in expanding the conflict.
China’s possible role in a peaceful negotiation is unlike the one adopted to break a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which ended decades of elusive diplomatic relations. The reason is simple: its close ties with Russia.
The Economic Context
In the G7 summit in Hiroshima last week, the largest global economies voiced ‘de-risking’ China against possible economic coercion in various areas involving trade, technologies and intellectual property, and supply chain.
Apart from the Sino-American trade war and the reliance on trading in China – the EU recorded a trade deficit of more than 365 billion euros with China in 2022 – at least two other concerns have debuted on the discussion agenda: the country’s rare earth metals control and responsibility in cyberspace.
To counterbalance China’s new status quo on the global stage, the G7 announced the launch of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment. The total of $600 billion in financing for quality infrastructure is a clear threat to the Belt and Road initiative, but it is unlike that it will pose any danger to China-led investment activities.
The Taiwan Context
The expansion of Chinese influence in the South China Sea has also become a prominent topic at the G7 summit. The G7 Foreign Ministers released a joint statement against China’s latest military activities near Taiwan, condemning economic coercion and urging peaceful talks.
Taiwan is perhaps China’s most irrevocable negotiation topic in foreign relations as the “One China” policy emphasizes the recognition of the island as an integral part of its territory instead of a separate sovereign state. This policy is the central pillar of bilateral diplomatic relations with China.
The complex dynamics shaping countries’ perceptions and interactions with China have shifted Europe’s future standpoint, leaning towards a more assertive approach. As Europe redefines its relationship with China, the balance between reciprocity and market access, and strategic cooperation in climate change will shape the continent’s strategy moving forward. In any event, Europe’s future relations on China promises to be more stick, less carrot.
Expulsion of Diplomats further Cripples Russian-German bilateral ties
Russia and Germany have cross-haired relations as both disagreed on many policy issues, the latest on Russia-Ukraine crisis. The bilateral relations has dived down to its lowest level, especially with imposition of sanctions and expulsion of diplomats.
Reports said hundreds working for Germany in Russia had to quit employment and leave the country. Hundreds of civil servants and local employees working for German institutions in Russia would need to leave the country or lose their jobs in the coming days following an order by Moscow, Germany’s foreign ministry said May 27.
Those affected include teachers, as well as other employees of schools and the Goethe Institute, and is necessary to maintain the right balance for Germany’s diplomatic presence, said the person, who described the number affected as at least 100.
Starting from June, Russia will slash the number of people that Germany can employ in its embassies or institutions in Russia in the education and cultural sectors, the ministry said.
Several hundred people are affected, including officials from the embassy and consulate, but mostly employees of the Goethe cultural institute in the country, German schools, nurseries and teachers working in Russian schools, it added.
Both German and local Russian employees are affected, the ministry said, without giving precise figures on each category of staff. German employees will have to quit the country by June 1.
Russian employees should not be required to leave the country, but will lose their jobs since German institutions will no longer be able to employ them, the ministry said – clarifying initial indications the locals would have to leave too.
The news was first revealed in the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which spoke of a “diplomatic declaration of war by Moscow” against Berlin. “This is a unilateral, unjustified and incomprehensible decision,” the German foreign ministry said in a statement.
A close economic partner with Russia before Moscow invaded Ukraine, Germany has since moved away from Moscow, financially and militarily supporting Kyiv in the conflict. Since the onset of the conflict in Ukraine, Russian espionage in Germany has grown at a rate rarely equalled in recent years, according to German security services.
In mid-April, Germany expelled a number of Russian diplomats “to reduce the presence of intelligence services” which prompted a tit-for-tat response from Moscow which booted out some 20 German embassy staff.
The Russian foreign ministry in April set a ceiling for the number of German diplomats and representatives of public organisations allowed to stay in Russia or be employed by German institutions, the German foreign ministry said.
“This limit set by Russia from the beginning of June implies major cuts in all areas of (Germany’s) presence in Russia,” the ministry said. German authorities have tried in recent weeks to get the Russian ministry to reverse its decision, but without success, Sueddeutsche Zeitung said.
Berlin will aim to ensure “a real balance” in its response, the foreign ministry said. In spring 2022, Germany already expelled some 40 Russian diplomats which Berlin believed to represent a threat to its security.
Before Moscow invaded Ukraine, Russia was Germany’s main supplier of gas and a major supplier of oil. However Germany stopped supplies and has since become one of the biggest providers of arms and financial support to Ukraine in its war against Russia, souring relations which had been warming over decades.
Last October, the head of Germany’s cybersecurity agency, Arne Schoenbohm, was fired after news reports revealed his proximity to a cybersecurity consultancy believed to have contacts with Russian intelligence services. A month later, a German reserve officer was handed a suspended prison sentence of a year and nine months for spying for Russia.
Relations between Russia and Germany, which used to be the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas, have broken down since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the West responded with sanctions and weapons supplies.
Earlier on May 26, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the ambassadors of Germany, Sweden and Denmark to protest over what it said was the “complete lack of results” in an investigation to identify who blew up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year.
Several unexplained underwater explosions ruptured the Nord Stream 1 and newly built Nord Stream 2 pipelines that link Russia and Germany across the Baltic Sea in September 2022. The blasts occurred in the economic zones of Sweden and Denmark. Both countries say the explosions were deliberate, but have yet to determine who was responsible. The two countries as well as Germany are investigating the incident.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry in a statement accused all three of deliberately dragging their feet and trying to conceal who was behind the blasts. It said it was unhappy about what it called the opaque nature of the investigation and its refusal to engage with Russia.
“It has been noted that these countries are not interested in establishing the true circumstances of this sabotage. On the contrary, they are delaying their efforts and trying to conceal the tracks and the true perpetrators of the crime behind which we believe are well-known countries,” it said.
“It is no coincidence that ‘leaked’ improbable versions (of what happened) are dumped in the media to try to muddy the waters,” it said. The Danish foreign ministry confirmed that its ambassador had been summoned, and said authorities in Denmark, Germany, and Sweden were continuing their investigations.
“Denmark has been providing ongoing updates to Russia regarding the investigation’s progress and responding to their inquiries. We will continue to do so,” the ministry said. The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have called the incident “an act of sabotage.” Moscow has blamed the West. Neither side has provided evidence.
Several reports show that Kremlin’s leadership is taking hysterical actions to secure it sovereignty and territorial integrity. Its actions aim at protecting the statehood. Germany, Denmark and Sweden are not the only countries with locked-horns with Russia. It has policy differences with entire European Union and and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
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