The 19th meeting between the presidents of Russia and Serbia, Vladimir Putin and Aleksandar Vucic is perceived as a meeting of unequal partners, said the Director of the Forum for Ethnic Relations, Dusan Janjic. In an interview for The Geopost, Janjic says that Vucic needed this meeting to negotiate Russian gas price, possible postponement of the Serbian financial debt, and to hear from Putin on his intentions when it comes to Russian plans of supporting Dodik in Srpska Republic in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Here is the full interview:
The Geopost: Mr. Janiic, what’s your assessment on the last Vucic and Putin meeting?
Janjić: Let’s say that this is almost the 20th meeting of the two presidents. They are two unequal partners, in terms of the power on the international scene, or in other parameters. It is obvious that Vucic needed this meeting more than Putin did in this moment, and I think that there are two main topics. First, something that in democratic societies is usually not done by presidents, while in authoritarian societies yes, presidents can influence the price of energy and the dynamics of foreign payments, interstate debts, and both are a headache for Serbia. Vucic needs to postpone the payment of some debts and also needs a kind of benefited gas price. As we know, “debt is not a good friend”, and Serbia is obviously not as great as Vucic claims. This visit is at least very important as a signal that not everything is as the government says. An energy and economic crisis, as well as a monetary instability is in front of the door, especially if Putin does not agree and cannot postpone most of the debts. As for the other usual consultation on bilateral and other political issues, it is certain that Vucic’s intention is to inform Putin about the situation in the region, in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also about the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. Is there any thing that can be learned now and that has not been said s far? Very little. I assume that Putin, if honest, can inform Vucic about some details and important things on relations between Russia and Washington, Moscow and Washington, which concern Europe, ie Ukraine and, of course, the Western Balkans. A consultative meeting which should now show the good relations between the two leaders, in order for the Belgrade leader to use it for his already ongoing campaign, and in a way help Vucic decide which side he will take when it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, because the support to Milorad Dodik, which is close to the heart of Moscow, but not in the interest of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and is directly opposed to the US administration in the peaceful settlement of disputes and the preservation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entry into NATO, is the main topic. Russia is afraid that Serbia will go towards NATO. That would be the main perspective from which Putin will decide on his own moves. Therefore, when it comes to the possible lowering of the gas price, Putin will decide based on the satisfaction he get from Aleksandar Vucic answers.
The Geopost: How do you comment the political and military cooperation between Vucic and Russia?
Janjic: It is already a part of the game in which Kostunica’s government has already entered. Afterwards it turned into a much more than military neutrality since the arrival of the radicals in power. In fact, military neutrality is an instrument of moving away from NATO and getting closer to Russia’s military and security interests. When it comes to arms and weapons trade, which are always important in all interstate relations, Russia uses Serbia as a partner for the placement of its technologies, as a replacement of old ones in Serbia, and these new ones outside the space that Russia can have access to, is just the first part. The second part is the police-security cooperation. Russia is strongly infiltrated as an intelligence community in all events and institutions in Serbia itself. Vucic led to the fact that his survival in Serbia depends perhaps more on the votes of the citizens of Serbia than on Putin. Communication about the alleged fight against terrorism, corruption and organized crime, especially drug business, is also very important, followed by the use of these services for the needs of interstate cooperation. There are certainly some routine reporting mechanisms in this. Presidents don’t like to talk about it except when there is an issue. At this moment, I do not see that there is any issue of disagreements, but possibly, potentially about Dodik, about the assessment of how far Dodik should go. Should Dodik turn the special units of the Srpska Republic that he and Moscow equipped and trained, into the army or not? This is something that, of course, Putin will not listen to Vucic, but he will certainly consult him and inform him on his decision.
The Geopost: How do you assess the visit of the Ambassador of Russia, Alexander Bocan-Kharchenko, to the north of Kosovo, at the Jarinje border crossing?
Janjic: Amateurs are playing security marketing. That was a point that Serbia should have not crosses, but she did. Otherwise, it was a very important point because that visit and the line-up of the Army in front of one ambassador, a Russian one, sent many messages. First, an interna message that Serbia is everything, but not and independent state, and not independent of Moscow’s influence. That Serbia, in essence, is a platform of Moscow’s games in the Balkans. That finally woke up the West, first KFOR and then NATO.