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‘Some damn thing in the Balkans’ again – Putin seeks to exacerbate conflicts there

A railroad worker stands by the first train decorated with letters that read “Kosovo is Serbian” written in twenty languages departing from the Belgrade to Mitrovica, Kosovo at Belgrade’s railway station, Serbia, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. Serbia has launched a railway link to Serb-dominated northern Kosovo despite protests from authorities in Pristina who described the move as a provocation and an aggressive violation of Kosovo’s sovereignty. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
‘Some damn thing in the Balkans’ again – Putin seeks to exacerbate conflicts there

At the end of the 19th century, Otto von Bismarck prophesied that “some damn thing in the Balkans” would be the trigger for a broader European war. The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand I 1914 proved him right, with the great powers moving with varying degrees of enthusiasm toward the disaster of World War I.

The risk that Bismarck could be proved right a second time now is frighteningly real, making two commentaries, one by Russian journalist Kseniya Kirillova and a second by Ukrainian analyst Vitaly Portnikov, on how Vladimir Putin is stirring the pot in that historically unstable region particularly noteworthy.

Kseniya Kirillova
Kseniya Kirillova

Kirillova points out that Moscow is promoting Serbian revanchism, separatist attitudes, and traditional hostilities in the region to ensure that the situation in the Balkans remains at the boiling point, thus limiting the ability of the region’s countries to recover and to integrate into Europe.

She provides evidence of the close links between Bosnian Serb strongman Milorad Dodik and the Kremlin and points to other evidence showing that Moscow was very much involved with the recent unsuccessful coup d’etat in Montenegro and remains committed to the organization of a referendum there both to destabilize the area and to provide the patina of legitimacy to its own “referendum” in Crimea.

But perhaps Moscow’s largest operation is its cooperation with pro-Russian radicals in Serbia itself who have “received the order from Moscow to ‘beat the enemy,’ who is understood to include the Albanians, NATO and the European Union,” according to Serbian political analyst Ventsislav Buyich.

These Serbian radicals, Buyich says, “are absolutely certain that they have impunity and directly say that Russia ‘has reached agreement with Trump,’ and that the new US administration not in any circumstances will block their activities.”

One of the reasons a new round of Serbian and Albanian conflict is of such potentially great use to Moscow, Kirillova points out, is that the Kremlin will present it as being simply “a Christian-Muslim conflict.” Given Donald Trump’s statements, that description will help keep him on Moscow’s side.

Moreover, the US-based Russian journalist says,

“the Russian media have already begun actively promoting this legend,” and some Russian authors are “directly predicting a future war in the Balkans, accusing in advance Islamist terrorists, among whom, in the opinion of some experts, Russia has not a few of its own people.”

Buyich adds that Russian Deputy Prime Miniser Dmitry Rogozin was even more clear as to what Moscow intends. In early 2016, he told Serbian radical Voislav Šešelj that he was giving him a box showing Crimea with Russia and hoped that Šešelj would soon return the favor by giving Rogozin one with a box showing Kosovo within Serbia.

None of the countries around Serbia, not Montenegro, Macedonia or Kosovo, want to become part of ‘Greater Serbia,’” Kirillova concludes. They are all pro-European; “and that means Moscow’s plans can only be realized by a long a bloody war on the entire territory of the Western Balkans.”

Portnikov, for his part, extends Kirillova’s analysis and says directly that

“Russia wants a new war in the Balkans and is organizing this war” now by employing many of the tactics it used just before the Maidan in Ukraine to block its moves toward Europe and Moscow’s Anschluss of Crimea and invasion of the Donbas.

Vitaly Portnikov, Ukrainian political analyst and writer
Vitaly Portnikov

Russia, he continues, “will do everything possible to destabilize the relations of Serbia and Kosovo,” both to create conflicts and to block Serbia moving away from Russia toward Europe as Ukraine sought to do. “And no one will be surprised if, as a result, new wars break out” – and one possibly more horrific and more likely to spread than the one in the 1990s.

Everyone should keep in mind, Portnikov says, that “there is an essential difference between Milosevic’s wars and the conflicts of today. Yeltsin’s Russia for all its obvious sympathy to Milosevic nonetheless expected prudence from the Serbian dictator and did not intend to fight NATO on his behalf.”

“But Putin’s Russia not simply will help Serbia – it will be happy to transform this country into a new front of military operations and covets the outbreak of clashes with NATO in Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia or wherever. And if NATO doesn’t get involved, that also will please the Kremlin,” which will see it as yet another indication that it can advance elsewhere with impunity.

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