| 05 November 2009Serbia has seen a highly decisive set of directions being formulated at the visit of the Russian President Medvedev in October 2009. These included a Serbian commitment to “a new security commitment in the region” that would rule out NATO as the only mechanism of collective security. While the details of the arrangement have not been publicized, it has become known that part of the deal is the establishment of a Russian “intervention” base in the southern Serbian city of Nish.
The bilateral agreement on the base was signed by the Serbian Minister of the Interior, ivica Dačić, and the Russian Minister for Emergencies, Sergey Shoygu, who commands an “interior army” of 50 000 soldiers, including armored units and an aviation. In addition, the implementation of the Russian gas pipeline through Serbia, with the pipes actually being installed on Serbian soil, is linked with the deployment of the Russian military to guard the pipeline. Finally, an idea of a Russian nuclear power station being built in Serbia has reportedly also been broached.
Clearly the course of events with the military base, initially described as “natural disasters related” follows the same logic that was used in the deployment of military forces elsewhere, including in Kosovo. There, too, the forces were initially described as intended to “intervene in disasters”, to quickly transform into a conventional army. In addition, Shoygu himself refused to confirm that the base would only be staffed by personnel from his ministry, by responding that journalists ought to ask President Medvedev about the final details. In other words, it is reasonable to assume that, along with the pipeline and the already ongoing de-mining in Serbia, conducted by the Russian teams, a strong, military base, possibly with nuclear weapons, might very well emerge by 2012 in Serbia. As Belgrade diplomats acknowledge, this means that the Serbian deliberations about NATO accession are in fact over before they have even been conducted in the public — NATO cannot possibly accept a country with Russian military on its soil, and the consequences for Serbia’s EU accession are made proportionally dimmer. The fait accompli methodology applied by Medvedev has, in a sense, settled many of the Euro-Atlantic debates that had raged in Serbia until the day of his arrival.
Perhaps the more interesting development, however, is the visit by the Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s two day visit to Serbia just a week after Medvedev’s departure. President Gul’s visit comes in succession to the July 2009 visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davatoglu, who along with the Serbian foreign minister mediated in talks between the confronted Bosniak leaders in Serbia’s region of Sandzak. Minister Davatogly said that Turkey would invest in the construction of a new highway from Belgrade to the Adriatic Sea, thus providing positive impetus for a further improvement of relations with Serbia.
Turkey is emerging as key player in the Balkans once again, this time by working to pool together the creative political energy by the Balkan’s Muslim communities, torn apart by the fear-mongering, manipulative and dominating Serbian political elites. The region of Sandzak, populated predominantly by the Bosniak community, is being described as the new “powder keg” in Serbia, with Serbian security services heavily involved in “keeping the peace” there. However, Serbia is facing an economic collapse in 2010, and its internal political scene is going through a fission process not unlike its territorial disintegration, with Kosovo’s secession as the latest event in the process. There is widespread speculation that the newly emerging Serbian Progressive Party might win the next election and there is frantic diplomatic activity in Belgrade trying to ensure that the party takes a moderate and tolerant course towards the open questions in Sandzak and other areas. Turkey’s influence, despite the resistance by some Serbian nationalist circles, is highly desirable and in fact necessary to make sure that a new set of relations is forged where a confrontation would be avoided.
It appears that the Turkish government has read the dynamics of Serbian political life as clearly and accurately as did the Russian Government. In order to set a process of solving the ongoing issues in motion, the current Serbian political establishment must be faced with a fait accompli: otherwise the constantly changing course of Serbian foreign policy will continue to dodge any real solution until problems mount to a point where an all out confrontation becomes unavoidable. Thus the visits by President Gul is a masterly diplomatic move that attempts to cast the new regional solutions vis-à-vis the interests of the Bosniak community and Turkey itself “in clay” before it is dry after the big Russian entry in mid-October.
*Professor Aleksandar Fatic is Director, Centre for Security Studies, Belgrade