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Serbia’s EU-Russia Dilemma

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After the disintegration of Yugoslavia, bloody conflicts took place in the Balkans. Although a relative peace and stability has been established in the region after the interventions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against Bosnia and Kosovo, the influence of ethnic nationalism and the participation of global actors in the power struggle in the region cause the security environment in the Balkans to become fragile. Of course, this brings the sustainability of peace into discussion.

In the context of ethnic nationalism, it can be said that Serbian nationalism has come to the fore in the region. Because the Belgrade administration’s ideal of “Greater Serbia” and the attitude of Serbian nationalists in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina show that the region is pregnant with various crises. In such an environment, Serbia also supports the separatist tendencies of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina and tries to take on the protection of the Serbs in the north of Kosovo, especially by not recognizing the independence of Kosovo. As a matter of fact, the events that led to the escalation of tension in the Kosovo-Serbia line in the recent past also maintain their place in the memories.

The tension in question arising from demographic heterogeneity is also affected by the power struggle between global actors. Because the NATO Kosovo Task Force (KFOR) being active in Kosovo and the Pristina administration’s declaration of independence with the support of the United States (USA) pushed Belgrade to get closer to Moscow. Similarly, it is known that Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the countries where the influence of the USA and the European Union (EU) is felt intensely. Undoubtedly, it can be claimed that this played a decisive role in Serbia’s rapprochement with Russia.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the Moscow administration closely follows the developments in the Balkans. Russia attaches importance to increasing its influence in the region. The reason for this is that the geography in question is also Southeastern Europe. Therefore, the Kremlin administration interprets the increase in its influence in the region as an increase in the influence of Europe in its immediate surroundings. At the same time, the situation in question was that the Moscow administration told the West, “I can destabilize your immediate environment, and therefore you, if necessary.” means to deliver the message.

In this context, it is seen that Russia uses pan-Slavism effectively. In other words, the Slavic origin of the Balkan peoples is considered by Moscow as an instrument that will strengthen its presence in the region.

As a reflection of the situation in question, Serbia has close relations with Russia, even though it is a country with an EU target. This issue came to the fore, especially after the Russia-Ukraine War, and started to be discussed intensively. Because Belgrade sees its relations with Moscow as an important balancing factor both in terms of energy dependency and in the context of its multidimensional and multidimensional foreign policy understanding. Of course, it is also very important that the actors with whom Serbia have conflicts in the region are supported by the USA and the EU.

On the other hand, it is known that far-right views have a certain social basis in Serbia. For example, in a survey conducted by the Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA) in March 2023, one-third of the respondents stated that they had a negative view of the EU.[1] As can be expected, this tendency of the Serbian people also has reflections on politics.

However, it should be emphasized that Belgrade considers the Russian factor as a part of its balance policy and does not seek to break away from the West completely. On the contrary, Belgrade wants to maintain relations with the West; but while doing this, it has the desire to act autonomously in line with its own national interests in foreign policy.

The EU, on the other hand, is trying to push Serbia away from Moscow by both forcing it to normalize with Kosovo and putting pressure on Russia to impose sanctions on Russia due to the war in Ukraine. The last example of the aforementioned policy is the statements made by the EU High Representative for Foreign Relations and Security Policy Joseph Borrell on 22 May 2023. In this statement, Borrell requested that Serbia, as a state advancing towards EU membership, should not align its policies with the foreign and security policy of the EU, especially the sanctions. In this context, Borrell stated that Belgrade’s stance is incompatible with the EU membership process.[2] Therefore, it can be argued that the union forced Serbia to make a choice.

As a result, Serbia takes care to maintain its relations with Russia, which wants to gain influence in the Balkans through pan-Slavism, due to the problems it has with Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In fact, Belgrade’s effort in this regard stems from its effort to act autonomously in its foreign policy. However, due to the acceleration of policies to isolate the Moscow administration from the world after the war in Ukraine, the EU also wants Serbia to impose sanctions on Russia. And this opens the future of the balance policy, which Belgrade is trying to carry out sensitively, for discussion. At this point, it can be said that Serbia is faced with a serious dilemma.


[1] Veli Can Akkaş, “Serbia-Kosovo Normalization in the Shadow of Global Competition and the Role of the EU”, ANKASAM, https://www.ankasam.org/serbia-kosovo-normalization-in-the-shadow-of-global-competition-and-the-role-of-the-eu/?lang=en, (Date of Accession: 24.05.2023).

[2] “Borrell: Tijesne veze sa Rusijom nespojive sa putem Srbije ka EU”, Al Jazeera, https://balkans.aljazeera.net/news/2023/5/22/borrell-nacionalnim-interesima-srbije-steti-nepridruzivanje-sankcijama-rusiji, (Date of Accession: 24.05.2023).

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN, 2014 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2017 yılında Giresun Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası Güç İlişkileri Bağlamında İkinci Dünya Savaşı Sonrası Hegemonik Mücadelelerin İncelenmesi’’ başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora derecesini ise 2021 yılında Trakya Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı‘nda hazırladığı “İmparatorluk Düşüncesinin İran Dış Politikasına Yansımaları ve Milliyetçilik” başlıklı teziyle alan Başaran’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, İran araştırmaları ve Afganistan çalışmalarıdır. Başaran iyi derecede İngilizce ve temel düzeyde Farsça bilmektedir.