The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2022

20 JULY-AUGUST 2022 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL SPEAKING OUT Serbia and Russia and the Coming Balkan Storm BY DEN I S RA J I C AND MARKO ATT I LA HOARE Denis Rajic is currently serving as the executive assistant at U.S. Consulate Shanghai. He joined the Foreign Service in 2009 from San Francisco, where he worked as a public lobbyist for GCA Strategies. He has served in Taipei, Damascus, Jakarta, Seoul and Kabul. Marko Attila Hoare is an associate professor and head of research for the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology. Born in London and educated at the University of Cambridge and Yale University, he is the author of four books on the history of Bosnia-Herzegovina and is currently completing work on a history of modern Serbia. T he cordon of police was heavy on Njegosevoj Street in Belgrade on Nov. 9, 2021. Protesters from Serbia’s liberal-oriented political spectrum had gathered, and they had a simple request: Remove the mural to the convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic, which was prominently placed in the street. Minister of the Interior Aleksan- dar Vulin, a close confidant of President Aleksandar Vucic, was there in person, not only to ensure the protection of the mural but to lay flowers before this altar of Great Serbian genocidal extremism. The present crisis is the culmination of a long historical drama that has the potential to spark a new Balkan war and seriously derail the integration of the Western Balkan states into the European Union and NATO. In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing crimes against the civilian population in that country, the danger of a Russia- sanctioned incursion into the Western Balkans remains acute as the Russian We can no longer afford to sit by and watch this growing challenge by Russia and Serbia to the security of NATO and the E.U. military machine is bogged down in the Ukrainian steppes. Russia has for centuries sought to expand its influence into the Balkans while coopting Balkan states as clients and assuming a right to interfere in their internal affairs. In Serbia, Russia regularly sought to promote leaders and factions that would do its bidding while counter- ing, marginalizing or removing those that would not. Conversely, Serbian leaders have sought Russia’s assistance against both domestic and foreign enemies. The Russia-Serbia Tie This Russo-Serbian relationship has frequently been destructive for Serbia and the Balkans and for international peace, particularly in 1914, when it con- tributed to plunging Europe into World War I. That war wiped out a large part of Serbia’s population and very nearly ended its independent national exis- tence. Josip Broz Tito, probably the most powerful modern leader ever to rule from a city in the Balkans outside Istanbul, succeeded by maintaining his indepen- dence fromMoscow, which famously excommunicated his regime in 1948. Yet since Putin took power in 1999, Russia has sought to use Serbia as a pawn to disrupt the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkans. Russia has been an active supporter of Serbian revisionism in Kosovo and regionally. It has worked on multiple fronts, but primarily economic and mili- tary, to boost the Vucic regime’s standing in the region. On the economic front, Russian firms are active in the banking, energy and now the defense sectors in Serbia. On the military front, Russia has sold to Serbia or, in some instances, donated weapons systems that have started to alter the delicate balance of power established following the Yugoslav wars. Russia has donated or sold to Serbia