WASHINGTON – Serbia is the part of the Western Balkans most susceptible to Russian influence, and the relations between the two countries were at a lower level before the ruling Serbian Progressive Party came to power in 2012, analyses the Report of United States Department of Defence.
The Pentagon Report, written in May but published only recently, states that Russia, in order to counter international isolation that took place after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, has started to show increased interest in Serbia, Radio Free Europe reports.
These overtures did not go unanswered, the Report stresses. After coming to power in 2012, Serbian Progressive Party has taken steps to deepen cooperation with Russia, signing an agreement on strategic cooperation in 2013 and holding at least two joint military exercises per year.
Serbia is also the only country in the region that buys military equipment from Russia, the Report states. It reminds, however, that United States remain the most active partner of Serbia, which has adopted an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO.
“Serbia has more than double the number of engagements with the US than with any other country. However, lack of transparency in Serbia’s strategic and operational priorities complicates defense co-operation”, the Report states.
Commenting on the findings of the Report, Professor of the John Hopkins University in Washington Edward Joseph said that “it confirms what has been suspected for the long time”.
“Serbia is intensifying its military co-operation with Russia while, at the same time, internally, it is falling back on reform and democratization, and is reportedly trying to resolve the Kosovo issue. And we know that Russia has no interest in resolving the issue,” Joseph told Voice of America.
He put particular emphasis on cooperation between intelligence services of Serbia and Russia, saying that it cannot be ignored and that it is against the EU and the West.
“We need to talk to President Vučić much more openly and we should stop asking him to find a solution for Kosovo and somehow compensate him for it. No one should think of compensation for a leader who has such extensive cooperation with an enemy such as Moscow and who goes against their own citizens and abolishes the freedoms that belong to them”, Joseph said.
When it comes to other countries of the Western Balkans, the Report notes the complications of cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina due to ethnic and political tensions in the country, RFE reports.
“Tensions in BiH are further fueled by relations between state institutions and entities of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the one hand, while on the other is the majority Serb entity of Republika Srpska,” the report states, adding that leading Bosnian Serb parties oppose NATO membership provides Russia with an opportunity to destabilize BiH.
Relations with Kosovo are described to be in a phase of reconsideration due to the transformation of Kosovo Security Forces. This does not include the mandate of KFOR.
Finally, the Report assesses that the policy of North Macedonia is strongly determined by its goal to join NATO, which has strengthened the resistance to Russian interference.