вторник, 26 декември 2023 г.

Serbia at the crossroads: Vucic’s credo - rule as Putin and join the EU

The Vucic part in the Putin-Erdogan-Radev-Vucic-Orban ‘axis’ has revealed its true colours and anti-Western, anti-democratic nature through the brutal violence executed by Serbian police against protesters in Belgrade. In his pursuit of power, the Serbian president has overplayed his hand. A more moderate approach could have secured victory, but he opted for vote rigging to maintain authority in Belgrade. Willingly or not, he has accepted the role assigned to him by Putin - of Serbia's Yanukovych. This destiny seems almost inevitable as Putin's relations with the West sharply deteriorate, leaving no room for a middle ground, especially one aligned with Putin.

Unfortunately for Serbia, Vucic's actions have blocked its path to the EU, opening Pandora's box for destabilization in the Western Balkans and a slowdown in EU accession for other countries. Among the ‘axis’ countries, only Bulgaria, due to President Radev's marginalization, has thwarted the Kremlin's plans.

The elite in Skopje should reconsider its current policy lines, following Vucic's Serbia as a political anchor, and realize this ends up with RNM being left out of the EU and Albania having a separate accession track. Such developments would affect the Albanians in North Macedonia. Note the usual 'blame Sofia' game won't work.

The diplomatic farce of Russian special services warning Vucic about the protests being equivalent to Maidan is a clumsy Moscow self-aggrandizing act. Vucic has long employed political tactics borrowed from Putin, which has been evident since the announcement of early parliamentary elections. The Kremlin seeks to portray Vučić as a Moscow puppet, undermining the latter’s status at home and abroad.

To the protesters in Belgrade, I extend my profound sympathies and best wishes for success, even if it may not come soon. Vucic will likely persist in power using increasingly brutal measures; the more, the further Serbia remains from the EU. In the short term, Vucic is a liability for Serbia as his leadership style and political instincts are incompatible with a membership in the EU - which is a setback for the EU, Bulgaria included. Our two countries can only address historical issues and realize their full potential within this union. Tensions will only arise with Serbia in Russia's orbit.

To the protesters, take comfort despite your disappointment with some quarters in the West. The US ambassador in Belgrade’s “principled" stance against violence may not align with the protesters. Still, hunger strikes and ongoing protests could force Vucic into some form of reconciliation or compromise. At any rate, to avoid despair, please read and learn lessons in realpolitik from US diplomacy during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many suggest revising this main line in US foreign policy towards Serbia - appeasement and engagement with Vucic through reforms. Without a balance of carrots and sticks, Putin prevails.

And the Soviet Union collapsed - regardless of US policies.

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