IBNA/ Interview with Johanna Deimel, Southeast Europe Association Deputy Director

IBNA/ Interview with Johanna Deimel, Southeast Europe Association Deputy Director

Belgrade, April 13, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency

Tsipras’ visit to Moscow ended in smoke

Johanna Deimel: President Nikolic is the most prominent pro-Russian voice in Belgrade

By Milos Mitrovic

With the Ukraine crisis and the new geopolitical situation, the Balkans are again on the agenda of the EU. Russian influence is there across the region in various fields, primarily in the energy and economic sector. But I would not agree that this influence is growing, said in the interview for IBNA Dr Johanna Deimel, Deputy Director of the Munich based  Southeast Europe Association.

Serbian Army will participate at the military parade in Moscow on May 9. Do you think this would affect the country’s European perspective?

Serbia continuously follows a double track approach – on the one side fully committed to European integration and on the other underlining the country’s special relationship with Russia. It has a military agreement with Russia in place, and Serbian President Nikolic is the most prominent pro-Russian voice in Belgrade. Since Russian President Putin was received in Belgrade in October last year with a red carpet, it is again part of the Serbian-Russian-friendship-narrative that – to the contrary of most of the high officials in European capitals – Serbia will be present at the parade in Moscow in commemoration of WWII. That Serbia will participate at the parade not only by its President but also with a military presence, will of course raise questions as to which extent Serbia is really committed to its EU integration – which also includes to align foreign and security policy with the EU member states.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has recently spoken about “unification” of Kosovo and Albania provoking reaction of Serbian officials. How would you comment Belgrade’s remarks that EU should react more strongly on such statements? It seems that the dominant stance in Serbia is that Brussels is more enthusiastic when Serbia is the one that should be condemned for its alleged irresponsible claims.

It is of course unacceptable and a verbal blow of an EU candidate country, like Albania, to again wave the “Greater Albania” flag. It took quite a time after the Belgrade incidents in October 2014 to calm international and regional criticism and fears that the Balkans are still an unfinished business and borders questioned – that Albania is a reliable partner. The same applies for Kosovo, a country which was in the headlines of European capitals recently due to the illegal migration flows. And, to the contrary of your assessment, this threatening unification gesture was, rightly so, condemned by Brussels as “provocative and unacceptable” and as a breach of European standards and principles.

Serbia officially started accession talks with the EU in January 2014, but none of the negotiating chapters have been opened so far. According to Serbian press, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic will appeal to U. S. Vice President Joe Biden to try to “soften” EU’s and Germany’s position in the negotiations. Do you find that Serbia deserves stronger support from the EU and that Washington could be helpful in this regard?

Serbia wants to join the EU and not the US. The decision to open negotiation chapters is primarily depending on Serbia itself, i.e. the preparations made in Belgrade and the respective results of the screening of the relevant chapters. We all know that besides chapters 23 and 24 it is not only Germany that insists on simultaneously dealing with chapter 35. And the latter is foremost connected to Serbia-Kosovo relations, to the implementation of the results of the EU facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and to good neighbourly relations. I do not see any different position from the US. On the contrary: the US are one of the most important political players and supporters of Kosovo as an independent state.

Despite Ukraine crisis has been calmed, at least for some time, there are concerns within the EU that Russian influence grows in some member states such as Greece and Hungary, but also in membership hopefuls such as Serbia and FYR Macedonia. In your opinion, should EU take more proactive role in that sense, especially in the Balkans?

With the Ukraine crisis and the new geopolitical situation, the Balkans are again on the agenda of the EU. Russian influence is there across the region in various fields, primarily in the energy and economic sector. But I would not agree that this influence is growing. Moscow did not expect the unity of EU member-states regarding the sanctions, the Kremlin was “surprised” by the cancellation of South Stream. Now Moscow tries to find ways of alternative energy supply routes with so called Turkish Stream. Nothing is settled in that respect so far. The big hype around the Greek Prime minister’s Tsipras visit in Moscow finally ended in smoke – a lot less results have been achieved in concrete terms.

The EU, however, is alert. Brussels has launched the Bosnia initiative, Germany hosted the first Balkan conference in August 2014 (followed by Austria this year) and Brussels is ringing the alarm bells concerning the domestic situation in FYR Macedonia, just to name some examples. The EU is providing political and economic support – and we all know that the socio-economic situation in most of the countries in the region is a matter of serious concern. Finally, the sanctions against Russia play an important role in this respect and the EU needs to find ways to compensate for the losses.