Analysis

From Serbia, with love

The Former Soviet Union countries are reunited by a new decoration. Sashenka Lleshaj explains why Serbia is trying to flatter its neighbours.

Sincerely yours, Tomislav

At the decree of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić, gold and silver medals were recently delivered to 12 representatives of the former Soviet Republics (with the exception of the three Baltic Republics: Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia). Although the other presidents, will enjoy their handsome ribbons, Russia can consider itself the most distinguished of the group – Vladimir Putin is to be decorated with the Order of the Republic of Serbia, a “grand chain, for exceptional merit in the development and consolidation of peaceful cooperation and friendly relations between the Republic of Serbia and the Russian Federation.”

What unites these countries, other than their shared history?  The Serb answer is: they all oppose recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. Russia, despite an intense but not always straightforward relationship with Serbia is now the country’s main supporter on the UN Security Council. The other republics, having little history of relations with Serbia, are defined as allies by their position on the Kosovo issue.

As Serbia inches towards membership of the European Union, one would expect the importance of Kosovo to recede in the country’s international relations. Yet the “development and consolidation of peaceful cooperation and friendly relations” between is being deliberately and ostentatiously hyped. On 17 February 2013, Kosovo celebrated the fifth anniversary of its independence from Serbia with the news that Egypt was on its way to recognising the new country. In the next few days, Kosovo’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that other countries were beginning the recognition process, raising the stakes for Serb leaders.

On the one hand, the EU’s efforts to tie Serbian membership to recognition of Kosovo’s independence is prevented by the lack of agreement on the issue by current EU member states. On the other hand, the EU can exercise indirect pressure on the issue. For more than a year now, Belgrade and Pristina have been conducting a series of talks in Brussels, mediated by Catherine Ashton. Both parties are trying to come to a common solution with the minimum of concessions.

Serbia wants to join the EU without recognising Kosovo and sees the best hope for this scenario in neutralising other international actors. Vladimir Putin has been constant in his support for Serbia’s territorial integrity, yet the unity of the Soviet successor states has not always been guaranteed. These decorations send a strong and clear message that the non-alignment of the former Yugoslavia is not an option for today’s Serbia.

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