Vucic’s Double Dealing Is A Threat To The Russian-Serbian Partnership
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has made a big show over the past couple of years about the delicate Yugoslav-like balancing act that he publicly purports to be pursuing between East and West, pointing to his government’s EU aspirations as proof of its Western inclination though reminding the public that his failure to follow Brussels’ lead in sanctioning Russia is apparently validation of his society’s pro-Eastern sympathies. Most media outlets in Serbia are controlled in one way or another by the government, so regular Serbians could be forgiven for thinking that this schizophrenic policy has somehow yielded soft power benefits for their country. The reality, though, couldn’t be more opposite than the image being projected, since Vucic’s “Great Power Balancing” strategy is nothing more than a cheap play on the public’s nostalgia for the Yugoslav era of greatness that their country enjoyed during the Old Cold War.
Back then, it was possible for visionary leaders to straddle the East-West line if they were apt enough with their policies, but times have dramatically changed since then and the intricate complexities of the New Cold War between the existing unipolar world order and the emerging multipolar one make this a lot more challenging of a task than ever before. Instead of ripping an outdated page from history and attempting to mimic a geopolitical giant whose shoes he will never come close to filling, Vucic should sober up from the delusions of grandeur and realize that there’s no way for him to become a 21st-century Tito in the New Cold War. On the contrary, every time that he seeks to “balance” between East and West, he actually moves Serbia closer into the unipolar zone of control and away from the multipolar freedom which its citizens aspire for.
The Coup Conspiracy
This can be seen most evidently through Vucic’s recent decisions regarding Montenegro, since it’s obvious that his government wants to give off the impression of “neutrality” and “good-neighborliness” by supporting Djukanovic’s witch hunt into “Serbian terrorists” and participating in the NATO drills next door, but he’s really just setting Serbia up for an even more decisive pro-Western pivot much worse the one that some of his most dedicated detractors feared that he would make. To bring the reader up to speed on what’s going on, Djukanovic arrested 20 Serbs on the day of Montenegro’s contested parliamentary elections under the trumped-up pretext that they were planning “terrorist attacks” and a “coup” in his country. Predictably, Djukanovic found a way to insinuate that Russia was behind all of this, but surprisingly enough, Vucic decided to cooperate with the international probe into this far-fetched conspiracy, during which his government’s ‘investigation’ supposedly found out that the Montenegrin Prime Minister was under surveillance by the alleged plotters for quite a while.
Adding a touch of ambiguous intrigue to this stage-managed drama, Vucic proclaimed that intelligence agencies from “both East and West” were very active in his Central Balkan country, which could be read as meaning that one or the other side in the New Cold War was responsible for the imaginary coup plot against his friend Djukanovic. Given that the Montenegrin strongman had been accusing Russia of destabilizing the country for over a year already and had heavily hinted that Moscow had a hidden hand in this regime change fantasy, it disturbingly looks like Vucic was lending credence to this supposition but doing so in his own “balancing” way so as to please the West while not ostracizing the East. Either way, the very fact that he would openly entertain such delusions – no matter how ambiguously he did so in order to retain ‘plausible deniability’ in the face of what are sure to be Moscow’s behind-the-scenes objections – is a harbinger of what might soon be to come in Serbia’s foreign policy future.
President Nikolic is known for being very pragmatic towards Russia, yet he doesn’t hold much power and isn’t in a position to do a whole lot to adjust Vucic’s “balancing” policy towards the East. A cynic might even say that Nikolic is the “good cop” to Vucic’s “bad cop” and lends legitimacy to the overtly pro-Western pivot that the Prime Minister is partaking in, misleading Serbian patriots into thinking there’s still a “pragmatic Russian-friendly voice” in government that will “check and balance” Vucic, though nothing could be further from the truth. Nikolic is just a figurehead for reassuring the Eastern-oriented Serbian society that the government is at least cares enough about their sensitivities to go through the superficial motion of pretending to listen to them. The blunt reality, however, is that the Serbian government is vehemently pro-Western, and all of its actions speak much louder than whatever wise words Nikolic utters whenever he goes to Moscow. This means that the Serbian government’s publicly friendly disposition towards Russia shouldn’t be taken for granted and could abruptly switch at any moment, no matter how detrimental that would be for the country’s political and economic situation.
The reason why such worries have a genuine place in today’s dialogue is because the suspected “coup plotter”, Bratislav Dikic, insists that the ‘evidence’ against him was planted and that he’s completely innocent of the charges being levelled against him. The fact that Montenegro believes (or rather manipulates with information) that Dikic is linked to Moscow and that Vucic is entertaining this notion by ambiguously supporting it suggests that the Serbian government also believes that the retired policeman’s anti-NATO activities earlier this year might have also been ordered by the Kremlin. This fits in with the narrative that he recently weaved about intelligence agencies from “both East and West” targeting Serbia, and it also correlates to the rumors that some Russian citizens were expelled from the country for their possible involvement in the invented ‘coup attempt’. The Serbian Interior Minister publicly denied that this was the case and also refuted the earlier reports that the latest visit of Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev had anything to do with either that or the “Montenegrin coup”, but nonetheless, this episode demonstrates that Western forces have an interest in disseminating these rumors at this particular time and for what can only be assumed to be the intention of linking Russia to this plot.
But what’s really the most troubling about all of this is that a mysterious weapons cache has purportedly turned up right near Vucic’s home, and nobody knows who’s responsible for planting the rocket launcher, grenades, and other assassination tools so close to the Prime Minister’s residence. Given that Vucic is now in an undeclared alliance with Djukanovic because of his tacit support for the NATO aspirant’s inferences that retired general Dikic is part of a Moscow-orchestrated assassination plot against him which was headquartered in Serbia, it can’t be ruled out that there are active efforts underway by the pro-Western elements of Serbia’s “deep state” (permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies) to connect the weapons cache conspiracy with the ‘Montenegrin coup attempt’, ergo Vucic’s vague warning about intelligence agencies from “both East and West”. This is the most situationally opportune time for Serbia to accelerate its pro-Western pivot if it so chooses, despite Nikolic paying convincing lip service to Moscow that such a move would never happen under his watch. The aforementioned scenario might sound like nothing more than paranoid speculation to some, but to those who doubt that serious pro-Western moves are going on behind the scenes in Serbia’s “deep state”, then they need to look no further than the ongoing NATO drills in Montenegro to see confirmation of this in action.
Drilling With NATO In Its Newest Colony
It’ll probably sound incredulous to some, but Vucic’s “balancing act” has now been taken to the full extreme of holding concurrent war games with NATO and Russia, though the government-controlled press in Serbia is of course going out of their way to hide this controversial fact. Instead of drawing attention to how Serbia has committed “1 water rescue team” to what’s being euphemistically referred to as NATO’s “disaster response” exercise in Montenegro and investigating why the bloc designated Belgrade as one of its “allies and partners” in its official document about this exercise, the mainstream media has chosen to focus on the “Slavic Brotherhood” training event in which 150 Russian paratroopers are taking part. The reason for this is clear – Serbia’s media does not want its audience to become aware of the extent to which their country is a NATO “ally and partner” and would rather prefer to distract the masses by playing on their emotional affiliation for Russia.
The media bosses self-interestedly see no positive benefit for themselves in informing the public that Vucic, for all of his insistent promises that Serbia wouldn’t ever join the same military bloc which bombed it 17 years ago, has essentially thrown the whole country and its “deep state” apparatus into bed with the West to the shocking point of carrying out multilateral war games with it in its newest Balkan colony at the same time as it pretends to “balance” its Eastern relations by holding a symbolic exercise with Russia. The chiefs of Serbia’s leading mainstream media outlets know that they would stand to lose profitable indirect funding from the government if they carried through on their civic responsibility to make the rest of the country aware of the authorities’ treacherous double dealing, since Vucic could just order the establishment and its commercial partners to pull out of all of the advertising agreements that they use to circuitously control Serbia’s information mediums. Without a reliable flow of government and state-affiliated revenue, many of the country’s media platforms would cease to exist in their present form and might even go out of business entirely.
This ‘bait and switch’ tactic might work for distracting the unaware Serbian masses, but it’s becoming increasingly less potent against Moscow, which recognizes the dangerous “balancing” game that Vucic is playing. The problem, however, is also somewhat one of Russia’s own making, since its “deep state” has yet to confidently articulate a cohesively workable policy for the Balkans, and instead is perceived to be much more motivated by the financial incentives of one or two state-run companies than the broader geopolitical implications of Russian foreign policy in the New Cold War. It’s for this reason why Russia has also failed to substantially embrace Serbia in as multidimensional of a manner as it should have over the years despite the Balkan public patiently pinning its hopes on this happening. This isn’t to say that Russia has no interest in helping Serbia and deepening its civilizational bonds with it, but that Moscow’s “deep state” is progressively undergoing a delayed maturation whereby it is only just now beginning to fully appreciate its relationship with Serbia, especially in terms of its geostrategic significance.
President Putin has gone to great lengths to ‘clean’ out as many of the pro-Western ideologues and sympathizers as he can out of the “deep state” institutions that he inherited when he ascended to office at the turn of the millennium. It’s taken time, and truth be told, the commencement of the New Cold War with EuroMaidan was the necessary impetus that it took to urgently expedite this process to the point where Russian strategists and decision makers once more assess the Balkans with the seriousness that they’ve always deserved. This is why Balkan Stream is such a priority project for Russia and why Moscow has recently been celebrating the richness of Russian-Serbian relations. Although it was late in coming, Russia finally appreciates its relationship with Serbia for all that it’s worthy, but the tragedy seems to be that it’s at precisely this moment of reckoning that Belgrade has decided to play games with Moscow and undermine the trust that Russia is keen to reinforce.
While Yeltsin’s Russia or the early 2000s Western-leaning administration that Putin inherited might have overlooked or downplayed Vucic’s double dealing between East and West, the reinvigorated Russia of the New Cold War and the leader of the geopolitical movement towards multipolarity isn’t as understanding of such fickle partners no matter what it publicly says about this issue, and now is certainly now the time for Serbia to “balance” against Russia. The reader shouldn’t misunderstand – Russia appreciates its friendship with Serbia and is thankful for everything that the two have achieved thus far together, especially in regards to military-strategic coordination, but the point is that Moscow is finally wising up to the irreplaceable value that Belgrade provides for the rest of the emerging multipolar world order at precisely the time that Vucic has decided to dilly dally and waste this crucial moment by flattering Djukanovic’s ‘Russian-sponsored coup’ fantasies and deepening Serbia’s multilateral coordination with NATO in the region.
“Balancing Act” Or Power Centralization?
Russia is finally approaching the point where its “deep state” is ready to unveil a new grand strategy for the Balkans, but this is entirely conditional on the stability of Russian-Serbian relations because Belgrade is envisaged to form the central component of this policy. The problem, however, is that Vucic is unpredictable and unreliable, yet at the same time he controls not just the government but even most of the country’s media, so Russia is afraid of taking any moves that could be perceived by this paranoid politician as representing any form of pressure against him, since this could subsequently backfire by throwing the Serbian state apparatus into a decisively anti-Russian trajectory. The Prime Minister understands the geostrategic value that his country provides to Russia in the context of the New Cold War, which is why he’s so confident that there’s nothing that he could do to officially earn Moscow’s ire, thus explaining the irresponsible and carefree nature with which he strives to “balance” between East and West.
After years of bobbing his head back and forth like an owl, Vucic has finally become a master at exploiting each of his ‘partners’ to his ultimate benefit as a means of centralizing his own power, and he does this by exaggerating the ‘danger’ that that they pose to his rule. Take for example the Western- and Soros-backed proto-Color Revolution against him, which was arguably a visible signal that he shouldn’t become more “pro-Russian”, but didn’t pose as immediate of a threat to him as he and his allied information outlets made it seem like. In retrospect, it’s clear that he played on the fear of a EuroMaidan and the memory of the 2000 “Bulldozer Revolution” in order to scare the public away from legitimately protesting against his government’s controversial acts such as the Gulf-financed “Belgrade Waterfront” ‘development’ project and the “transit” agreement with NATO.
Another piercing example occurred more recently and was obviously in reference to Russia, and this occurred when Vucic spoke about how intelligence agencies from “both East and West” were conspiring against his country. Coincidentally or not, this was uttered at the same time as his Montenegrin pal Djukanovic was hinting that Russian spy services were behind the ‘assassination’ and ‘coup’ plot against him, which Vucic helped him ‘investigate’ because of the suspected involvement of retired general Bratislav Dikic. Interestingly, by giving legitimacy to Djukanovic’s unfounded claims that Russia was somehow behind these dual conspiracies, Vucic has seemingly implicated Dikic and his anti-NATO protests from earlier this year as possibly being part of an international operation orchestrated by an “Eastern” (Russian) intelligence agency. Now that a cache of explosives and other weaponry just so happened to be ‘found’ near Vucic’s home in the midst of all of this fabricated Russian intrigue, the narrative could conveniently be spun by the pro-Western sympathizers and agents working within the Serbian “deep state” that Dikic’s “Russian network” might also have been involved, thereby continuing to smear the patriotic multipolar forces that he represents and intimidating citizens who might have otherwise considered joining any of his movement’s future anti-NATO protest calls.
Vucic is obviously so confident at the game that he’s playing that he shows no qualms whatsoever about having Serbia partake in simultaneous military exercises with NATO and Russia, something which might possibly be historically unprecedented anywhere in the world. He can do this mostly in part because nobody is around to call him out on his antics. The government-controlled mainstream media in Serbia wants to avoid any mentioning of Belgrade’s “allied and partner” ties with NATO due to the angry domestic reaction that it could predictably provoke, which also is why the West isn’t gloating about this either. Russian mass media, for its part, seems to have yet to come to terms with the pro-Western nature of the Vucic government, unable to countenance that a civilizationally comparable state to their own has turned its back on its geostrategic heritage in a similarly shameful manner as Ukraine did. Russia’s “deep state” is quickly becoming aware of what’s going on, albeit much too belatedly for many people’s comfort, but unlike the West with its Color Revolutions and Hybrid Wars, Russia is not in a position nor has any desire whatsoever to illegally change Serbia’s government in response. Vucic knows this, and it’s another reason why he leans so heavily towards the West while only symbolically sending a few superficial signals towards Russia.
One of the historical ironies unfolding in the modern-day Balkans is that Montenegro, historically a part of Serbian civilization, is proving to be Serbia’s own civilizational undoing through the influence that it’s having on Vucic’s pro-Western pivot against Russia. Vucic isn’t just unnecessarily ‘legitimizing’ Djukanovic’s false-flag witch hunt against Serbian-based “Russian coup plotters and assassins”, but he’s also going as far as to deploy Serbian forces to Montenegro to take part in NATO’s “disaster response” drills there. Clearly, at this moment in time, Vucic is no longer “balancing” between East and West but is decisively leaning towards the latter, though craftily (albeit somewhat clumsily) hiding his true intentions behind the veneer of “pragmatism” towards Russia by refusing to join the West’s sanctions regime against Moscow, dispatching Nikolic to the Kremlin and RT, hosting Patruschev, and engaging in a joint military drill emotively called “Slavic Brotherhood”. While these diversions might have succeeded in distracting Russia from the Vucic government’s true disposition in the past, they’re no longer as applicable against a Kremlin that’s rapidly grown a lot wiser over the past couple of years fighting the asymmetrical trans-Eurasian struggle that can be referred to as the New Cold War.
At the time that the Hybrid War on the Republic of Macedonia has cooled off and tensions over Bosnia have temporarily dissipated for the time being, this is exactly the moment when the Russian-Serbian Strategic Partnership needs to shine in taking advantage of the multipolar victories of the past year and seizing the momentum in order to accomplish much more in the future. The Serbian people understand this and it’s innately what they want to see happen, but Vucic has gotten in the way and is obstructing this historical opportunity through the “balancing act” that he’s playing against Russia in order to centralize his own power. Serbia is irreplaceable to Russia’s geostrategic calculus in the New Cold War and it’s for this reason why Moscow will never distance itself from Belgrade nor is likely to ever publicly voice its frustrations with its current pro-Western leader, but it could employ subtle ways to signal its dismay and growing displeasure with what he’s doing. At the same time, however, this doesn’t mean that Russia will take any tangible ‘corrective action’ against this, and it will always remain ready to elevate the bilateral relationship to the next level if and when Serbia asks it to. But, if there’s one point that the Russian government wants to convey to its Serbian counterparts, then it’s that there’s a big difference between the masterful Old Cold War balancing of Tito and the careless New Cold War double dealing of Vucic.