A post today on the Economist’s Eastern approaches blog looks at the conflicts of interests in Russia’s relationship with Syria, presenting it as a fair-weather friendship. The latter stands to receive $1 billion worth of loans from its friend over the next two years, and they are tied up together over the South Stream gas pipeline and potential cooperation on new railways. But there are policy issues that lead to discord between them: in part, due to Serbia’s change of stance on Kosovo, which it apparently presented as a ‘fait accompli’ to Russia, casting doubts on whether the two really had a strategic partnership; and then Russia’s ensuing support of Georgia’s breakaway states.
Serb officials are quite happy to wag the Russian dog when it suits them but privately fume when the Russians embarrass Serbia. Serbia’s case over Kosovo is based on the argument of territorial integrity, so when Russia recognised the Georgian breakaways of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008 […] it seemed to expose to the world that Russia’s support to Serbia over Kosovo was not based on principle but a useful instrument to wheedle America and Kosovo’s other major western supporters.
But the real issue that will divide the two, presumably more and more as the relationship deepens, is that Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic has his sights set on EU integration, which means that partnership with Russia is bound to run into conflicts of interests. During his last visit to Russia, Nikolic:
stressed that Serbia was keen to join the EU, and looked to Germany as a model for internal structure and regulation. “Serbia”, said Mr Nikolic, “should be a house with two doors.”
It will be interesting to see how this relationship develops given Nikolic’s statement. Serbian hopes about EU integration contrast sharply with Vladimir Putin’s recent remarks at the APEC summit. Putin seemed almost to gloat that the economic problems of ‘united Europe‘ were ‘a crippling burden that lies on the shoulders of the European economy’, and made it clear that Russia would not help ‘subsidise [this] burden’.