Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is going through a difficult time. Until now he was happy to maintain a balance between Russia and the West, adding a “sprinkling” of China and Turkey, which he cashed in with easy electoral majorities in domestic politics by using the tactic “maintaining good relations with everybody to the benefit of Serbia.” However, with the Ukraine crisis, things have become that much harder for him.
The West, where the money and investments that prop up the Serbian economy and provide the country with a European prospect come from, is pressuring Vucic to participate in the sanctions targeting the Kremlin. The Russians provide arms, natural gas, and, most importantly, support on the international stage when it comes to Kosovo, the main pressing national issue of the Serbian people.
If Moscow stops blocking the recognition of Kosovo at the United Nations Security Council, the cradle of the Serbian nation will be officially lost to Belgrade. After a “go-ahead” by the UN Security Council, one by one, all the international institutions that haven’t already done so will recognize the state and signal a game-over for Serbia. The Americans and Europeans have been heavily pushing Vucic to settle the issue of Kosovo with the Albanians by finding a mutually acceptable solution, hoping to extinguish a slow-burning nationalist hotspot in the Western Balkans. The Serbian leader is resolutely resisting, but an unexpected “knife in the back” by Vladimir Putin has left him reeling.
The Russian president, during his meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the Kremlin, did not hesitate to state that the self-proclaimed breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk have an equal right to proclaim their independence, citing the ruling of the International Court of Justice on Kosovo as a precedent.
Putin’s cynicism in putting Kosovo on the table as a bargaining chip for the contested territories of eastern Ukraine was a shock for Belgrade. Vucic and his diplomats are painfully realizing that the “great protector” of their nation greatly adheres to the quote by British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston that there are no eternal friends and allies but only eternal interests.
Putin had pocketed the Kosovo issue to utilize it in the furtherance of his geopolitical plans. He is now ready to negotiate, if necessary, to legalize seizing territory under the guise of “independent” states in eastern Ukraine. Such a prospect weakens Vucic’s capacity to resist increasing Western pressure on Kosovo.