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19 octombrie 2018 - Special reports - Western Balkans

DSM REPORT – Western Balkans (2th-17th October 2018)

Stelian Teodorescu

Sursă foto: Mediafax
  1. Serbia-NATO’s increasing cooperation level
  2. Serbian-Russian tactical aviation exercise “BARS 2018”
  3. Russia supports Serbia’s integrity and sovereignty, but not entirely Serbian president’s vision about Kosovo
  4. The partial outcomes of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BIH) general elections. First effects
  5. Post-referendum evolutions in Republic of Macedonia


 Serbia-NATO’s increasing cooperation level

Between 06-08.10.2018, NATO’s General Secretary, Jens Stoltenberg visited Serbia. On this occasion, NATO’s high official had meetings with Serbian president, Aleksadar Vucic and with prime-minister, Ana Brnabic. During the visit, the General Secretary reminded that NATO’s main objective in Western Balkans is contributing at building peace and stability as progress’s foundation and, not least, he highlighted that Belgrade-Pristina’s dialogue is the actual key for that stability in the region.

NATO’s General Secretary and Serbia’s president participated together at the opening ceremony for “SRBIJA 2018” civil exercise, in Mladenovac, dedicated to emergency situations and natural disasters.

We should remark the attendance of NATO’s General Secretary, Jens Stoltenberg and Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, at Security Forum special event, in Belgrade, entitled “Leadership for a safe region”, held on 08.10.2018.

The final conclusion was that Serbia and NATO have increasingly successful cooperation for maintaining Western Balkans’ peace and stability, also benefiting from overall economic progress for the citizens of the region.

Belgrade Security Forum, launched in 2011, is hosted by three civil society’s organizations: Political Excellence Fund from Belgrade, Security Politics Center in Belgrade and European Movement in Serbia. The forum offers a framework wherein policymakers and opinion leaders from the Balkans, as well as members of academy community and civil society, meet with homologues from other countries to exchange opinions and perspectives regarding region’s actual security issues.

The event “Leadership for a safe region” created the favorable ambient  for an opened discussion between Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, and NATO’s General Secretary, Jens Stoltenberg, a discussion which was moderated by a member of director’s committee of Security’s Forum in Belgrade, of Politic Excellence Fund in Belgrade.

Serbia’s president stated that NATO became a “central hub” which attracts regional partners to collaborate for solving security issues, but also some bigger social needs. Vucic, also, call on the region to leave behind past conflicts’ memories. The Serbian president highlighted that Serbia will keep its military neutrality, but the Serbian state is cooperating and will continue to cooperate better with NATO. The Serbian leader underscored that Serbia wants to develop some better relations with the Alliance, despite their difficult and painful history.

Furthermore, president Vucic expressed his concern regarding the issues that continue to exist in Kosovo, but also about the pressure he has on his shoulders and Serbia’s also, coming from the Albanians, Bosnians and Croatians neighbors, underlining that they indicate NATO, often, as an ally in making these pressures.

Answering a question about the complexity of modern security issues and its approach by NATO, Stoltenberg underlined that NATO is firstly focusing in providing a quick reaction to any crisis that could appear, as a consequence of personnel’s increasing professionalization rank, strengthening information services’ role, increasing the protection standards in cyber world and developing the answer on how to approach hybrid threats.  

Stoltenberg reminded that NATO cannot solve region’s issues, but can help the countries which are trying to do it with their own resources and methods and, last but not least, he underlined that NATO will not put pressure on Serbia to join at the Alliance.

  1. Serbian-Russian tactical aviation exercise “BARS 2018”

Between 01-06.10.2018, in Republic of Serbia took place the Russian-Serbian tactical aviation exercise “Airmen Brotherhood from Russia and Serbia-2018” (BARS 2018”). For the exercise were used fighter aircraft from Serbia’s Armed Air Forces’ endowment (VS): MiG-29 (with simple and double command) and Mi-17 helicopters. 

The common training activities started with signing, on 21.09.2018, the technical agreement to execute the exercise and the practical instruction activities developed between 02-04.10.2018.

The mixed Serbian-Russian teams practiced troops’ airdropping from helicopter, simulated closed air fight procedures (“air duels”) with MiG-29 fighter aircraft and attacks over some land targets, also with MiG-29 air planes.

There were also practiced searching-rescuing activities, evacuating casualties with the helicopter and their transport at medical units. Not least, in the improvised aviation polygon from Centa were practiced attacks over some land targets.

It is the fourth edition of “BARS” exercise. It is developed alternatively, in Republic of Serbia and, respectively, in the Russian Federation. Alike the previous editions, the accent was on mixed teams actions, respectively on increasing the interoperability level between the two Air Forces, to commonly execute specific missions. Suggestive is also the name of the exercise, the words being akin to those in Russian and Serbian language, and the acronym, identically.

At the exercise have participated planes from December 2016’s Russian donation, repaired/operationalized at Aviation Manufacture “Moma Stanohlovic” from Batajnica, by Russian and Serbian experts, commonly.

The exercise analysis from 2018 revels that it was a weaker exercise than the two executed on Russian Federation’s territory: have participated fewer pilots and fewer flight crafts, and attacks’ simulations over land targets were not complex.

The main critics on 2018 exercise’s execution and scenario refer to using MiG-29 planes without missiles, as well as using experienced Serbian pilots, close to the age whereat it is ended the career of a supersonic plane pilot (then to use the occasion for some younger, with potential pilots “priming”

Other critics refer to ignoring NATO’s experience from air military intervention’s period against Yugoslavia (March-June 1999). Hence, during the exercise were practiced “air duels”, considering that NATO’s intervention showed that it was not the case to do such closed air fights, with nowadays technological methods: radars to discover long-distance targets and air-air missiles with long-range of action. To that end, it would have been more useful the simulation of some complex tactical exercises. Not least, it was not used the occasion (or, at least, it was not publicly made) to train Serbian anti-aircraft defence for identification procedures of air targets (friend-enemy), considering that in 1999 the Yugoslavian anti-aircrafts defence would have hit their own Air Forces planes, getting it mixed up with enemy’s ones.

A positive element is training VS’s Special Brigade’s from Pancevo complements for helicopter’s airdropping, all the more so the political-military and the military leadership from Belgrade thinks it is acceptable on Serbia’s territory, a scenario of using quick reaction and emergency forces against some extremist or guerilla forces, being taken into consideration also an intervention in Kosovo province and Metohija, if a drastic deterioration of security situation and Serbian population’s security endangerment.

As for the Russians, at the exercise participated experienced pilots: MiG-29 pilots who come from an instruction center for army’s forces aviation from Lipetk. The surrogate of exercise’s commander, Colonel Konstantin Iurievici Surikov, was Center 344 commander’ surrogate from Torjok, for navigating personnel’s use and instruction of army’s forces aviation (Tver Region of Russian Federation).

Deploying the exercise is more important for Serbia, than for Russia: it creates the premise of executing, next year, in the Russian Federation, a more complex exercise and preserves the partnership between the two Air Forces. According to Serbian defence minister, Belgrade will demand, at the 2019 edition, to be included also Mi-36 fight helicopters.

This importance is suggested also by Serbian defence minister, SMG’s chief and Serbian Air Forces’ commander participation at exercise’s appraisal (05.10), meanwhile exercise’s commander was brigade general Zeljko Bilic, commander of 204 Aviation Brigade from Batajnica (Belgrade).

“BARS 2018” exercise come some days after Serbian Air Forces’ execution of a common exercise with Romanian Air Forces, “Air Solution 2018”, which may as well confirm again Republic of Serbia’s “military neutrality” option. Unlike “BARS”, “Air solution” exercise is executed in both states’ air spaces, with aircrafts passing over other state’s border and using one’s own aviation technique.

  1. Russia supports Serbia’s integrity and sovereignty, but not entirely Serbian president’s vision about Kosovo

After the meeting with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, 02.10.2018, Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, declared himself to be pleased with the results of the discussion with Kremlin’s leader and highlighted that he got reassurances regarding Moscow’s support for Serbia’s integrity and sovereignty after the last events which generated tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.

Serbia’s president asked Kremlin’s leader to support his vision about recognizing Kosovo, including separating the north of this entity, a region which is mostly inhabited by Serbian ethnics.

According to an unofficial source, Serbian president would have asked president Putin to get involved in using the veto right across UN’s CS, regarding Kosovo’ status across the organization, but despite his effort, he could not determine the change of Russian president’s actual position about Kosovo’ status.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant wrote that, before president Vucic’s arrival to Moscow, an “unpleased incident” happened in north of Kosovo, as a consequence of Kosovar president’s visit, Hashim Thaci, in this area mostly inhabited by Serbian ethnics.

According to the same newspaper, the discussions between the Russian president and the Serbian one lasted more than an hour, 40 minutes being allocated exclusively to Kosovo. In the same circumstances, Vucic made a strong promise to Russia, that Serbia will not adhere to NATO.

According to the Serbian President's subsequent statements, the leaders shaped the “future steps” in negotiating an agreement with Kosovo to contain the interests of all interested parts in the region. The Serbian president let everyone know that it is possible for his Russian homologue to visit Serbia before the end of this year, Vucic stating that he expects the anticipated visit of the Russian president to produce more results, economically speaking, to contribute at hastening commerce increase between the two countries and to contribute at consolidating Moscow’s support for Serbia’s entire territorial integrity.

Considering the actions developed lately by Belgrade’s leaders, it might be said that Serbia is in full offensive to solve Kosovo’s file and to hasten EU’s integration process. To that end, the Serbian leaders are looking to use any opportunity to develop the relations with EU, NATO and US, suggesting that they are ready to accept some compromises, but not those that might question its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Through the allegations made, president Vucic continues to highlight his possible availability to accept major changes about ex-Serbian province’s status and, implicitly, the acceleration of Serbia’s accession to EU, suggesting that he is ready even for a possible recognition of Kosovo, if only will divide the inhabited north with Serbian ethnics.

Another relevant example for this is the welcoming, on 10.10.2018, of US’s ambassador to Serbia, Kyle Scott, by Ivica Dacic, prim Vice-Prime-Minister and Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs, to Belgrade. During the discussions, the two officials changed opinions regarding the 73th session of United Nations General Assembly, which took place recently and they also expressed their satisfaction about Serbia and US’s officials’ successful meetings on that occasion.

Ambassador Scott underlined the importance of continuous efforts to improve the relations between region’s countries and to promote regional cooperation, especially considering Serbia’s European integration process. Furthermore, Dacic underscored that this year’s celebration of centenary, from July, since displaying the Serbian flag at the White House, as well as the celebration of Halyard Operation (huge operation developed in 1944 by American militaries in collaboration with Chetniks led by General Draza Mikhailovich) offer supplementary stimulants to consolidate the cooperation between both states and to improve the positive dynamic of bilateral relations development between Serbia and US.

Not least, we must underline that a new meeting between Serbia’s president and Kosovo’s one may take place in November, in Paris.

Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic accepted French president’s invitation, Emmanuel Macron, to participate at the commemoration of Armistice’s Day, on 11th of November, there are clues saying that, a similar invitation was sent also to Kosovo president, Hashim Thaci.

Belgrade is still doing significant efforts to upkeep Russia close, suggesting, at a national and international level, the idea that Kremlin’s leader is Serbian’s people and security’s situation stability guarantor in Western Balkans, if the international community would somehow solve the Kosovo file, which would force Serbia to accept some compromises that could be discordant with Serbian leaders vision in solving the statute of ex-Serbian province.

  1. The outcomes results of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BIH) general elections. First effects.

On 07.10.2018, in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) developed the general elections, to choose BIH’s Presidency three members, “Serbian entity’s”, Republic of Srpska president and two vice-presidents, the deputies from Representatives House of BIH’s Parliamentary Assembly, deputies from Republic of Srpska Parliament, deputies from Representatives House of BIH’s Federation Parliament (FBiH) and deputies from the parliaments of FBiH’s 10 cantons.

After more than a week from general elections’ development, the Central Election Commission did not communicated yet the final results, creating the favorable context for critics regarding the slowness of the electoral process developed in BIH.

All of this aside, based on the obtained partial results and published on 10th of October, as a consequence of counting around 95% of the votes, the three members of BIH’s Presidency will be Sefik Dzaferovic-Bosnian, Zeljko Komsic-Croatian and Milorad Dodik-Serbian.

In one of the two entities, The Croatian-Muslim Federation (FBiH), Party of Democratic Action won (SDA) 210.787 votes, Party of Independent Social Democrat from Bosnia (SDP), 118.159, Croatian Democratic Union, 117.506, Democratic Front, 77.952 votes, the Union for a better future, 55.340 votes, Our Party 88.250 votes, Independent Block, 35.902 votes, Democrat Action Movement, 33.257 votes and Democratic Activities Party, 26.352 votes.

In the other entity, Republic of Srpska (RS), Alliance of Independent Social Democrats won 227.500(SNSD) votes, Serbian Democrat Party (SDS), 145.192 votes, Party of Democratic Progress, 75.432 votes, Serbian’s People Alliance, 60.424 and Socialist Party, 27.330 votes.

According to some partial and unofficial dates, from a total of 3.352.933 registered voters, only 53, 26% voted. The voters had the possibility to choose from a number of 58 political parties, 36 coalitions and 34 independent candidates.

Meanwhile the entire country waits for the final results of October 2018 general elections, many experts in this area and even politicians criticize how the votes have been counted, promoting the improvement of this process.

EU’s eventual expectations regarding result from BIH’s general elections, wherefrom to be developed a better functioning of the state and a better mobilization capacity in promoting the necessary reforms to accomplish EU’s accession criteria, were not fulfilled.

The general elections from 07.20.2018 from BIH reconfirm the popularity of the main “ethnic parties” from BIH: SNSD in Republic of Srpska and the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ BIH) in FBIH.

The biggest winner of the elections is SNDS. Probably, SNDS will create R.Sprska’s governmental coalition and will also have R.Srpska’s president position (Z. Cvihanovic) and the member (Serbian) of BIH’s Presidency (M.Dodik).

HDZ BIH’s candidate failure, Dragan Covic, for member (Croatian) of BIH’s Presidency, may seem a surprise. The new Croatian member of BIH’s Presidency, Z. Komsic, is not seen as an “authentic representative of Croatian’s people from BIH interests”, for many reasons. Firstly, he was chosen not with Croatian ethnics votes, but with Bosnian ethnics ones. Secondly, they expect him to support the Bosnian parties and leaders, even in the detriment of BIH of Croatia’s Croatian people’s interests.

Furthermore, some days after the elections, long before the investment, Z. Komsic, raised the antipathy of Serbian and Croatian communities, through his allegations, but also of some leaders from Belgrade and Zagreb.

Antagonizing the relations with the Serbian part is the consequence of Z. Komsic allegations, who stated that he considers Kosovo an independent state and that BIH should recognize Kosovo’s independency, but as long as M. Dodik will be member of BIH’s Presidency, Kosovo’s independency’s recognition by BIH will not be possible. Additionally, he will not support any correction of the borders between BIH and Serbia. On the other hand, the tense relations with Zagreb comes due to his allegations that he will support BIH’s complaint against Croatia’s bridge construction from Peljesac/Neum and that neighbor states should not get involved in BIH’s internal businesses, but show respect against this Bosnian state’s territorial integrity.

In these circumstances, those who expressed their critics against Z. Komsic were the Croatian prime-minister (Andrej Plenkovic) and the Serbian Foreign Affairs (Ivica Dacic). The Serbian president (Aleksandar Vucic) stated that is it better for him to abstain from commenting Z. Komsic’s allegations.

Many political leaders and chiefs of local administrations from the areas with Croatian population majority from BIH (Herzegovina) called Z. Komsic, symbolically, “undesirable person” and announced that they will not cooperate with him. In Mostar it was even developed a protest against him.

The majority of BIH’s Croatians and officials from Zagreb are unhappy that it is the third time when Z. Komsic is chosen to be member of BIH’s Presidency with Bosnian voters’ votes. We expect HDZ BIH to retake the “political offensive” to modify the Bosnian electoral legislation and even to create BIH’s third entity.

S. Dzaferovic’s election comes with (Serbian) critics against his attitude and actions during the civil war in BIH, when he was chief of secrete police from Zenica, where foreigners mujahedin detachment fought, which was “differentiate” from the others through atrocities against the Serbian ethnics, meanwhile S. Dzaferovic’s would not have taken any measure to stop it. Furthermore, he is accused of getting involved in “neutralizing” some mujahedin fighters, after ending the armed conflict from BIH.

SNSD’s victory from R. Srpska and M. Dodik’s election for BIH’s Presidency will led to continuing the positive tendency of Banja Luka and Moscow’s relations, in (almost) all domains: politics, economic, commercial, cultural and security. Also, the new situation will led to slowing BIH’s closeness to NATO (although M.Dodik admitted that he will not oppose to a rational collaboration with the Alliance, which would help R, Srpska). M. Dodik militate (with no success) also for eliminating the foreigners from BIH’s Constitutional Court and to close High Representative’s Office. Furthermore, M.Dodik will not support an eventual complaint coming from BIH against Croatia, about the construction of the bridge from Peljesac/ Neum.

BIH’s Presidency new architecture modifies forces’ balance towards the Bosnian part, respectively to centralizing the Bosnian state. On their turn, BIH’s western partners (US, NATO, EU and some of its member states) will support the increasing measures of Bosnian state’s “functionality”. Yet, such a situation can meet a boomerang effect, by radicalizing the measures that could be adopted by R. Srpska to protect its autonomy and even competences, offered by BIH’s Constitution and the Peace Treaty from Dayton, including by hastening and intensifying the closeness between R. Srpska and Moscow.

Building the power, at Bosnian state’s level, will be difficult and will come after many negotiations rounds. Similar negotiations, long and difficult, are to be made also for building power at FBiH’s level.

  1. Post-referendum evolutions in Republic of Macedonia

After two days of debates, the Commission for constitutional problems from R. Macedonia’s Parliament adopted (10.10.2018), with 10 votes “for” and 7 “against”, Macedonian government’s proposal to start the modification process of R. Macedonia’s Constitution. If the vote will be a favorable one in plenum, R. Macedonia’s Government will send the law project and the deputies will debate it.

Skopje’s governmental coalition, led by Social-Democratic Union from Macedonia (SDSM) thinks that the constitutional modification are opening country’s integration door to NATO and EU, meanwhile the opposition, led by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity consider it a treason act against the national Macedonian interests and states they will vote against the modification.

To adopt the modification, it is needed the vote of 80 deputies, which means that at least 9 deputies of the opposition must vote “for”.

The constitutional modifications from R. Macedonia are supported by all its western allies (US, NATO, EU) and are contested by Moscow, which consider the modifications the result of western’s pressures.

The Macedonian government must send to the Macedonian parliament, in 15 days, the law project with the constitutional modification proposed according to “Prespa Treaty” (June, 2018).

Among the modifications stays the introduction in Constitution of the adjective “of North” (so that the constitutional name of the country will be “Republic of North Macedonia”), the modification of Constitution’s Preamble (related to “Prespa’s Treaty” text), the confirmation that the Macedonian state does not have territorial demands, and Macedonian state’s concerns for abroad Macedonian citizens is made without getting involved in other states’ internal businesses.

In these circumstances, Republic of Macedonia is in a media war, related to some opposition deputies’ support for the constitutional modifications.

On 15.10, deputies started the debate of constitutional modifications’ project, the vote being expected to come out by the end of the week. In all this time, the “offensive” of the two camps, over vulnerable deputies of the opposition, continues.

If the vote will fail in the Macedonian parliament, we expect anticipated parliamentary elections, which will add more tension to country’s political scene, as a consequence of the dispute about the conditions this election should be made in (the actual opposition asking the implementation of “Prijino’s treaties” provisions, respectively the resignation of the actual Cabinet and the creation of a national union transition government).

[1] Братство Aвиаторов России и Сербии/Bratstvo avijatičara Rusije i Srbije / BARS.


[3] We are talking about the modern version of Mi-24 Russian fight helicopter, dedicated to export. We expect four Mi-35 helicopters to enter in Serbian Air Forces endowment, until 2019, as these were already paid to Moscow.