(RIEAS Junior Analyst and Coordinator at the World Security Network Foundation at Southeastern Europe Office )
The ongoing Kosovo negotiations and the other perennial problems of the Southeastern European region can be said reaching a tipping point, where the strategic initiatives of the USA and Russia seem to collide and the rest of the nations along with the European Union are continuously assessing the situation, so as to extract as much advantages as possible.
The coming visit of President Bush in Albania and Bulgaria on the 10th of June 2007, after the important G-8 meeting in Germany; will most certainly grasp the headlines of the international press and regardless of the political outcome, it signals the strong interest of Washington for the area that had been diminished after the American involvement in the Middle East. For the time being any resolution for the Kosovo status has been postponed after the G-8 meeting, although the Ahtisaari plan still continues to be the focal material on which the USA and Britain would like to solve the status of the Province.
The Serbian side has made its point numerously over the past few months by rejecting the plan and arguing for the respect of the “Helsinki Last Act”, an internationally binding protocol signed by all European (and Russia-USA) in 1975 that stresses for the protection of the sovereignty of the states in order to secure peace in the Continent. Moreover the notion of sovereignty is applied by the practice of the United Nations; therefore any change of that norm would have serious consequences for the integrity of quite a few other nations across the world.
The project by which Serbia would relinquish Kosovo in exchange for a likely EU future accession was rejected and it is worth to mention that the opposition in Belgrade is not coming from a particular political party, but rather from the whole of the social and political spectrum of the state. Further, the alignment of Serbia with Russia as its staunch supporter in the Kosovo issue, is a fine excuse for the latter to further empower itself in the changing landscape in the region.
Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the West and predominantly the USA and Germany assumed that the Balkans would remain exclusively out of Moscow’s reach, and in that spirit one could comprehend to an extent the process of the Yugoslavian disintegration and the accession of Bulgaria and Romania into NATO. It is provocative to predict that the 90’s were just a passing chapter in the region’s history and it is likely that the Russian influence is coming out stronger, due to the inefficiencies of the Western political planners to accommodate their initial “Power architecture” into a viable and sustainable Modus Vivendi between Albanians and Serbians for instance.
The basic principles of the American strategy were threefold over the past 15 years. Firstly the creation of a homogenous Euro Atlantic security structure that would include the whole of the Balkans, leaving no space for Russian involvement. Secondly the opposition in all terms of any EU-Russian cooperation and especially a Berlin-Moscow entente. Thirdly the expansion of the NATO or American interests in the Caucasus region and in the energy rich states of Central Asia. To an extent all the above have been fulfilled, but the consequence was to enact a process of renewed Russian nationalism and at the same time the increased prices of oil, gas and metals due to the Western sponsored globalization process; has enabled the Russian nation not only to survive economically but to expand at a staggering pace in less than a decade. Lastly the hasty involvement into the Middle East created a drain of valuable American resources in the most important area of the world and it is sure to expect a national dilemma in Washington – As the 2008 elections are getting closer- on how to exit from Iraq. In short being fast is not a good option when trying to re-constrict the power modes of the world as it has been shaped from the WW2 onwards, especially if there is not a conclusive and constructive dialogue with all partners involved.
Nowadays Moscow is gaining lost ground by gathering supporters and mustering influence in Ukraine as the last events shoed just a few weeks ago. Moreover in the Caucasus region, Russia still presses Georgia through the use of the Abkhazia autonomist movement and skillfully connects this issue with the Kosovo resolution. Needless to say that Georgia is far more important for the energy interests in the USA that Kosovo because of its trespassing use as the main oil & gas corridor from the Central Asian producers. Also recently a deal (1) signed by Russia-Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan, further upgrades the role of Moscow as the most important geoeconomic centre in Eurasia and enables Putin to exercise a greater clout in the relations between his country and the rest of the Central Asian states. BBC notes “The agreement is a huge blow to Washington, Brussels and Beijing, who have all been vying for direct access to Turkmenistan's gas. Turkmenistan's massive gas reserves are effectively controlled by Moscow, since it relies on Russian energy giant Gazprom's Soviet-era pipelines for distribution”.
Moreover the American strategy in the Middle East that dictates amongst other the creation of an independent Kurdistan state creates immense pressure in the Turkish Administration and alienates the traditional pro-American strategy of that geopolitically important state. On the other hand, a Kurdish state would be feverously pro-American and would be used as a counterbalance against Iranian, Syrian and possibly Russian advances. In any cases the American strategy is between a rock and a hard place in a variety of theatres and views developments that do not fully conform with its planned vision as it has been shaped post Cold War.
The role of Southeastern Europe thus increases since it is the only area in Eurasia close enough to Russia and the Middle East to be regarded highly strategically and at the same time it already has NATO members and strong American military presence. The Kosovo resolution is being pressed towards independence by "Russian-phobic circles in Washington" that think in terms of Cold War calculation and at the same time, not being able to comprehend fundamental principles, they all their interests in the “Albanian card”. A cooler and realistic assumption based on long-term strategy would dictate a Euro Atlantic security framework that would include the stronger regional states or in any case not the weaker ones as a bulwark against Russian expansion.
Apart from the perceived, often illusionary (in its extreme notion) Russian advance, another obstacle that prohibits Washington of gaining real ground for its interests is the ideological one. Having being self-proclaimed as the democracy-liberalism and “open society” promoter, it has relinquished the norms by which a great state or an “Empire” is being administered. In all history of nations, no nation or political unit sustained its superiority in trying into implementing its rhetoric into concrete political reality. The examples of the Athenian democracy, Spanish Empire, Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were all formations based on the principles of either democracy, Catholicism, Communism or even Nazism but didn’t last long because of their stubbornness to implement their ideological agenda whilst their opponents (respectively), Spartans, British, the West, had skillfully applied realism as their guiding principle.
The past eight years since the end of NATO bombings in Yugoslavia, brought the Balkans into a situation whereby Serbia was excluded from the Western security system and a continuous effort started to further disintegrate the country, regardless of the fact that is the geostrategic centre of the region. Moreover Greece and Turkey (see Kurdistan above) have been more or less neglected by the USA that pursues the strategy of cajoling smaller and feeble political units that Washington is not even confident they are worth the trial! In parallel Russia is applying a realistic notion par excellence and it rejects Ahtisaari plan, gains ground in Serbia, implements its energy program and in a few words expands its influence by taking advantage of the American faults. Even if, "Kosovo becomes independent" that would become a Pyrrian victory for the ideologically frantic circles in Washington, because it would enable Moscow to pursue its aims in the other more important areas and present its image as an internationally law-abiding state. America at the same time would further alienate itself from the status of a “Principle oriented state” without gaining any ground even in the realistic policy making process.
The emerging landscape in the South Eastern Europe includes other players as well, Germany, France (under Sarkozy’s dynamism), Britain and of course the Brussels all-European bureaucracy. For once more in the region’s turbulent history, all the above haven’t drafted a constructive plan that would end ethnic animosities and prove to be a progressive and viable scheme for the years ahead. Therefore the situation is still in a flux and unexpected initiatives and upturns should not be excluded. After all, politics and the international ones are a never-ending power-game on which rhetoric is to be used in parallel with the actual motives and not outside the overall strategic framework. The opposite would fall in the antithesis category, the very recipe by which people self-delude, nations falter and Empires decay.
BBC Report on the energy deal between Russia-Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan