Serbia, Relations with

   Based on a shared antipathy to the Ottoman Empire, a common faith, and pan-Slavism, Serbia and Russia have a long history of relations. After World War II, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) supported the establishment of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito (while the multiethnic state included a dozen nationalities and six republics, Serbs and Serbia dominated the state apparatus). Fraternal relations, however, quickly dissolved into a rivalry over the direction of Communism in southeastern Europe, with Tito breaking with Joseph Stalin and the rest of the Eastern Bloc. Under Nikita Khrushchev, relations were restored with Moscow recognizing Yugoslavia as a stable, nonaligned Communist state, although Moscow continued to exercise pressure on Belgrade via its Balkan satellite Bulgaria. During the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced a period of “new thinking” about Soviet-Yugoslav relations, with some aspects of Tito’s economic model being adapted for perestroika. Shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin established relations with Yugoslavia.
   In 1991, both Slovenia and Croatia had seceded from the federation against the wishes of the United States and Russia. When the West backed the breakaway republics against Yugoslavia, Yeltsin initially followed suit, preferring to let the European Union manage the situation. The early agreement between Washington, Brussels, and Moscow steadily evaporated as war and ethnic cleansing spread across Yugoslavia, fomented by the policies of Slobodan Milošević (Serbia) and Radovan Karadžić (Bosnia).
   By the mid-1990s, Russia emerged as the primary defender of Orthodox Serbs against the Catholic and Muslim populations of a disintegrating Yugoslavia. Recognizing vehement pro-Serb sentiment among Russian politicians, particularly Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and the masses, Yeltsin assumed an increasingly belligerent stance on the breakup of Yugoslavia, culminating in the tacit support of Milošević’s policies in the formerly autonomous Serbian province of Kosovo. Yeltsin, however, was ultimately forced to abandon Belgrade or risk direct confrontation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); the crisis over the Kosovo intervention produced the greatest challenge to Western-Russian relations during the Yeltsin administration. In 2000, a popular uprising backed by the military removed Milošević from power. Serbia’s new leader Vojislav Koštunica and Vladimir Putin quickly moved to normalize Russo-Serbian relations, with Putin visiting Belgrade in 2001. In 2006, Yugoslavia was officially dissolved, with Montenegro and Serbia—the remaining republics—declaring their independence (Russia was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Montenegro). While recognizing the de facto situation in United Nations–governed Kosovo during his tenure, Putin vociferously condemned any moves to recognize the independence of the province.
   He also threatened that international recognition of Kosovo’s independence would lead to similar outcomes in other zones of frozen conflict, such as Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
   Since Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, Russia has led the international campaign to protect Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs and return Kosovo to Serbian rule. Russo-Serbia foreign trade is vital to Belgrade, with over $2.75 billion annually. Russia is also a critical supplier of energy to Serbia; in 2008, Gazprom acquired Serbia’s oil monopoly in exchange for the right to build a natural gas pipeline through the country, a deal that provoked controversy abroad due to its purported linkages to the Kosovo question.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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