You have probably heard in the news that Russia and the US are at odds on the issue of Kosovo. So, why does Russians support the Serbs and why does America support the Kosovars?
Russians have supported Serbia for centuries, mainly for geo-strategic considerations. Expanding Russia craved for access to the Mediterranean Sea, but the Ottoman Empire and its successor Turkey (in collaboration with the Great Britain) controlled the passage from the Black to the Mediterranean - Bosporus and Dardanelles. Subjugated by the Ottoman Empire Serbia was a lynchpin of Russia's policies and influence on the Balkan Peninsula.
Just how much importance the Russian tsars placed on their Balkan ally can be seen by how many of their children they had married the Serbian kings and it came as no surprise to anyone in 1914 that Russia would go to war with Austro-Hungary and even the Kaiser Germany just to defend the Serbs.
Bosporus and Dardanelles are nowhere close to being as strategically important as they used to be and, hence, what's in Serbia for Russia these days? For Russia, the “eternal brotherhood" or “common religion" (to which Serbs appeal these days) have never played a decisive role - Russia has always worried more about its “great power" status and the balance of power of Europe. The Kremlin cares little about secession of Kosovo or a violation of international law, but it does object to the NATO and everything that it does.
And it should. The NATO expands, bombs, place missile defenses, places its troops on the Russian border (the Baltics). Either it is a dying beast that is out of control or a powerful foe that is destroying the remnants of the Soviet influence there is no single reason why Russia should be comfortable and, as many pan-European invaders that Russia has seen in the past 200 years - there is no reason why it should not to expect the worst.
One observer (Robert Pastor was his name) has wittingly pointed out: ‘Russia has always been too strong or two weak to fit into the global balance of power. ’ To illustrate, it was Russia's weakness that did not allow deterring NATO from bombing Serbia in 1999 and it is Russia's growing strength today that makes it difficult for her to accept the way that the NATO acts. Ironically, the NATO has become used to this way of acting during the 90s.
But the balance is shifting. Russia is no longer struggling with a faltering economy and a non-functioning government. It has a clearly-formulated foreign policy and interests, including those in the Balkans. It has one of the two most powerful militaries on the planet and, considering that the US and its allies are bogged down in two wars that they can not win, - the most powerful. With power comes pride.
What is in Kosovo for the US? Nothing. Self-determination and democracy rhetoric apart, there is not a single argument explaining why the US would support Kosovo's independence. Some observers point out that ‘US supported Kosovo secession to close the final chapter of the NATO operation against Serbia. ’ It is difficult to see how the creation of a client puppet Muslim state with a ruined economy and no ability to govern itself would be a closing chapter to anything. Why then would the US risk tainting its relationship with one of the most important countries on earth for something that it has no interest in?
There is one country that has a long history of “disliking" Russia, long history of confrontation with Russia regardless of who seats in the Kremlin: tsars, Bolshevik's, or President Putin. It is United Kingdom, that for some strange reason calls itself Great Britain (wait a second, is there a Britain that is not great?).
My theory is that it was Britain who wanted Kosovo's secession, not the US. The second most important country in the NATO alliance has been growing increasingly wary of Russia's “bold" and “unacceptable" posture: assassinations of former KGB spies on the British soil, of refusals to give out Russian citizens to the British courts, of embarrassing evictions of British diplomats from Moscow, of attempts of Gazprom to purchase British electric companies.
British policies in Europe were well described by one of its own diplomats in the days of the “Victorian Sunset" - “divide and conquer. " And because the days of the “Georgian Sunset" are long gone, Britain pretends to be a lap dog of a powerful state across the Atlantic ocean. As it turns out the lap dog could still have claws to bite neighbors.
And just like when your neighbors dog bites you, it is your neighbors fault. It is not the Brits who are getting their embassies burnt and it is not the Great Britain that is being blamed by half of the world's population (this is how many people 30 countries that do not recognize Kosovo's independence represent).
American policy makers and diplomats are probably wondering why they supported the secession. Because Great Brits had asked them to. And why did Americans listen? First, they did not think it was such a big deal. Second, they needed to appease Britain for unequivocal and unflinching support and participation in the both wars that America is now fighting. The problem is that further disappointing half of the world's population, does not really help the effort to win those wars, and neither does establishing a precedent of carving up countries, especially, when you have pledged not to carve any countries where you are fighting.
American analysts discuss how Russia could respond to the public humiliation of its allies and ultimately itself, but the visit of Russia's future President Mr. Medvedev will be as far as it will go. Russia has bigger stakes than that and alienation with the West would not be constructive for Russia's growth. Moscow will “say much, " but do little.
The Kremlin is collecting applauds from the Russians, who appreciate its strong, albeit vocal opposition to the secession; from the Serbs, who appreciate 1.5 bln dollar energy investment announced few days after secession of Kosovo; from the former soviet republics, who are becoming increasingly aware of how much of their own territorial integrity depends on Moscow's will; of the Westerners growing sick of their governments interventionism.
As one Russian diplomat has recently pointed out on one of the sessions of EU parliament: “You did not like is when we were under the tsars; you did not like us when we were communists; you don't like us now. Maybe you just don't like us?" To get the Russian view on Kosovo, don't watch CNN which operates on this premise that Russia is evil. Mr. Putin may not be the best democratic leader, but Russians have a legitimate concern about intentions of the NATO and the US in particular. And by the way, there is not a single reason why you should not travel to Russia.
I graduated from New York University with MA degree in politics and currently work for Travel All Russia - America's best travel agency when it comes to tours to Russia