[Update 20th Nov: As expected, the “gift” from Russia turns out to be nothing if the sort. It is reported today that Serbia will not get a penny before 2010, and what they do get is heavily laden with “conditions” that the Serbia side does not like. In addition the “the loan itself should be paid back within ten years, with a grace period of a “year or two”. See B92 “Russian loan not before 2010“]
As a European foreigner in Serbia I continue to be amazed at the persistence of the myth that Russia is Serbia’s “friend”; that they are reliable Slavic brothers allied with Serbs against the US and EU oppressors. Serbia even has a pro-Russian party, the only such party outside of the former Soviet Union.
This week as President Medvedev of Russia visited Belgrade, much local airtime and printer ink was devoted to praising Russia’s “billion Euro loan to Serbia”, which was presented as an act of kindness and generosity from the Russians, and touted by Nationalists as evidence of their goodwill (and Serbia’s importance to Russia).
It is in reality a deeply cynical move from a resurgent Russia attempting to re-establish its “sphere of influence” and more importantly, snap up bargains from cash starved Serbia.
The loan was initially supposed to be a billion euros. Then it was downgraded to a billion US dollars. Finally it was downgraded to “to be determined” (a billion Dinars? A billion pesos?). All we know is that the 200 million will be given to the Serbian government and the rest will be used to hire Russian companies to carry out projects in Serbia. It is a sort of stimulus package for Russian companies disguised as “kindness” to Serbia.
In addition to arranging the (self-)stimulus package, the Russians were consolidating their hold on their new bargain acquisitions from Serbia’s privatisation process. NIS (state oil company) was “sold” to them for a bargain price last year. In fact it was practically given to them. NIS was valued at €2.2 billion and sold to Russia’s Gazprom for €1.2 billion. Now we can see where the Russians gor the 1 billion for their “loan”!
The Russian loan is also designed to guarantee that they will have the first grab at the upcoming sell-offs of EPS (the state electrical company) and maybe even Telecom Serbia (state Telecom monopoly).
Its a great racket. You lend money in exchange for acquiring state assets that are worth much more than the loans. You also get to have your loan reinvested back into your own companies, and you get political influence in the country too. And do they hate you for this exploitation and thievery? Hell no! Remember Russians and Serbs are Slavic brothers and sisters. The Serbs are grateful for their fiscal and political rape at the hands of the Russians. After all, the Russians support Serbia on Kosovo and are allied against the real enemy: The decadent US and EU.
Meanwhile, here is some news you will barely hear about in the Serbian media: EU to donate billion euros to Serbia.
The European Union would donate a total of one billion euros (1.5 billion U.S. dollars) to Serbia over the next five years, the EU representative in Serbia said on Wednesday.
The donation will be earmarked for various sectors, ranging from agriculture, infrastructure and energy to the reform of the state administration.
Yes, a BILLION euros donated. It is not a loan. There are no “conditions”. There is no looting of Serbian state assets and no insistence on pipeline deals. The EU has quietly pouring effort and money into Serbia for a decade, yet most of the the people Serbia still think it is the Russians who are their friends and the EU who exploit them!
History and realism dictate that the Russian do not and have never given a damn about Serbs and Serbia. When you look beyond the rhetoric and you see who is really trying to help this country, we see the overwhelming bulk of aid and help coming from the EU. Other European countries like Norway also donates tens of millions of Euros to Serbia every year. Germany last week committed to giving Serbia €120 million in aid. Even Japan (€200 million) and America (€400 million) have donated vast sums to Serbia since 2001.
People here have no idea of the extent of foreign, in particular EU, sponsored investment and effort in Serbia. And the leader of the EU are not stupid. They cannot accept Serbia trying to play the Yugoslav game of milking the West and Russians simultaneously. Neither will the Russians.
There will be a reckoning when Serbia is forced to choose sides. That time is closer than the government of Serbia expects. No one is fooled by their posturing, least of all the EU.
An old saying in Serbia goes “God is high above, and Russia is far away” (“Bog visoko, a Rusija daleko”). Russia is further away than ever, and the EU is next door. Does Serbia really want to be an isolated Russian whore-state surrounded on all sides by EU states? Do the people of Serbia really want to voluntarily rejoin a new Eastern Bloc? I don’t think so.
The government is playing a silly and dangerous game and it is allowed to do so because ignorance of reality leads the people to believe the Russians are Serbia’s friends. They are not. As the old saying goes, “Watch what people do, not what they say”. Russia says “We are friends” then exploits cash starved Serbia with ludicrously exploitative loan conditions and deals. They say “We support you on Kosovo” then they undermine Serbia by recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia. They say “We are your Slavic brothers” but supplied arms to Croatia and Bosnia throughout the 90’s.
With friends like Russia…