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Russia and the Balkans – territories are important, not people

Russian TV analysts and experts who parade through the most-watched political program on the state television “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” can finally be satisfied. From their leader, whose conquest mission to Ukraine they are infinitely loyal to, they received an important confirmation for their war cries, with which they have been flooding the Russian TV audience for months. People from universities, scientific institutes, independent researchers from war instigator Solovyov’s studies bombed all European capitals and the American East Coast with nuclear weapons, exterminated Ukrainians as a non-existent people, brought all Western economies to their knees and elevated Russia on the throne of a new world leader, to a place that belongs to Russia because of its spiritual and military superiority.

They can be satisfied because Vladimir Putin finally publicly confirmed that the invasion of Ukraine is only a part of a great historical mission, and that is territorial expansion, the return of “historical” lands under the auspices of Mother Russia. This “critical” TV audience, as if in a perverted mirror, is asking its leader to take off his gloves, they don’t like wrapping up real war ambitions in the package of “special military operation”, they want to tell the nation clearly that Russia is on a conquest mission to all the territories it considers its own and that it should be proud of it. Now they finally got what they were persistently looking for.

Putin chose a young audience to talk about the imperial expansion of Russia, as the true goal of the Ukrainian invasion. The audience consisted of young scientists and IT entrepreneurs, new age people who should lead the country in the future. However, their leader gave them a recipe from the 18th century for those future days, he identified with Peter the Great and his territorial conquests. “You would think that Peter the Great was at war with Sweden, occupying its territory. But he was occupying nothing; he was returning those territories. It seems that it is on us to regain and strengthen those territories”, Putin said with a smile, leaving no dilemma about what, in fact, is the mission that must be fulfilled.

At the beginning of May, I published a short letter from a friend from Moscow in the domestic and European media, which he certainly could not publish at home due to difficult but true words about his country. Even if that letter seemed to be exaggerating when talking about Russian history as a history of conquering what belongs to someone else, there can be no dilemma after Putin’s speech. A Russian friend wrote two months ago – “All the territories that are now the Russian Federation were acquired by force, bribery or both. Imperial Russia added more territories, Soviet Russia added more territories, today’s Russia adds territories”.

This country and all its rulers, from Putin to centuries ago, have before them the concept of territorial expansion as the supreme national and state mission. Countries are important, not the people who live in them. People and their destinies are even unimportant when the highest goal is achieved, and that is territories. Ukraine is today’s example, recently it was Georgia, before it Afghanistan, and even Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the whole of Eastern Europe after the Second World War.

The lives of Russians in Russia and the Soviet Union were not important either, as long as the state territory was convincingly the largest in the world. Russia has had a catastrophic demographic balance for a very long time, and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a real population collapse has been on the scene. The peak, however, is the period of one year, from October 2020 to September 2021, when the population decreased by as much as 997 thousand! Low standard of living, poor health habits, low birth rate, high migration (to the West), all this shows that this country is not made to be tailored to people, but to dreams and myths about the conquest of territories. The Russian president recently confirmed that with a smile. He did not offer young intellectuals a comfortable life, good jobs and peace in which they can raise families, but he offered “historical territories”, the same thing he has been demonstrating in Ukraine for 100 days.

It is this traditional Russian philosophy of the state and the nation, as the need for constant and violent expansion that has faithful supporters in Serbia and the Balkans. When they say that they “love and respect Russia” because of traditional ties, it refers to this very tradition of conquering other people’s territories and subjugating others. Just as Putin’s Russia does not consider Ukraine a sovereign state, nor Ukrainians a nation with an identity, neither do Serbian extreme nationalists recognize borders in the Balkans, much less the existing ethnic picture.

When Sergei Lavrov said at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine that only those states that represent the entire nation on their territory have the right to sovereignty, then it is music for the ears of pro-Russian extremists in Serbia and the Balkans. For them, it is a confirmation that they can freely continue to deny the statehood of both Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example. Even when they add to that, again, the “traditional” denial of the identity of the Montenegrin nation, the Bosniaks, and even the Croats (they are all Serbs), then the concurrence with the Russian model is complete.

Vladimir Putin is a role model for these people, in large part because he does not have to hide his aggression against other countries and nations, and even more because he is strong enough to start an army to achieve those aggressive goals. Serbian extremists also dream of “returning the territories” they lost in the wars of the 1990s, or never had them, but consider them their own. These territories are in Montenegro, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Croatia. The new convocation of the Serbian parliament will soon include politicians whose maps with the state borders of Serbia penetrate deep into almost all Balkan neighbors. Should we say that their political role model is Vladimir Putin?

For these “small”, Balkan territorial expansions, they have allies in the countries that should be reduced by the territorial expansion of Serbian extremists. This is the spirit of Milorad Dodik’s policy in Republika Srpska, its constant flirtation with independence and secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it was the policy of the pro-Serbian coalition that was in power in Montenegro until recently, whose supporters dreamed of returning to the state alliance with Serbia, from which Montenegro withdrew by a convincing majority in 2006.

Russia loves and supports such concepts; Russia is their patron and responds with satisfaction to the outpourings of commitment to its policy coming from the Balkans. It considers them a natural aspiration of a nation to take over the territories where their compatriots live, or it simply considers them its own, according to some historical right. Just the way Russia is behaving towards Ukraine and the way it will behave in the future, according to Vladimir Putin’s announcement. If they forgot in the Balkans how they wanted to achieve those goals in the 1990s, Russia and Putin are there to remind them with their historically “just” action in Ukraine. In such medieval expeditions, they consider everything legitimate, robberies, rapes, and mass graves. While Europe is reluctant, convinced that it is helping Ukraine even though it doesn’t have to, not realizing yet that Ukraine is the defender of that Europe from Russia’s barbaric campaigns. Europeans do not understand that Ukrainians and their sacrifice is the only barrier to Russians coming to their homes, where they will behave the same as in Mariupol and Bucha… And then Kissinger will call for a compromise with Putin and Macron will demand that Russia not be humiliated. They will be satisfied if the Russian invaders do not knock on the door of their residence. And until then, evil will spread, if it is not stopped now – in Ukraine!

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