Ishchenko: The Putin Factor in the Serbian Elections

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March 28, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By J. Arnoldski – 

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Putin meets with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić

On Monday, March 27th, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić paid a visit to the Kremlin and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin just 6 days before Serbia’s presidential elections, in which Vučić himself is running. Besides some flattering words, recapitulating trade statistics, and the rather usual military deals, the details of Putin and Vučić’s meeting remain unknown. According to the head of the Russian Center for Systems Analysis and Forecasting, Rostislav Ishchenko, it’s the very symbolism of this meeting that speaks a thousand words.

In Ishchenko’s opinion, the Kremlin’s press statement on the Serbian Prime Minister’s visit is telling: “Characteristically enough, even after the Russian President’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, talked to journalists, media spread only one of his statements on the event: Peskov emphasized that Moscow is not interfering in the Serbian elections.” 

For Ishchenko, this is a sign that Russia or the “Russian question” is playing a greater role in European countries’ elections. “Indeed, Russia is not interfering in the Serbian elections. The question must simply be asked differently: does Moscow influence the results of these elections? Of course it does. Just like it influences the results of any elections in any European state or even in the US, regardless of whether Russia is doing anything or is inactive. It influences simply by the very fact of its existence,” Ishchenko says. 

In favor of this argument, Ishchenko recalls the US elections: “For the first time in US history, the main issue of the election campaign was not taxes, health insurance, the liberation of blacks from slavery, and not equal rights for the colored and white population. Even fighters for rights for the LGBT community and militant feminists, who have dominated the political scene of the ‘civilized world’ for the past two decades, yielded to the Russian question.” 

Yet Russia doesn’t even work to influence other countries’ elections like the US does. “Russia does not finance tens of thousands of non-governmental organizations scattered around the whole world, does not organize color revolutions and other operations for forced ‘democratization’, and does not maintain troops at all of the planet’s hot spots,” Ishchenko explains. 

Instead, in Ishchenko’s opinion, Russia’s influence is by virtue of what it represents, its symbolic role in global politics. The Western system and Western values are in crisis, Ishchenko says, and “the population of the countries of the classical West and those of Eastern Europe conjoined to them are in evermore need of an alternative system. And they see such a system in none other than Russia, who has for the past decade successfully opposed the collective West in upholding traditional values and the right to sovereign policy.” 

This is particularly relevant for Serbia, a country which has suffered sanctions, war, and partition at the hands of the West and whose population is overwhelmingly against NATO and EU accession, and for closer ties to Russia. Even the country’s Prime Minister, who represents an at least nominally pro-EU trajectory for the country, found it necessary to visit Putin for, in the very least, a PR move. “Somehow it’s become unpromising to promise Serbs NATO and EU membership during elections,” Ishchenko somewhat sarcastically remarked. This is especially true for Vucic, who is opposed in the elections by the openly pro-Russian Vojislav Šešelj.

“Vučić is not the first European politician who has tried to gain additional votes in elections and additional rating points by demonstrating an orientation towards friendship with Russia,” Ishchenko recalls. “Russia simply exists. It lives as it believes necessary. And through its very existence and way of life it offers an example to the whole world annoyed by American hegemony. It turns out that one can live differently, not like Washington decides.”

In the end, Ishchenko summarizes, “Putin outstrips the popularity of politicians of many countries of Western Europe. So Russia genuinely has no need of interfering in election campaigns in European countries.” In both the upcoming Serbian and other European elections, the “Russia factor” will become a deal-breaker itself, representing as it does an alternative to the crisis-ridden Western system and American unipolar hegemony. 

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“The situation in which pro-American candidates fought with even more pro-American candidates in European elections is changing to be the exact opposite: pro-Russian and even more pro-Russian candidates are fighting for victory,” Ishchenko declares. 

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