Observers and politicians in the region
speculated that Trump may be more amenable to Serbia’s position or
more willing to make deals with Moscow in which Kosova’s
independence or Bosnia-Herzegovina’s integrity could be sacrificed.
Some European analysts even believed that Trump would withdraw
militarily and politically and declare the region a “European issue"
that the EU alone needed to handle.
Alarm bells were also set off in the
region when U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher issued controversial
statements in support of redrawing borders in the Western Balkans.
Some regional leaders assumed that Rohrabacher, as a vocal Trump
supporter, could seriously influence White House policy. Rohrabacher
claimed that in order to stabilize the region Serbia and Kosova
should exchange territories and populations, and such a deal would
lead to mutual recognition. He also asserted that Macedonia had to
be divided between Kosova and Bulgaria because it is not a “proper
Rohrabacher’s proposals are unlikely to
be taken seriously in the new administration as they would
precipitate new conflicts and leave the US in the middle of a
violent escalation. Any attempted exchange of territories could lead
to numerous territorial demands and armed conflicts not only in
Macedonia, Kosova and Serbia but also in Bosnia-Herzegovina and
Montenegro and potentially drag several NATO members, including
Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, and Turkey, into a regional war.
Contrary to initial high hopes in
Belgrade and Moscow when Trump was elected, the objectives of the
new administration may be far from beneficial for either Serbia or
Russia. Indeed, there are early indications that the exact opposite
may be the case. U.S. Balkan policy has also become intertwined with
the Trump-Putin saga in which the new U.S. President cannot be seen
to be making unilateral concessions to the Kremlin.
Moscow’s position in the region has been
severely damaged by new evidence from British and U.S. intelligence
sources that Kremlin officials in collusion with Serbian
nationalists attempted to violently overthrow the pro-American
government in Montenegro last October to prevent the country from
joining NATO. The Montenegrin coup attempt has poignantly
demonstrated that the United States and Russia have diametrically
opposed objectives in the region. Statements by Vice President Mike
Pence during his visit to Brussels and Munich reaffirming U.S.
commitments to NATO have served to reassure all pro-Western
governments that they will not be abandoned to Moscow’s designs.
In one indication that the Kremlin
position in the Balkans will be disregarded, even the recently
replaced National Security Advisor Michael Flynn recommended that
Trump support Montenegro’s membership in NATO to smooth the
ratification process in the US Senate. Montenegro is now on track to
become the Alliance’s 29th member this spring.
In their post-U.S. election
calculations, Serbian officials also seemed certain that the Trump
administration would be less committed to Kosova’s independence or
membership in international organizations. In reality, the opposite
may be true. As a self-declared deal-maker, Trump may seek to speed
up the process of Kosova’s statehood and international integration
in order to hasten the removal of American troops, numbering just
under 800 soldiers.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis
explicitly backed such an approach during his Senate confirmation
hearings. Mattis indicated that Washington may support a more rapid
creation of a regular Kosova army that can take on all security
functions including the defense of Kosova’s borders. This has not
been well received in either Belgrade or Moscow and both capitals
are anxiously waiting to see what position the new US Secretary of
State Rex Tillerson will adopt. Some observers are now speculating
that Washington may soon demand that Serbia recognize Kosova so the
mission in Kosova can be completed.
Another contentious question where
Belgrade expected to be favored by the new White House was over the
future of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Officials in Banja Luka, the capital
of the Serb entity in Bosnia, and nationalist politicians in
Belgrade reportedly convinced themselves that the Trump White House
would be more favorably disposed toward Republika Srpska (RS) and
less accommodating to Muslim populations in the Balkans, including
RS President Milorad Dodik made a major
point in being invited to side events at the Trump inauguration on
January 20th, in an effort to signal that his presence indicated a
significant change brewing in U.S. policy toward his quasi-state. In
reality, Trump’s national security team are becoming well versed in
the aspirations of various political players in the region and are
unlikely to experiment with state division, partition, or
Moreover, they will increasingly view
with distrust any policies that Moscow supports in the region, as
Putin’s aim is to subvert, weaken, and divide the West and to
prevent Balkan inclusion in the trans-Atlantic security sphere.
Indeed, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov clearly
stated at the Munich Security Conference that his government is
seeking a “post-West world order.” Instead of enabling Russia’s
ambitions to dismantle the West, President Trump and his security
team now have an opportunity to strengthen the West.