David Madden (SEESOX Associate, Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)
He started by providing a snapshot of some recent developments: the triumphalist visit by Putin to Belgrade in October 2014 on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the city; statements by the new Syriza government in Greece apparently opposing sanctions against Russia; Russian naval visits to Cyprus; and the announcement of “Turkish Stream”, tying Russia and Turkey closer together on energy issues. At the same time there was a harder line coming out of Western European capitals in response to what appeared a challenge from Russia in the region.
Dr Bechev suggested that Russia did not have a special policy towards the Balkans: what happened there was a consequence of Russia’s overall relationship with the West. He divided the post-Soviet period into three phases. Under Andrei Kozyrev as foreign minister (1991-96), there was an opening to the West. Russia supported efforts to resolve West Balkan conflicts. Russia was sympathetic towards Serbia, but not excessively so: Milosevic had blotted his copy book by hedging his bets during the 1991 putsch attempt. With Yevgeny Primakov and Igor Ivanov there was a harder line. But the game was still more about Russia’s global role than about the West Balkans per se: and the stand-off at Pristina Airport lead to a climb-down, and strengthened the case for Bulgaria and Romania to join NATO.