Update No: 153 -
The big one – a
treasure trove in the offing
There is a big story coming out of the
Balkans that affects Serbia intimately. It
is that Kosovo is one of the richest
places on Earth for mineral resources.
It does not have much in the way of oil
and gas. But it has Europe's largest coal
deposits, as also of gold and silver,
bauxite, cobalt, chrome, manganese, nickel
and much more.
If this had been known ten years ago or
so, the Serbs would have been even more
tenacious than they were to defend their
original territory, which is how they see
Kosovo. Perhaps it is just as well that
they weren't in the know.
There is a tale to tell here.
Evidently, certain circles knew about it
at least two years ago when a piece
appeared in a February number of the Wall
Street Journal, mentioning the
discoveries. But this did not receive the
follow-up one might have expected.
Clearly, it was thought better not to
provoke the Serbs, who had still not
accepted their exclusion from Kosovo as a
permanency. It was - and is - a hot enough
potato as it is.
“Serbia cannot enter NATO with Kosovo”
For instance, Russian ambassador to
NATO Dmitry Rogozin said that Serbia must
give up its fight for Kosovo if it wants
to become a member of the NATO alliance.
He said that Russia would then have to
question its stances towards Kosovo,
adding that “We cannot be bigger Serbs
than the Serbs themselves,” daily Blic
“All NATO member-states have not
recognized (the independence of) Kosovo.
Those are Spain, Greece, Romania and
Slovakia who have not. But according to
international law, and the NATO statute,
such a situation is an obstacle for Serbia
joining the Alliance,” Rogozin said. He
said that the stance of most NATO
member-states will not change, which means
that the Alliance can accept Serbia as a
member-stated only with “new”
“Belgrade will have to officially
recognize Priština’s sovereignty, which
will also change the stances of Madrid and
Moscow,” he said.
Asked what Moscow’s opinion is on the
discussion of Serbia’s Atlantic
integrations, Rogozin said that he
understands the stances of the Serbian
politicians and military elite that want
Serbia to join NATO.
He pointed out that NATO Secretary General
Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Serbia
does not have to join NATO first if it
wants to join the European Union. Rogozin
said that it is hard for him to understand
how Belgrade can speak of NATO integration
when there are still images in the capital
of damage done by the 1999 NATO-led
“The problem of Kosovo is there as well,
since most NATO member-states have
recognized its independence, also, there
is the demonization of the Serbian people,
the flagrant anti-Serbian double-standards
of the West towards participants in the
wars of the former Yugoslavia…Has that
been forgotten? Russia would not
understand Serbia’s decision in favour of
NATO considering everything I have
mentioned,” Rogozin said.
The Economist's point of view:-
Rumours of a Russian base in Serbia
reflect Balkan hysteria, not reality
Feb 4th 2010 | BELGRADE | From The
Economist print edition
EVERYONE in the Balkans loves a good
conspiracy theory, especially one that
involves energy pipelines and military
bases. According to some people with a
bent against Serbia and Russia, the
Russians are plotting to create a
thinly-disguised military base in Serbia.
That would be the Kremlin’s first new
European base since the end of the Warsaw
Pact, and could seem a response to NATO’s
expansion in the region. Every country
around Serbia is either in NATO or wants
The story of the Russian base started in
October when Dmitry Medvedev was visiting
Belgrade. It was announced then that a new
joint centre for emergency co-ordination
would be created in the Serbian town of
Nis. The site was an all-but-unused
airport, named after Constantine the Great
(the Roman emperor who was born there).
The Russian partner will be the emergency
ministry, a powerful semi-military outfit
whose activities include disaster relief
but also errand-running for Russia’s
security services. The ministry has long
played a role in Serbia, for example in
But speculation has mounted that the Nis
facilities could be used for spying or
even turned to military use, should the
need arise. What has most excited the
conspiracy theorists is that Nis is close
to the point where a controversial planned
gas pipeline, South Stream, will cross
Serbian territory. The pipeline is a joint
venture between Russia’s gas giant,
Gazprom, and Italy’s energy company, Eni.
The route crosses the Black Sea, enabling
Russia to bypass Ukraine, seen as a
troublesome transit country, and deliver
gas direct to the Balkans, central Europe
Serbia’s emergency-planning chief in the
interior ministry, Predrag Maric, firmly
denies any notion that Russia is opening a
military facility by stealth. Nis will not
be a military base, he insists, pointing
out that his ministry and the Russians
have invited no fewer than 11 countries
from the region to a conference in
Belgrade this month to discuss their part
in the establishment of the logistics and
training facility in Nis.
The theories circulating among bloggers
and others about Russian intentions echo
earlier ones about outsiders’ geopolitical
goals in the region. Many believe that it
was oil, not worries about Serbian
brutality in Kosovo, that lay behind
NATO’s bombing of Serbia (including Nis
airport) in 1999. After the war the
Americans built Camp Bondsteel, a base
capable of housing 7,000 men, in Kosovo.
Conspiracy theorists said the real purpose
of the camp was to safeguard the planned
AMBO oil pipeline that aimed to pump
Russian and Caspian oil from across
Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania.
Yet more than 16 years after it was first
mooted, the AMBO pipeline remains only a
line on the map. Bondsteel has no runway.
And there are only 1,400 American troops
left in Kosovo. When the total number of
NATO-led troops in Kosovo drops from its
current 10,000 to the planned 2,300 Camp
Bondsteel may close for good.
Nis airport and Bondsteel are easy to spot
on Google Earth. Harder to find is a real
military base, opened last November by the
Serb authorities and often dubbed the
Serbian Bondsteel. It lies close to Kosovo
in the Bujanovac area of south Serbia,
home to many ethnic Albanians. Their
leaders complain loudly about the
militarisation of the region. Yet the
Serbian base can house only 1,000 men.
“I’m not losing any sleep over it,” says a
senior NATO official. He says he is aware
of the possible Russian presence in Nis
but is unworried by its implications.
Meanwhile Windjet, an Italian low-cost
airline, has just started flights to
Constantine the Great airport.