On the 6th of May, Serbian President Alexander Vucic will arrive in Turkey for a meeting organised by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The meeting is part of a serious of increased bilateral summits that have taken place between high level officials over the last year representing two countries which have traditionally been on the opposite sides of history. But in a move that due to historic complications is perhaps even more remarkable than the new Sino-Philippine friendship or even the Russo-Pakistan friendship, developments between the governments of Vucic and Erdogan have meant that in the year 2018, relations between Ankara and Belgrade are at an all time high.
This has been the result of a push-pull factor that has seen Turkey growing resentful of Serbia’s Muslim majority neighbour Albania, while Serbia continues to grow disillusioned with a stalled drive for EU membership while Belgrade is also seeking powerful allies as a diplomatic buffer against an increasingly politically volatile Balkans, particularly in respect of Serbia’s unstable southern Macedonian neighbour and its increasingly aggressive Albanian neighbour. As Turkey’s pivot towards eastern partners including both Russia and China was motivated by an increased atmosphere of hostility from the EU and US, combined with the open doors that Turkey was welcomed through in Russia, China and neighbouring Iran, Ankara has been less focused on its ‘former’ western partners and more focused on building relations with fellow Asian powers including Iran, Russia, China, Turkey’s all weather friend in Pakistan and the wider pan-Turkic world of Central Asia and the Caucasus.
But when it comes to Serbia, it is the events in Albania and in the ethnic Albanian occupied Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija that have driven Belgrade and Ankara together.
Albania has become a base for the terror group FETO, the infamous cult like organisation built around US based exiled Turkish terrorist Fethullah Gulen. Albania has for years rebuffed Ankara’s requests to extradite known FETO members, while the west Balkan state has also refused to do anything to clamp down on FETO activity on its soil. In this sense, just as a wealthy al-Qaeda once effectively paid the former Afghan regime to rent its soil as a base of operations, so too is Gulen’s terrorist organisation doing the same with Albania, one of Europe’s most impoverished states. This has been made all the more apparent when Albania’s Defence Minister Olta Xhacka recently named Turkey as a potential threat to Albania in her plea to have the US build a base on Albanian soil. At the moment, the US has build a large illegal base next door in occupied Kosovo and Metohija and now Tirana wants such a base on its own legal soil.
While President Erdogan’s relations with the other Muslim majority nation of the Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina remains positive, his relations with Muslim majority Albania continue to deteriorate, primarily due to the FETO issue. As FETO is held responsible for an attempted coup against the Turkish sate in 2016, this is no small matter. That being said, as FETO activity creeps into Bosnia as well, Turkey may soon find that its most reliable Balkan colleague might be Orthodox Serbia.
For Serbia, a country that has for decades suffered at the hands of radical Albanian terrorist groups like the KLA, Belgrade and Ankara now have a common cause in putting an end to lawlessness and terrorism in the western Balkans. Furthermore, with Macedonia (aka FYROM) on the brink of collapse, Serbia is all too aware that Macedonia’s radicalised Albanian citizens, many of whom also have links with FETO could pour into Serbia in attempts to agitate for separatism in parts of Serbia that are home to an ethnic Albanian minority.
Then there are the economic considerations. Serbia is attempting to build new trading partnerships outside of Europe because its bid to enter the European Union has been stalled for years. At this point, even some pro-EU Serbs (a minority in the country as a whole) have accepted that conducting trade with major non-EU powers could be a form of leverage against the Franco-German dominated bloc that has had historic hostilities to Serbia that unlike Turkey’s, continue to this day.
The Serbian President stated the following on the eve of his visit to Turkey,
“Relations with Turkey are extremely efficient. As a result of the good relations, factories have been opened at the most remote corners of Serbia. Thanks to the revised Free Trade Agreement signed in October with Turkey, Serbia’s meat exports have increased 23%. We have many common interests with Turkey in economy and politics”.
Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency further reports that during the bilateral Erdogan-Vucic, the first ever meeting of the Turkey-Serbia High-Level Cooperation Council will be held. When taken together, Turkey’s desire to fight anti-Turkish FETO elements in Europe, while continuing to expand Turkish commercial and cultural interests in Europe has naturally led Ankara towards Serbia, a fellow non-EU state which unlike EU member Greece, has no present day territorial or cultural disputes with Ankara. To this end, as Erdogan has recently spoken about ebbing the increased tensions with Athens, Serbia could be a future mediator in the wider disputes between Turkey on the one hand and both Athens and Nicosia on the other.
For Serbia, Turkey is the only realistic physical gateway to the wider Eurasian space. Put simply, as Russia is historically fraternal nation of Serbia, Turkey is the go-to Serbia friendly and Russia friendly non-EU road to Russia and the rest of the Eurasian space where Serbia frankly has many more potential partners than in the European Union.
While some ultra-nationalists in both Turkey and Serbia will predictably look at this new geopolitical friendship with scepticism, what is positively odd is how both the mainstream and alternative-media are ignoring this positive development. At a time when Turkey has chosen multipolarity from a position of strength, while Serbia continues to be torn between feeling forced to grovel at a geographically nearby EU while also seeking to build relations with countries that haven’t bombed it as recently as 19 years ago, both nations from very different positions of comparative strength are developing what could be a win-win relationship for trade, cultural reconciliation, a Eurosceptic front from change and a possible anti-FETO/anti-extremist alliance.