09/22/2022, 08.55
RUSSIA-UKRAINE
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Moscow plays the 'Balkan card' for Crimea

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The peninsula wrested from Ukraine seeks stronger ties with Orthodox countries such as Serbia and Bulgaria. The aim: to attract more tourists and visitors despite Western sanctions. The Russians are looking at alternatives to escape the isolation created by by the US and Europe.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Russian Crimean TV has reported on the visit of a delegation from Sevastopol in Serbia to attend the international conference "Dialogue of Cultures: Russia and the Balkans" in Belgrade. The delegation consisted of a group of Crimean Bulgarians, heirs of the ancient ethnic group that existed before the formation of Kievan Rus'.

Already last year, on the initiative of Crimea's head Sergey Aksenov, appointed by Moscow, the peninsula's authorities had invited a delegation from Sofia to Sevastopol, with which a twinning between a number of Crimean and Bulgarian cities had been decided. The mayor of the Bulgarian city of Opan, Genčo Kolev, had been appointed as the person in charge of the exchanges, mainly due to Russian appreciation for his career in the post-Soviet secret service, and his status as a representative of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, heir to the Communist Party.

Several observers, such as Professor Boris Babin of Evpatorija in Crimea, believe that these exchanges indicate that Russia has decided to use the 'Balkan card' in Crimea, to attract tourists and visitors to the peninsula from Bulgaria, Serbia and EU-related countries. Serbia is actually a neutral country, not a member of the EU or NATO, even though it has distanced itself from the Russian war in Ukraine, but it remains one of the countries traditionally most closely linked to Moscow, and welcomes Russian citizens without restrictions.

Crimean politician Ivan Abažer led the visit to Belgrade by introducing himself as the 'leader of the Bulgarian Crimean community', inviting Bulgarians and Serbs to visit the region. He participated as an observer in the election of the president of Serbia, as part of the Russian delegation. Cultural exchanges in this direction are financed by the Gorčakov Foundation, established by the Moscow Foreign Ministry, to initiate educational programmes of the so-called 'Balkan dialogue'.

Since 2020, these meetings have become annual at various levels, and the meeting in Belgrade took place with the cooperation of Russkij Dom, a cultural association that created the 'Rossotrudničestva' (Russian Collaboration), which acts directly in Serbia. Krym 24 television devoted many reports to this initiative, interviewing several Serbian public figures such as Bilana Živkovič, president of the Orthodox Women's Society of Serbia, and Stefan Gaijč, political scientist and head of the Institute for European Research, an open supporter of the Russian war in Ukraine.

The various events as part of the visit of the Crimeans were actually reported with great propaganda emphasis in the Russian media, but they involved very few people and were not commented on as much by the Serbs, which did not prevent the signing of numerous high-level cooperation projects.

Russia's desire to seek alternative ways in Europe to get out of the isolation of sanctions is evident, as it cannot be satisfied with relations with Asian or African countries, and the Balkan peninsula has always been an area of geopolitical and 'spiritual' influence for Russia. In various speeches, attempts have been made to present Crimea in parallel with Kosovo, as two 'sacred lands' linked to the Christian origins of the Slavic countries.

Ukraine, on the other hand, has never recognised the referendum on Kosovo's independence, despite the fact that it took place under very different conditions, without Albanian occupying armies and with a year-long preparation, not in a fortnight as in Crimea in 2014. Many of these countries (Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Slovenia and Croatia) are EU and NATO members, while Albania, North Macedonia, Turkey and Montenegro are NATO members and candidates for EU membership. Serbia, meanwhile, is on the fringes of these memberships, and Russia is trying everything to draw it to its side.

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See also
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Crimea annexation frightens Patriarch of Moscow
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Putin's Russia recognizes the Crimea and its request for annexation
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