Serbian President Alexander Vucic has met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials in Ankara. The meetings which have been characterised as positive by both sides are aimed at improving both economic and security ties.
After paying a visit to pay respects at Anıtkabir, the mausoleum to modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Vucic met with Turkey’s Parliamentary speaker Ismail Kahraman and other high-level politicians in Ankara. At this meeting Vucic told his Turkish hosts,
“We have narrowed the distance in relations between our countries via Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts and display of policy of conciliation, we have strengthened and built friendship bridges”.
Speaker Kahraman reponded by saying,
“We truly have a friendship between us”.
— Ali Özkök (@Ozkok_) May 7, 2018
Later, President Vicic meet with President Erdogan where the two discussed increasing bilateral trade, investment opportunities and security cooperation. The Turkish President remarked that trade between the two countries has exceeded the $1 billion threshold, but that Ankara intends to increase trade to $5 billion in the near future. Vucic then thanked Erdogan for Turkish investment throughout all corners of Serbia, stating,
“No investors were interested in small cities in Serbia. Only Turkish investors have come to invest in our small cities, and after President Erdogan’s visit (in 2017), these cities have developed economically even more”.
But while Serbia and Turkey, two countries whose protracted bids to join the EU have led both to look for new, more dynamic economic opportunities outside the Franco-German dominated bloc, on the issue of security there are far more pressing issues that divide Serbia and Turkey on the one side from both the EU and the United States on the other, in spite of Turkey’s strained membership of NATO.
For years, Turkish officials have raised alarms at the de-facto collaboration between the United States and FETO, the illegal terrorist organisation centred around the now US based extremist Fethullah Gulen whose cult like organisation now has cells throughout the Balkans, particularly in the Republic of Albania and the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohijaa. In spite of the fact that Ankara officially blames FETO for the failed coup of 2016, Washington has done little to assuage Turkey’s fears and in recent months, employees of US consulates in Turkey have been arrested on suspicion of being FETO members.
Furthermore, as Albania functions as a kind of US client state in the western Balkans, Turkey is increasingly incensed at Washington for allowing FETO to flourish in areas where no foreign power has more influence than the United States. 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.
The fact that Turkey and Serbia have a common terrorist enemy that operates illegally in Serbian territory and with the de-facto approval of Albanian authorities has given rise to a reality where Serbia and Turkey are two stable regional states with a common de-stabilising non-state enemy which is clearly acting as a proxy force of US power in the region. Because of this, it has become only natural for the two to coordinate security measures. To this end, Ankara and Belgrade will likely begin to enhance their cooperation on security measures with more intensity as time goes on. Against this background it is not surprising to see Vucic telling Erdogan,
“I would like to thank President Erdogan for stabilising the Balkans”.
Erdogan then lashed out at western countries for their destabilising role in the region saying,
“The west cannot really bear Turkey’s stance, particularly in the Balkans, as well as steps, initiatives, efforts Turkey takes in the region. Whether it bears it or not, we are intensively doing whatever we can with TIKA [Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency] in the west, in the Balkans. We are especially displaying all our efforts through the restoration and construction of historical artifacts. We will continue to do so thereafter”.
In spite of a history of confrontation, modern Turkey and modern Serbia are waking up to the realities of the 21st century where the interests of both countries are linked due to both geography and broader geopolitical economic realities. At the same time, both Ankara and Belgrade have realised that their common enemy is not one-another, but those who seek to inflect the presence of dangerous terror groups like FETO on the west Balkans in order to sow discord among the few stable states of the region. As one of the long-time rulers of the Balkans, the Turkish government clearly displays a sense of duty to maintain law and order in the region while at the same time the US and its closest partners are attempting to use the Balkans as a volatile platform from which to launch dangerous provocations against Turkey.
While the US will be watching the Vucic summit with interest, for ordinary Serbs and Turks, it is imperative to grasp the historic weight of today’s meetings. It not only confirms that the two countries have reconciled to one another in an age where positive geopolitical developments are increasingly shaped by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s win-win model, but it further affirms that issues of security transcend simplistic illusions of confessional fraternity as it is now Orthodox majority Serbia that is fast becoming Muslim majority Turkey’s most important partner in the Balkans, where Muslim majority Albania has handed the country to FETO without thinking twice.