Serbs see Russians as main ally, US as biggest threat

Serbs see Russians as main ally, US as biggest threat
Serbs said Russia was their country's top ally, followed by China, while Albanians and Kosovars overwhelmingly picked the US. / NDI
By bne IntelliNews May 3, 2024

Russia was the company picked by the largest number of Serbian respondents to a recent survey when asked which country they considered their own country’s most important ally. 

45% of Serbian respondents to the International Republican Institution (IRI’s) Western Balkans Regional Poll said Russia was Serbia’s most important ally, followed by 14% who opted for China and 5% for neighbouring Hungary, led by self-styled illiberal democrat Victor Orban, a close ally of Hungarian President Aleksandar Vucic. 

The results from Serbia contrasted sharply with those in Albania and Kosovo, where the US was the top choice, picked by an overwhelming 80% of respondents in Kosovo. 

Elsewhere in the region, respondents opted for a mixture of region and international powers. Serbia was the top choice in both North Macedonia (34%) and Montenegro (32%) and second choice in Bosnia & Herzegovina (16%). 

Bosnians said Turkey was their country’s top ally (22% of respondents), as did 12% of Macedonians and smaller numbers in Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. 

Russia was favoured by 13% of respondents in Bosnia, 9% in Montenegro and 8% in North Macedonia. 

US, Serbia seen as biggest threats

The largest number of respondents in both Serbia (36%) and Montenegro (19%) said the US was the biggest threat to their country. 

Serbia was identified as the top threat by Kosovans (83%), Albanians (36%) and Bosnians (27%). 

In all countries except for Serbia, Russia was seen as the second or third greatest threat. 

Respondents in North Macedonia picked Bulgaria (23%) as their biggest threat after Bulgaria stalled the country’s EU accession process. 

Both Albania and Kosovo were among the most threatening countries as identified by respondents in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. 

Foreign policy orientation 

The survey also revealed stark differences in views on foreign policy orientation within the region. 

Albania and Kosovo were the most committed to a pro-Western direction, with 82% and 87% respectively of respondents saying their country’s foreign policy course should be ‘only pro-European Union and the West’. 

By contrast, just 10% of Serbs wanted a pro-Western foreign policy, with the most popular options being to balance between the West and Russia equally (31%) followed by a course that is ‘Pro-Russian but keep up relations with the European Union and the West’. 

In Bosnia, Montenegro and North Macedonia, the largest numbers of respondents picked a pro-Western foreign policy but substantial numbers of respondents also wanted to maintain relations with Russia. 

Similarly, support for full Nato membership was at 88% and 85% respectively in Kosovo and Albania, but just 3% in Serbia. 

Support for Nato membership was around 50% in North Macedonia and Bosnia, but has dropped to 39% in Montenegro, a Nato member since 2017. 

EU membership had stronger backing with a robust majority in favour in all countries – ranging from 92% in Albania to 68% in North Macedonia – except for Serbia, where just 40% of respondents said they would vote for accession in a referendum on the issue. 

However, large numbers of respondents in several member states lacked confidence that the EU was serious about admitting the Western Balkan states. 

Just 30% of Serbs and 34% of Macedonians believed the European Union is serious in its intention to offer membership to Western Balkan countries, compared to 54% and 47% respectively who believed it was not.