From the Economist: 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 to be.
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 mine-clearing.
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 and Italy. (graphic: Economist)