NewsIs Putin turning to the Balkans? A growing concern for the West

Is Putin turning to the Balkans? A growing concern for the West

Is Putin taking on the Balkans? He may open another front in Europe.
Is Putin taking on the Balkans? He may open another front in Europe.
ed. BAR

12:38 PM EST, November 11, 2023

The West needs to prevent Russian leader Vladimir Putin from opening another front in Europe, specifically in the Balkans, says American magazine "Foreign Affairs", targeting Serbia's relationship with Russia.

In late September, Belgrade dispatched troops to the border with Kosovo, marking one of the largest mobilizations since the end of their war late in the 20th century. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić for an "immediate de-escalation". This incident has significantly heightened tensions within the Balkans, the bi-monthly publication pointed out.

The "Foreign Affairs" magazine highlighted that the recent developments surpass the long-term trends seen in this region. "These incidents reveal the growing threat Russia poses to the Balkans, as Serbia's partner. Moscow is fanning the flames of distrust through disinformation, arming Serbia, and increasing its reliance on Russian energy resources," the authors of the article mentioned.

One reason Russia is eager to stoke the historic conflict between Kosovo and Serbia is to tax NATO's resources and undermine the US in Europe. Their support for Serbia also offers Russia a strategic advantage in the Balkans. Officials from Belgrade have praised Moscow for "supporting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia", indicating that this is why Serbia refuses to impose sanctions on Russia, the magazine reported.

"He will need Putin's help"

The article noted that President Vučić, formerly a nationalist, has become an opportunist, mostly driven by the ambition to maintain power and expand his influence. "He reaps political benefits from the chaos in the Balkans, allowing him to distract from domestic issues, quieten anti-government protests, and negotiate with Western nations by promising to defuse tensions in exchange for financial aid," according to "Foreign Affairs".

The publication also underscored Vučić’s "play with the EU and the US", characterized by an ostensible approach towards unity while taking steps that distance Serbia from EU principles and norms. "The Serbian president aims to keep the country on a long, indefinite route towards EU membership, forcing him to bolster the rule of law," it pointed out.

In reality, when he took power, Vučić weakened all pro-Western political opposition while strengthening far-right Serbian groups. "To extend his reach in the region, he endeavors to keep ethnic Serbs in Kosovo within Belgrade's influence. With the West preoccupied with Ukraine, Israel, or China, Vučić believes there will soon be an opportunity to take action in Kosovo," the publication conjectured.

The authors stressed that for Vučić to be successful, "he will need Putin's help".

"Soft underbelly of Europe"

"Moscow perceives the Balkans as Europe's soft underbelly, with Serbia as its most vulnerable point. The Kremlin seeks to position itself as a mediator in the Balkans conflict, gaining an advantage over the West. If the region's peace is reliant on Russia, NATO may be pushed to make concessions," predicted the authors.

"NATO must form a US-led coalition to exert pressure on Belgrade and Moscow. Vučić needs to understand the severe consequences in the event of escalation. Meanwhile, the EU should make future aid to Serbia contingent on particular changes in Belgrade's policy, including an agreement to sanctions against Russia," "Foreign Affairs" concluded.

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