Demonstration of Kosovo Serbs, December 2022/photo. Wikipedia The Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia) is a region that has always been considered a powder keg, and the escalation of late 2022 has meant that, according to analysts, it is only a matter of time before to light the fuse, especially since the conflict in this area is an ideal way to destabilize the West in accordance with the principle of “divide and rule”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also warns that the Balkans are Europe’s weak point. The fact that countries such as China, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey are strengthening ties in this area does not help the situation. No wonder that the President of the United States Joe Biden signed in June last year. a decree in which it announced sanctions against all those who threaten the stability of the region.
Boiling Balkan cauldron
Even Brussels abandoned its passivity regarding the Western Balkans just to maintain political control over the area. Violent protests in northern Kosovo, strengthening the presence of the Wagner Group in Serbia or Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s decision in December to put the national army on high alert – in the face of so many challenges, the EU, which accounts for almost 70 percent of the region’s trade in goods, must be more than ever determined to conquer – or at least defend – the Balkans. The accession of the Western Balkan countries to the Community is currently impossible, which is why the EU has decided in recent months to implement tried and tested methods, i.e. aid packages to stop the energy and economic crisis. The EU countries want there to be no two open fronts on the old continent. Brussels has a lot of confusion with Ukraine anyway. The energy aid package serves a dual purpose: firstly, it is to implement the EU’s green transition plan in territories that are extremely dependent on Russian oil and gas and where the use of coal and wood as energy sources causes high levels of air pollution. Secondly, it is supposed to improve public sentiment, which is not very good due to the protracted process of EU enlargement. When asked why ordinary European citizens should be interested in what is happening in the Balkans, Enrique Ayala, an analyst at Fundación Alternativas, explains that underestimating the Balkans is the same mistake that people made at the beginning of the 20th century: “We must remember that the First World War started up in the Balkans. In addition, three of the Western Balkan countries are now members of NATO (Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro). Any conflict in the region means war for all of NATO.”
In order to reduce Russia’s influence in the region, the EU plans to create a network of energy connections between the EU and the Balkan Peninsula. The recent discovery of gas deposits near Cyprus fosters talks about the possibility of transforming the region into a gas hub for Europe. In addition, the European Commission announced in November that it intended to help the Western Balkans by allocating EUR 9 billion for this purpose. Half of this amount will be in the form of emergency aid, and the rest will be allocated to the modernization of energy infrastructure as part of wind and solar energy. José Ángel López, Professor of International Relations and the Department of International Law at the Pontifical University of Comillas (Spain), notes that some countries of the Balkans derive double benefits from the current geopolitical situation. “Contrary to what has been said, Serbia is not completely dependent on Russia for energy. Imports of gas and oil from the country of Vladimir Putin is 23 percent. Serbia also imports gas from Kazakhstan and Norway,” explains the expert. Serbia renewed its gas contract with Russia’s Gazprom for another three years, buying blue fuel at very competitive prices. On the one hand, this country wants rapprochement with the EU, but without losing its privileges in relations with Moscow (at present, Serbia is reluctant to impose sanctions on Moscow, which poses problems for its future membership in the EU). On the other hand, it gladly accepts funds provided under the EU’s Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance. In Brussels, they fear that Serbia will be a Trojan horse if it joins the EU because of its ties to Russia and its economic elites. There are also voices that after joining the EU this Russian dependence will decrease. Currently, it is hard to believe that ties with Russia have been severed, especially since Moscow broadcasts disinformation on the Russian channel Sputnik in Serbia, Montenegro, Republika Srpska and northern Kosovo. Russian propaganda is stirring up nationalist sentiments, and the Kremlin is supplying the region with weapons. Also of concern is the presence in the region of the Wagner Group, which has announced that it has opened a branch in Serbia to deal with the Russians in the country.
Stabilocracy and kleptocracy
In 2014, Berlin began the process of integrating the Western Balkans with the EU, which, as experts emphasize, is not easy. Bosnia and Herzegovina is problematic because of its domestic policy, Serbia because of its relations with Russia, and Kosovo, whose international status is not recognized by all European countries, such as Spain. In addition, Bosnia has problems with Republika Srpska, which is threatened with secession. Similarly, Kosovo, where there are numerous blockades in the border region with Serbia. The Eurocrats do not know how to manage the unity of the continent. Currently, the situation in the Western Balkans is such that local politicians and economists are used to receiving EU money to maintain stability in the region. In return, the EU turns a blind eye to the democratic failures in the Balkan Peninsula.