Researchers and civil society representatives claim that the Balkans has not been a Western priority for a long time, and therefore is being used by Russia and China to spread their influence.
They made these comments during a debate at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University in New York about “the rise of Russia and China in the Western Balkans: What does this mean for democracy and European integration”?
Tanya Domi, a professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, said that “last week Russia and China joined their forces against the West about the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and there are many developments in the region that testify their intervention.”
Ivana Stradner, from the American Enterprise Institute, said that when you look at the Balkans in the news, it is clear that something is wrong.
“Recent events in Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo send a clear signal that the Balkans are on the brink of a conflict,” Stradner said, noting that this is not very visible in the west due to problems in other parts of the world and the Balkans are not a priority for the west.
She said Russia’s global intentions are clear; it wants, among other things, to impose itself as a world power and hinder NATO enlargement, and the Balkans is suitable to meet Russian goals.
“Russia understands that the Balkans is a weak point in Europe and is very divided along ethnic lines. Also, corruption has created easy opportunities for Russia to involve its people everywhere, because Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo and northern Macedonia are not fulfilled democracies,” she said, stressing that Russia is fueling tensions through intelligence operations, equips the region with weapons, while using gas and exerting influence through the Serbian Orthodox Church.
She said that Kosovo is another theater for Russia. This has been spotted during the recent developments on the Kosovo’s border with Serbia, where among other things, Russia “mocked the peacekeeping forces and the role of the EU as a mediator in the dialogue between the two countries.”
She said that Russia through its actions in the Balkans aims to achieve three goals; devalue NATO’s collective defense, as some Balkan countries are members of the alliance; weaken the European Union and make it look like a “paper tiger” and; to re-establish itself as a world power by inciting a conflict and then, imposing itself as a mediator.
Ambassador Vesko Garcevic, professor of Diplomacy Practices and International Relations at Boston University, said that United States and Europe have ignored the risk that Russia and China pose in the Western Balkans, where, as he mentioned, ‘hybrid’ regimes are expected to copy the actions of these countries.
Ambassador Garcevic said that the European future as a stimulus process of reforms is fading and this is creating space for China and Russia.
Lubomir Filipovic, leader of the Civic Initiative “21 May” in Montenegro, and Reuf Bajrovic, co-chair of the US-Europe Alliance, stressed the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in supporting Russian influence in the Balkans, which is also spreading through the media.
Lubomir Filipovic said that pro-Russian forces in Montenegro, after the last elections there, have secured very important positions in government.
Reuf Bajrovic said the long-term success of the region depends on the actions of the United States.
“The United States is the only and last hope for the region,” he said, noting that the European Union has proven incapable of confronting Russia and China in the region.