Russia’s aggression in Ukraine underscores the urgency and importance of Washington’s work to help the Western Balkans realize their aspirations for European integration and membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions.
This is what a US State Department spokesman told Radio Free Europe when asked if the US shares the European Union’s concern over a statement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, who said Moscow wants to foment conflict in the Western Balkans.
“The states of the Western Balkans and all the states of Europe have a great interest in the outcome of the Russian war against Ukraine, which threatens the foundations of international order and security.” It is therefore important that we continue to stand together in the face of Russian aggression,” said the DOS spokesperson.
Earlier this week, Zelensky told African media that he had evidence of Moscow’s intentions to start a war between the Western Balkan states.
“Pay attention to the Balkans. Trust me, we are getting information. Russia has a long plan. “First we had the Middle East – the second distraction will be the Balkans,” Zelenskyi said on November 15.
“Their relations [of the Western Balkan states] have been in crisis for a long time. That is why Russia will invest to ensure that one Balkan state is at war with another,” he added.
The EU also agreed with Moscow’s goals. EU spokesman Peter Stano explained that the EU had long claimed that Russia was also trying to exert harmful influence in the Western Balkans.
“So yes, this is a concern that we share, and it is not a new concern, but a concern that has been with us for some time,” he said. “On this point we agree with the President of Ukraine and we know that Russia is doing everything in its power to sow discontent, political instability, foreign influence, information manipulation and others,” Stano said on Friday, November 17.
State Department said Washington is working with Western Balkan states and European partners to advance governance, rule of law, and anti-corruption reforms “that will reduce the possibility of malign Russian influence and bring long-term peace, stability, and prosperity to the region.”
“The sanctions announced by the State Department and Treasury on Thursday target precisely this problem, the link between Russian malign influence and corruption. Both hinder the region’s efforts towards EU membership and a more prosperous future,” the DOS spokesperson said in the response to Radio Free Europe.
He referred to the sanctions against ten individuals and several companies from the Western Balkans in connection with the Kremlin’s influence in the region. Among them are Savo Cvijetinović, Petar Đokić and Duško Perović from Bosnia and Herzegovina; Miodrag Davidović and Branislav Mićunović from Montenegro; Ratka Kunoska Kamceva, Irina Samsonenko and Sergey Samsonenko from North Macedonia; and Miša Vacić and Nenad Popović from Serbia.
In the past, the US has already sanctioned individuals in the Western Balkans because of their links to Russia.
Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February last year. Apart from Serbia, all other Western Balkan countries have joined European sanctions against Moscow over the war against Kiev.
Authorities in Kosovo have in the past accused Russia of inciting its ally Serbia to destabilize Kosovo. However, these accusations have been rejected by Moscow.
Even after the attack on the Kosovo police in Banjska in Zvecan in September, Kosovo’s Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla stated that the authorities are investigating Russia’s possible involvement in the attack, which Kosovo considers terrorist and holds Serbia responsible for it.
Svecla has stated that Russian weapons and other documents found in Banjska suggest Russian involvement in the attack, in which a Kosovo policeman was killed. Three Serbian attackers were also killed in the clashes./RFE