What it means the war with Russia for the Western Balkans

by Cristian Florescu

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves through the world, particularly the Western Balkans- a tinderbox of ethnic and political tensions maintained by strong ties with the US and Europe, writes Euractiv

 While most countries in the region side with Ukraine and the West, Russia’s influence is potent, and its biggest local ally, Serbia, has so far remained silent on its stance.

Since the late ’50s and early ’60s, Albania has had a somewhat cool relationship with Russia after relations broke down during the communist regime, and the Russian embassy in Tirana limits its activities to education and cultural exchanges.

Albania is a candidate country for the EU and is staunchly pro-European in terms of allyship. It has been a NATO member since 2009, recently announced plans to construct a NATO airbase in the south, and that the northern Kukes airport was “NATO certified”.

Before this week, there was little concern that Albania could be dragged into the mess. But accusations from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov changed that, when he accused Albania, along with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, of sending mercenaries to fight in Ukraine.

In Kosovo, tensions are a little higher around what the invasion of Ukraine could mean. The reason for this is its proximity and the decades-long conflict with pro-Russian Serbia.

Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as an independent country and there are concerns that the war in Ukraine could empower Serbia to move in on northern areas of the country, predominantly inhabited by ethnic Serbs. What Russia has done in Ukraine, gives power to Kosovo to continue demanding its recognition. At the same time, Serbia can no longer count on Russia to support its denial of Kosovo’s sovereignty.

Like Albania, Kosovo is staunchly pro-EU, pro-US, and owes a lot to NATO, who saved it from relentless Serbian attack and genocide during the Kosovo-Serbia war.

In Skopje, the government has already announced it is ready to take in Ukrainian refugees if necessary. This announcement was made several days before Russia’s invasion.

Another EU candidate country and a recent member of NATO, Macedonians, are overall on the side of Ukraine. Authorities have been clear that they condemn Russia’s actions and that if NATO decides, they will become involved in military conflict.

Even Croatian President Zoran Milanović, who famously offended Ukraine recently, harshly condemned Russian aggression. The government in Zagreb, as expected, is on the Ukrainian side and like in Albania, small protests took place in front of the Russian embassy.

Croatia is not so fond of Russia, amongst other things, because of the closeness of Moscow and Belgrade. But, on the right and radical part of the political spectrum, some groups have praised Putin for being a “tough guy”.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the situation is fascinating. Serbian political forces remain quiet, waiting for guidelines from Belgrade, which has been largely silent so far. Bosniaks are on the side of Ukraine, resulting from the actions of Russian ambassadors in Sarajevo who strongly support Serbs in BiH.

The European Union Force Bosnia and Herzegovina (EUFOR) will nearly double its military personnel in the country over the risk of instability following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been under the Serb entity’s threat of dissolution for years. Bosnia’s Serb leader Milorad Dodik has been working to form an independent state, supported by Serbia and Russia.

In Podgorica, even technical Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić called on Russia to return to diplomacy, and he was elected on the list of pro-Serbian party Democratic Front (DF). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and President Milo Đukanović meanwhile, resolutely condemned Russian aggression.

Montenegro is, however, in the midst of a political crisis, and the situation is far from stable. While pro-EU in many ways, some leaders will be cautious not to rock the boat.

0 comment

You may also like

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More