• The Western Balkans Are Becoming Russia’s New Playground

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey November 24, 2014

    After Angela Merkel delivered a trenchant foreign policy speech at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney on November 17, the German chancellor took part in a follow-up discussion. Her comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin were not only highly critical of his actions over recent months. Merkel also said she was not convinced that he would stop at Ukraine.

    She warned that the EU had to take a tough stance vis-à-vis Russia. “And that doesn’t just apply to Ukraine,” she said. “It applies to Moldova. It applies to Georgia. If the situation continues, we’d have to ask about Serbia. We’d have to ask about the Western Balkan countries.”

    Over the past few years, the EU’s policy toward the states of the Western Balkans—Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia—has been one of benign neglect, to say the least.

    There has been one exception. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s former foreign policy chief, invested huge amounts of her time in negotiating a reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

    Behind the scenes, the German Chancellery had played a crucial role in nudging the two sides to the table. For Berlin, this was about bringing long-term stability to the Western Balkans. It was also about bringing the region closer to the EU and, eventually, to EU membership. That is something that Russia is now trying to slow down—if not stop.

    Russia has long focused much of its attention on Belgrade, which has traditionally had firm ties with Moscow. Over the past year, Serbia’s President Tomislav Nikolić has forged a close relationship with Putin while trying at the same time to bring Serbia nearer to the EU.

    In 2013, during a visit to Putin’s summer residence in Sochi, Nikolić signed a declaration on strategic partnership between Belgrade and Moscow. Later that year, Serbia signed a military cooperation agreement with Russia. And in October 2014, much to Berlin’s chagrin, Serbia rolled out the red carpet for Putin, with Nikolić awarding him the country’s highest order.

    These examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

    Russia’s state-run Russian Railways, which is headed by Vladimir Yakunin, who is on an EU list of individuals banned from entering any EU country, is upgrading a 350-kilometer (220-mile) stretch of track in Serbia. Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant, has a majority stake in Serbia’s natural gas supplier. And Lukoil, another giant Russian energy company, holds almost 80 percent of Beopetrol, a Serbian gas-station chain.

    The EU's policy toward the Western #Balkans has been one of benign neglect.
    Tweet This

    No wonder Serbia has been reluctant to support EU sanctions on Russia.

    Russia is also meddling in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina. There, Moscow has long been a staunch supporter of the Republika Srpska, one of the country’s two entities, and of its president, Milorad Dodik. Dodik has repeatedly held up reforms, especially in the judiciary—not that Bosnia’s other leaders have been enthusiastic about introducing long-overdue social, economic, and political reforms.

    In fact, a close reading of the European Commission’s latest (and excellent) progress report on Bosnia’s EU membership prospects reveals that the country’s institutions barely function.

    Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 encouraged Dodik to consider seceding from Bosnia. He was apparently stopped from doing so by Aleksandar Vučić, Serbia’s prime minister, who has been trying to balance Belgrade’s ties with Russia, on the one hand, and bringing Serbia closer to the EU, on the other.

    Russia has sought to maintain its influence in Montenegro, too, primarily through the energy sector and other big investments. Yet Milo Đukanović, the country’s veteran leader, has defied his critics and Russian pressure by managing to steer Montenegro toward the EU and NATO. He has also openly supported the EU’s sanctions on Russia.

    Moscow is focusing increasingly on the Western Balkans because it does not want the region to become part of the West. And even in countries in the broader region that are in the EU, such as Bulgaria, Moscow continues to try to exert its influence through its grip on the energy sector.

    #Russia's meddling threatens to undermine the stability of the Western #Balkans.
    Tweet This

    The EU should be worried by Russia’s meddling in its backyard. This meddling threatens to undermine the stability of the region and the fragile security in Bosnia.

    Consider what happened on November 11 at the United Nations in New York. Russia abstained from a vote on extending the EU’s military mission in Bosnia, the first time it has done so since the EU was deployed there in 2004. Diplomats said Russia objected to the text, which referred to Bosnia’s prospect of joining the EU.

    Just one week before that session, the British and German foreign ministers launched a new initiative for Bosnia with the aim of trying to put the country back on the path of European integration. That path has been held up since 2009 because of a dispute between the EU and the leadership in Bosnia over how certain political posts can only be held by Serbs, Croats, or Bosniaks.

    The Anglo-German initiative does not address what Bosnia and the region sorely need: an unambiguous message from Brussels that the Western Balkans matter and that the countries of the region do have a place inside the EU. The fact that the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has put the Western Balkans way down on his agenda shows a shortsighted policy that Russia is all too willing to exploit. Juncker cannot say Merkel hasn’t warned him.


  • Egyptian Chimera

    Posted by: Richard Youngs Friday, November 21, 2014

    In its relations with Egypt, the EU should focus on four major challenges: protection of civil society, parliamentary elections, economic engagement, and political Islam.

  • In Defense of EU Complexity

    Posted by: Justin Vaïsse Thursday, November 20, 2014 2

    European foreign policy is not jeopardized by the activism of EU member states. The real dangers are a lack of leadership and a lack of political momentum.

  • Judy Asks: Can Romania’s New President Revive EU Enlargement?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, November 19, 2014

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • Why EU Foreign Policy Is of Existential Importance

    Posted by: Norbert Röttgen Tuesday, November 18, 2014 1

    EU foreign policy is not merely a playground for idealists who want to make the world a better place. It is a matter of securing Europe’s welfare and prosperity.

  • Putin Is Merkel’s (and Europe’s) Biggest Security Challenge

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, November 17, 2014 8

    As European diplomacy with Russia fails, Angela Merkel’s options are limited. She and other Western leaders must accept that they are in for the long haul.

  • Europe’s East-West Conflict Is a Battle of the Sexes

    Posted by: Roderick Parkes Friday, November 14, 2014 1

    If the Cold War was an all-male affair, the current conflict between the EU and Russia is very much female versus male. But it’s a conflict that is by no means inevitable.

  • Europe and the Future of German Ostpolitik

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, November 13, 2014 1

    Germany’s Social Democratic Party is starting to reassess its stance toward Russia. That debate will have consequences for broader relations between Europe and Russia.

  • Judy Asks: Should Europe Care About the Chinese-Japanese Rapprochement?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, November 12, 2014 1

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • European Exhaustion, or: The Lessons of 1918

    Posted by: Jan Techau Tuesday, November 11, 2014 4

    November 11, 1918, marked not only the end of World War I but also the beginning of Europe’s great exhaustion. The impact of that can still be felt today.

  • Poland’s Foreign Policy Needs More, Not Less, Germany

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, November 10, 2014 4

    The Ukraine crisis shows that Poland’s special foreign policy toward its Eastern neighbors is needed more than ever—together with support from Berlin.

  • Germany, Still the Reluctant Hegemon

    Posted by: Sacha de Wijs Friday, November 07, 2014 3

    The same issues that prevented Germany from assuming a greater international role in the past are still present. That is unlikely to change anytime soon.

  • Europe’s Incomplete Unification

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, November 06, 2014

    The tearing down of the Berlin Wall twenty-five years ago was only the beginning of Europe’s reunification, which is far from complete. The EU should continue to help that process.

  • Judy Asks: Can Poroshenko Reform Ukraine?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, November 05, 2014 1

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • The Eerie Silence Before the EU Reform Storm

    Posted by: Jan Techau Tuesday, November 04, 2014 3

    The current combination of challenges facing the EU is extreme, even by the union’s crisis-ridden standards. That calls for an equally momentous reform effort.

  • Naftogaz Is Ukraine’s Achilles’ Heel

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, November 03, 2014 1

    Ukraine’s state-owned energy giant is a source of corruption that oligarchs and Russia can exploit. The EU should consider becoming a major stakeholder in the network.

  • Ukraine’s “European” Parliament

    Posted by: Gwendolyn Sasse Friday, October 31, 2014 1

    The pro-European result of Ukraine’s parliamentary election paves the way for structural reforms, but it does not point toward a resolution of the conflict with Russia.

  • Europe’s Flawed Reliance on Soft Power

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, October 30, 2014 2

    EU member states’ armed forces are unable to provide the necessary military hardware to support soft-power tasks. That undermines Europe’s foreign policy ambitions.

  • Judy Asks: Is Europe Naive About Hard Power?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, October 29, 2014

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • The Right Kind of German Leadership for Europe

    Posted by: Jan Techau Tuesday, October 28, 2014 2

    Germany needs to redevelop a clear idea of where it wants the European Union to be, and it needs to start building alliances to work toward that objective.


About Strategic Europe

Judy Dempsey’s Strategic Europe offers insightful analysis, fresh commentary, and concrete policy recommendations from some of Europe’s keenest international affairs observers.

Subscribe Today

Sign up to receive Judy Dempsey's Strategic Europe updates in your inbox! Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required.

Sign up to receive Strategic Europe updates in your inbox!
Carnegie Europe
Carnegie Europe Rue du Congrès, 15 1000 Brussels, Belgium Phone: +32 2 735 56 50 Fax: +32 2736 6222
Please note...

You are leaving the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy's website and entering another Carnegie global site.


您离开卡内基 - 清华全球政策中心网站,进入另一个卡内基全球网站。