Russia’s war in Ukraine affects southeast Europe

Dr. Angelos Kaskanis

Project Manager - Tactics Institute

As long as the war in Ukraine lasts, the world community will be divided. As the military solution imposed by Moscow cannot be imposed or present any viable solution, the political solution at the UN level is one way. In any other case, the various regional conflicts will be reheated (including Southeast Europe), destabilizing the world and the stability they have enjoyed for years through international organizations.

The crisis has sparked worries that Moscow may try to further destabilize the region to divert attention from its failing campaign in Ukraine given its strong economic, military, and soft power connections.The Balkans, sometimes referred to as Europe’s “soft underbelly,” might become a new source of upheaval in a continent already torn apart.

Tensions between countries that support the West and Russia are in danger of rising due to the conflict. To secure the region against potential Russian threats, the EU and NATO must be more involved in the field. .

Russia continues to have a significant influence on the Western Balkans today. Russia has made significant economic investments in the area, concentrating on critical industries like energy and taking advantage of corrupt and patronage-based political regimes. Serbia and Russia have recently improved their military ties as a result of the sale of weapons, aircraft, and air defense systems.

Choosing SIdes

Serbia, home to around 7 million people, is still standing up for the Kremlin.  With fewer than 1 million citizens, Montenegro is attempting to resist Russian pressure and establish a new pro-Western administration after the previous pro-Serbian one was overthrown. In keeping with the Euroatlantic position, three further Balkan nations—Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia—condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and support Western sanctions against Moscow.

Seven million people live in these three countries collectively. The war could further destabilize Southeast Europe, but if NATO and the EU take decisive measures, this won’t happen. In such a scenario, NATO would seriously consider allowing Kosovo to join the alliance while the European Union would reaffirm its openness to accept new members.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is in the worst situation among the aforementioned states. The crisis within it is besides political or religious and national, directly threatening not only the existence of the state but also the broader stability in the region as well as the other states will be asked to choose not sides, but camps.

Due to Milorad Dodik’s vows to expel the nation’s Serb-majority entity from national institutions, Bosnia and Herzegovinahas recently found itself in its most serious post-war crisis.

The Russian ambassador to Bosnia stoked these anxieties in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by stating that “Ukraine’s experience indicates what we expect” in reference to any rapprochement between Bosnia and NATO. Due to Dodik’s ability to reject any official declaration, the 3.3 million-strong nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina will refrain from doing so. Dodik is the representative of Serbia in the tripartite federal presidency.

Russian Leadership and the Church

Social and political divisions in the Balkans will exacerbate as the war goes on. Far-right nationalist organizations and pro-Russian media sources are vocally endorsing Putin.

The strong ties between the Serbian and Russian Orthodox Churches continue to be the major means by which Russia exerts influence in the area, with Sputnik, the Russian government’s propaganda vehicle, promoting the Kremlin narrative.

Along with Serbia, Montenegro, and the Republika Srpska, Russia’s influence has grown in North Macedonia as well. Stevo Pendarovski, the president of North Macedonia, had expressed alarm over the ethnic Macedonians’ strong support for Russia.

In response to what former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj described as “Russian aggression in Ukraine and the clear placement of Serbia behind Putin,” the Ministry of Finance in Kosovo established a new “Security Fund.”

Serb nationalists recently held a rally in front of an Orthodox church in neighboring Montenegro in one of Europe’s rare expressions of support for Russia. “Serbs in Montenegro – Russians in Ukraine” was written on banners held by the protesters. The protest’s organizer congratulated Putin and referred to him as the “Guardian of Orthodoxy.”

Russia’s invasion of a fellow Orthodox nation like Ukraine is not inherently contradictory for nationalist groups in the region who see Putin’s Russia as a protector of Orthodox citizens.

These parties, who have no connection to historical events, perceive Russia as regaining territory that is properly theirs, much as they want to see Kosovo “returned” to Serbia. As justification for Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and its incursions into Donetsk and Luhansk, Putin himself has frequently cited the precedent of Kosovo.

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