Is a new conflict in the Balkans possible?

EU Flag / Photo: EPA-EFE / STEPHANIE LECOCQ

As the wars in Israel and Ukraine continue, some politicians and analysts are citing the fear that a new conflict could arise in the Balkans.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi said on November 15 that Russia could create new crises in the Balkans and in Moldova in order to divert the world's attention from the war in Ukraine. In a conversation with African media journalists, he then said that attention should be paid to the Balkans.

"Believe me, we have information that Russia has a long-term plan. The Middle East, then the Balkans, if the countries of the world do not do anything, there will be another explosion there," said Zelensky, as reported by Ukrainian Interfax.

 

This statement caused reactions among representatives of the EU, USA and NATO.

At a press conference in Skopje at the end of the tour, the head of NATO, Jens Stollenberg, who visited the countries of the Western Balkans this week, was asked about this.

"We need to understand that this region is of great importance for NATO and at the moment we do not see any threat to the Alliance in this region. We see increased tensions, especially in Kosovo. We also see growing tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but we do not see any direct military threat to any country. So, yes, we are concerned about developments that are going in the wrong direction in some countries in the region, but it is also important to the strength and importance of NATO is taken into account," said Stoltenberg.

Official representatives of the European Union shared Zelenski's concerns. As EU spokesman Peter Stano stated on the occasion of the address of the President of Ukraine, the EU has information and has been monitoring Russia's activities for some time and stated that it is working with partners from the Western Balkans on how to deal with it.

A State Department spokesman told VOA that Russia's aggression against Ukraine only underscores the urgency and importance of the United States' work to help the countries of the Western Balkans achieve their aspirations for European integration and membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions.

He stated that the United States will continue to work with the countries of the Western Balkans and European partners to strengthen the rule of law, electoral and anti-corruption reforms that will reduce the possibility of Russian malign influence and achieve long-term peace, stability and prosperity in the region. As one of the measures, the sanctions imposed by the United States on individuals from the region were listed, in order to prevent Russian malicious influence and corruption.

Three days before the start of Israel's war against Hamas, which stopped talk of opening a new front in the Balkans, the intelligence platform Stratfor published an analysis with the question: "Will Serbia and Kosovo enter a new war?". The text analyzes the situation after the incident in Banjska, the announcement and warning of the White House that the Serbian army should stop the buildup of Serbian troops on the border with Kosovo, as well as the deadlock in the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina.

And while the text states that an invasion of Serbia is unlikely and that thanks to the presence of NATO and EU forces in Kosovo, a return to armed conflict is not possible for the time being, it still adds that there are tensions in the north, which will make normalization difficult. , "especially if it turns out that the Banjska attack was not an isolated incident, but part of a wider plan to destabilize either Serbia or local Serbs acting independently of Belgrade."

The same week, the Gzero media house, which reports on global trends within the Eurasia Group, a geopolitical consulting firm, published an article asking: "Will Serbia really do something extreme in Kosovo?". In response to this question, it is stated that both Serbia and Kosovo see their future in the EU and that "Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic knows that an invasion of Kosovo would be a suicidal endeavor for any hope of EU membership." The founder and chairman of the Eurasia Group, American political scientist Ian Bremer told CNBC in those days that "From zero wars in Europe, we may soon witness two wars." Strahinja Matejić, who works in Bremer's office, points out that these comments were made after the attack on the Kosovo police in Banjska, but also a few days before the start of the war in Israel.

– Ian's comment and our analysis is primarily based on the Russian Federation's focus on their war in Ukraine. The fact that potential other conflicts would be good for President Vladimir Putin and for Russia itself does not mean that the chances of such a thing, especially in the Balkans, are huge. They have indeed increased, taking into account the geopolitical events of the last year and a half, primarily in Serbian-Albanian relations, primarily in Kosovo and Metohija, but that still does not mean that it is a "main case" for some event, a military event of The Balkans. "First of all, I would calm those expectations, and especially, these comments of Ian were in light of the events in Banjska, and certainly not before the events of six weeks ago with the attack of Hamas on Israel," Matejic told Voice of America.

However, exactly one month after the start of the war in Israel, but also before Zelensky's warning, on November 7, the American magazine "Foreign Affairs" publishes an analysis of Russia's role in the Balkans, titled "The Second Russian Front in Europe" and what should did the West to prevent Putin from starting a war in the Balkans. The text states that "Russia is happy to fuel the historic conflict between Kosovo and Serbia, and that tensions between Kosovo and Serbia are testing NATO's resilience in the region, and that support from Serbia gives Russia a foothold in the Balkans."

It is recommended to strengthen NATO's presence in the region and establish credible "red lines" that Serbia cannot cross without provoking a military conflict with NATO forces. It is also recommended that sanctions be imposed on Belgrade if Serbia's leaders do not distance themselves from Moscow and de-escalate tensions.

- I would not characterize Russia as directly encouraging governments, Serbian or any other in the Western Balkans, to open a new conflict. Would that, honestly, benefit the authorities in Moscow? Of course yes, but that does not mean that Russia currently has the capacity to do such a thing. Few countries, such as perhaps Russia, China, the United States, can care about two huge conflicts of global proportions, with global implications like Russia vs. Ukraine and Israel vs. Hamas, let alone a bigger one. At the moment, Russia has neither the capacity nor the desire, I would lower that war drum that may be mentioned by certain authors of the above texts", says Matejić.

For the Voice of America interlocutor, one of the possibilities is that Brussels, as it allowed Ukraine, to make concessions for the Western Balkans as well because the EU is ready to integrate the region and stabilize it under its own authority.

Text taken from Voice of America

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