Sunday, February 19, 2017

Uncertainties in the Balkans with the new Trump Presidency and the Russians

"Political instability in the Balkans is the last thing the EU needs when it is already faced with geopolitical uncertainty from Brexit, the Trump administration, and the diplomatic conflict with Russia over the war in Eastern Ukraine," writes Wolfgang Münchau in Watch out for instability of the Balkans Eurointelligence 02/17/2017.

Linking to the articles below, he gives this analysis:

In principle, Trump is good news for Putin because he prefers to deal with strong-leder types than with multinational organisations like the EU - or even NATO which Trump has even called obsolete. Possible flashpoints include the increasingly tense relations between Serbia and Kosovo; and the breakdown of Bosnian intercommunity relations as the Serb entity the Republika Srpska increasingly contests Bosnia's constitutional court. The situation in Bosnia directly involves the EU as it oversees the application of the Dayton agreement through its high representative. Montenegro, on the other hand, appears strongly committed to both EU and NATO membership. The US is favourable to Montenegro's accession to NATO, which woud be a setback for Russian designs in the region.
The Balkan Wars of the 1990s sent many refugees into other European countries, who are right now struggling with a major refugee crisis that has been going on since at least 2011. One of the more important inflection points in US-Russia relations was the Kosovo War of 1999. Russia saw Serbia as an ally and having NATO effectively detach the province of Kosovo was by all accounts I've seen interpreted as a serious setback in Russian foreign policy. It didn't help matters that the Kosovars later carried out similar ethnic cleansing actions in the province against Serbs that NATO was intervening to stop when the Serbs were carrying it out against the ethnic-Albanian Kosovars.

As Alberto Call observed in a 2001 essay ("Kosovo and the Moral Burdens of Power" in War Over Kosovo: Politics and Strategy in a Global Age, Andrew Bacevich and Eliot Cohen, eds.):

The only power that historically would have had the ability and the inclination to frustrate NATO's actions in Kosovo, Russia, was politically and economically weak and ultimately dependent on Western goodwill. Throughout the crisis, it could play no more than a mildly obstructionist role and, in the end, it encouraged Serbia to give in to Western demands.
The articles Münchau links include:

Dejan Anastasijevic warns about what he sees as pessimistic and alarmist articles in mainstream publications about the possibility of new Balkan Wars in Stirring up the Spectre of New Balkan Wars Balkan Insight 01/30/2017: "the Serbian Army held ten times as many exercises with NATO members than it did with Russia last year."

Leonid Bershidsky, Russia Re-Enacts the Great Game in the Balkans Bloomberg View 01/19-20/2017:

Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Putin's Security Council, recently named a potential expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to include Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia among the biggest Western threats to Russia. The Kremlin has already seen Bulgaria, once a key Balkan ally, join NATO and the EU -- and watched it scupper a major Russian natural gas pipeline project.
Florian Bieber, Trump and the Balkan Princes: What Trump’s presidency means for South East Europe EUROPP 02/06/2017:

The shift of thinking, acting and writing about the Balkans from focusing on EU integration, democracy and norms to geopolitical influence, national interests and foreign actors began before Trump, but his presidency has accelerated it. The weakness of the EU has made individual member states broker deals, like Austria in closing the Western Balkan route in Macedonia for refugees, which have little to do with EU integration and more with “good old” national interest.

The emphasis on national interests over norms, shared ideas of democracy and rule of law is giving rise to dangerous pyromaniacs, like Timothy Less in his piece for Foreign Affairs arguing for a redrawing of the borders. Others have since followed suit. They all appear to believe that with Trump in power, there is an opening for a grand redesign.
(For more on the Austrian diplomatic action Bieber references and its political context in Austria, see: Claus Heinrich, Österreich: Neutral und rechts? Blätter 2:2017)

Salvador Llaudes, Los Balcanes Occidentales en la era de Trump por Elanco 15/02/2017, recommends caution at this point in assuming that Trump's well-known present fondness for Vladimir Putin will necessarily translate into common US-Russian positions on the ever-complicated problems in the Balkan states.

John R. Schindler, one of the analysts Dejan Anastasijevic challenges in the article linked above, President Trump’s First Foreign Policy Crisis: Balkan War Drums Beat Again Observer 01/25/2017: "Although most of the world recognizes Kosovo’s independence, Serbia does not. Tensions are on the rise thanks to Belgrade’s mounting provocations."

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