Reflections on Russia and the Slavic Balkans

The Balkans, which lie at the crossroads of roads and civilisations, have established themselves throughout history as the “powder keg of Europe”. Religious and ethnic contradictions, a favourable geographical position, as well as the stronger countries’ desire to reduce the region for themselves and many other factors, have repeatedly turned the Balkans into a field of fierce battles.

Having destroyed Yugoslavia in the 1990s against the backdrop of the collapse of Europe’s real socialism, the West has begun to intensively impose the so-called European driver and vector of development on the Balkan countries. Recently it has also significantly intensified its actions in this direction. At the beginning of February 2018, the European Commission outlined a new strategy for the apparent accelerated inclusion of six Balkan countries into the EU: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and also the partially recognised Kosovo.

How can we explain the EU’s desire to quickly bring the Balkan countries into its ranks? Several factors play a role in this regard. First of all, the EU leaders’ will to show the world that Brexit has not undermined the unification positions and that the EU not only lives, but also expands. Considering that the movement eastwards is restricted and limited by Russia, the vector for EU enlargement has been directed to the Southeast.

The factor of the Russian bogeyman – whether Communist or not – has worked well also in this case: the EU does not want to allow the preservation and even more the strengthening of Russia’s positions in the Balkans.

Another driving factor is the close integration between the EU and NATO. According to the scheme already established, first the new members are admitted into the North Atlantic Alliance, and then – once they have gone through a series of procedures and implemented significant internal policy reforms, which actually deprive the States of their national sovereignty – they are invited to join the EU, although in Hungary and Poland (former people’s democracies like some Balkan countries) the US-style melting pot homologating pressures find strong obstacles.

The economic factor is further fuelling in the Balkans. After all, this is an additional market of 20 million people. The Balkan peninsula is rich in black coal and lignite. Oil fields and natural gas deposits are rare, but non-ferrous metal ore deposits are often found. It should also be recalled that the most important energy routes pass through the Balkans.

Finally, after having admitted the Balkan countries into its ranks, the European Union would very much like to assign them the role of “parking area for migrants”, i.e. to reduce the flow towards the centre of the European Continent – the rich countries – which seek to dump the politically correct “European” burden on the shoulders of the Balkans and the former Socialist countries.

The United States of America bombed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999 and then was refunded – after having presented the bill to the fearful EU – begging the Europeans for the possible opportunity to restore what had been destroyed.

Since 1999 the White House has firmly secured not only the right of leader and arbiter, but also the role of major player in the region. It is US politicians, the military and multinationals who play the first fiddle in the orchestra, besides being the conductor.

The European Union is busy with window-dressing and cosmetic exercises (first and foremost, human rights rhetoric, as well as various hypocritical prudery) and this is all in US interest. It is no coincidence that the two largest military bases in South-Eastern Europe were built in Kosovo, namely Camp Bondsteel and Camp Film City.

Another result of the bombing – postponed with respect to 1999 – was the secession of Montenegro from Serbia. In June 2017, that country with a smaller population (622,373 inhabitants) and strategic importance with landings in the Adriatic Sea, thanks to the efforts of precarious politicians and, above all, former Communist leader Milo Đukanović, became the 29th member of NATO. It is worth mentioning that Montenegro, not even a EU member, supported the sanctions against its Slavic sister Russia.

It should be noted that the bombing and actual occupation of the Balkan countries by the US and NATO troops enabled its proponents to get considerably rich.

For example, Gen. Wesley Clarke, who commanded NATO forces in Kosovo, now owns a Canadian energy company that relies heavily on coal and synthetic fuel products from Kosovo. The list goes on. The main fact is that US multinationals were given a solid jackpot in the Balkans, which they would never give up.

Serbia has the potential for alternative development. At the same time, it is under the strict control of the United States and NATO, and the most intense pressure is being exerted on it.

The position of the Serbian leadership can be described as an act of political balance. So far it has borne fruit, but this situation cannot last forever. Moreover, not Russia, but the West is insistently asking Serbia to decide with whom it stands. On the eve of Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Serbia (February 2018), and coinciding with the anniversary of the establishment of mutual diplomatic relations, there was a long conversation between President Aleksandar Vučić and the MI-6 British Intelligence Chief. The content of the conversation is unknown, but the fact that such a meeting was held speaks for itself.

After Minister Lavrov’s departure, talks took place between President Vučić and Chancellor Merkel, the essence of which – apart from set phrases – was not made public. Later there was the visit of Wes Mitchell, assistant to the US Secretary of State (2017-2019), who came to Belgrade with the US new plan for Kosovo. Significantly, Mitchell visited Pristina for the first time, where he clearly stated that the Kosovar security forces would be turned into an “army of the Republic of Kosovo” and that no one had the right of veto on that issue. This was a fundamentally new phase in US policy, because beforehand US diplomacy insisted that only in accordance with the Constitution would all national minorities have to give the green light for the creation of the Army of the Republic of Kosovo.

Reverting to the issue of EU membership in socio-economic terms, the situation in all Balkan countries is very difficult: high unemployment, lack of social prospects, poverty, general degradation of infrastructure and all spheres of life. According to the World Bank, in recent years the official unemployment rate in the region has been 2-3 times higher than the EU average.

All this is compounded by an actual loss of sovereignty. The Balkans have turned into a world periphery, and some experts claim that there are many large and small dormant or even persistent conflicts there, each of which could blow the region up.

For historical, cultural, religious, political, socio-economic and geopolitical reasons, the Balkans have been and still are a particularly vulnerable area of world politics. A severe process is developing within the framework of Islamist extremism (mainly the Wahhabi movement originating in Saudi Arabia), whose advocates are proactively working to create the so-called Balkan Caliphate. The achievement of this goal requires close interaction of its sponsors and organisers with the structures of transnational organised crime and international terrorism.

As a result, outbreaks in the region pose a threat to the security and territorial integrity of the Balkan countries and the rest of the world.

Efforts are being made in the region to concentrate the flow of all migrants from Africa, Afghanistan and the Near and Middle East. On the one hand, migration is something ordinary for the Balkans. Throughout history, human flows have crossed and still cross the Balkans. On the other hand, since 2015 the phenomenon has acquired a large scale and has been matched by such negative reactions that the Balkan countries are not able to cope with it even with EU funds. The fact is that this migration flow can radically change the ethno-religious and political situation in the region.

The vast majority of migrants to the Balkans are people aged between 27 and 30, who practice Islam. They are not usually constrained by money but by religious motives. The route of the vast majority of refugees goes through Turkey, from which they reach Greece by sea. Then they cross the Macedonian border, and move on to the Serbian border. Some of the refugees stay in Macedonia while others, after crossing the border, settle in Southern Serbia in areas with a Muslim majority. Some penetrate into the deep regions of Serbia, while the bulk move to EU countries.

There is also a problem related to migration, namely drug trafficking. Currently the Balkans are not just a “window on Europe” for drug terrorists, they are five doors wide open for natural geographical reasons: Albania-Macedonia-Kosovo-Central Bosnia-EU; 2. Turkey-Bulgaria-Macedonia-Southern Serbia-Bosnia; 3. Dubrovnik-Debeli Breg border crossing; 4. Rijeka, only if in Croatia and Slovenia; 5. Northern Balkans-Czech Republic-Scandinavian countries.

With specific reference to Bulgaria in political and socio-economic terms, the situation is no better than in the post-Yugoslav area. Bulgaria is pursuing a policy line agreed with the USA and the EU, and primarily with the White House.

In recent decades Bulgaria’s foreign policy has been aimed at separating Bulgaria from Russia. At the same time, Bulgarian politicians are not as aggressive in their rhetoric and actions as the Polish or the Baltic ones, but pursue a very consistent breaking line. It is significant that even in assessing Bulgaria’s liberation by the Russia during the war against the Turks in 1877-1878, Bulgaria’s government is engaged in a substitution of concepts.

No one downplays the significant feat of soldiers and officers, regardless of their nationality, but they liberated Bulgaria under Russian flags after 480 years of Turkish domination. This means that, in modern conditions, focusing on listing the peoples who fought, and not on Russia’s role, is a political act that fits into the general policy line of “pushing” Russia out of the region.

At the same time, although not being a Russophile, the current Bulgarian President, Rumen Radev, advocates pragmatism in world politics and has repeatedly stated publicly the need to break the stalemate in Bulgarian-Russian relations.

The President, however, is a representative figure. Bulgaria is a Parliamentary Republic in which the Prime Minister plays the main role. Bojko Borisov acts in Merkel-style: he makes no harsh statements, but operates according to the US pattern. There are three US positions in Bulgaria (Bezmer and Graf-Ignatievo air bases, as well as the Novo-Selo training camp) and this determines Bulgaria’s foreign policy.

Finally, the less attention Russia pays to the Balkans, the further they move away from Russia. Collaboration, like non-cooperation, bears ripe or rotten fruit. In the history of the Balkans, Russia has never brought confrontation to the region, but has always tried to eliminate it. When Greece was to re-enter the Western zone of influence according to the Yalta scheme, Stalin did not object, and the Greek Communists were left to their own devices in 1949 and largely fled to Albania. In 1948, when Tito’s Yugoslavia preferred the US umbrella, it was the United States that interfered in the sphere of people’s democracies. After the collapse of the Wall, Tito’s “paradise on earth” of the sinkholes (the so-called foibe) no longer had any reason to exist and was used as a prop for the White House to intervene militarily in the region after 51 years of CIA-heterodirected Titoism.

Giancarlo Elia Valori
Giancarlo Elia Valori
Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is a world-renowned Italian economist and international relations expert, who serves as the President of International Studies and Geopolitics Foundation, International World Group, Global Strategic Business In 1995, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem dedicated the Giancarlo Elia Valori chair of Peace and Regional Cooperation. Prof. Valori also holds chairs for Peace Studies at Yeshiva University in New York and at Peking University in China. Among his many honors from countries and institutions around the world, Prof. Valori is an Honorable of the Academy of Science at the Institute of France, Knight Grand Cross, Knight of Labor of the Italian Republic, Honorary Professor at the Peking University