Mark Galeotti, a British expert on Russia, told BIRN that Moscow will try to exploit Western Balkan tensions, taking advantage of Western complacency and inattention to the region.
Mark Galeotti, a British historian and expert on Russian issues, told BIRN in an interview that the Kremlin will try to expoit “unresolved problems” in the Western Balkans, taking advantage of Western “complacency”.
“What we have to appreciate is the degree to which the Western Balkans is seen, at least by the Russians, as being another potential flank in its conflict with the West, with Europe, with NATO. And so many of the unresolved problems of the region are ones that Russians can and almost certainly will exploit,” Galeotti said.
“One of the key issues is that for so long the European Union and NATO have been rather complacent about the region, giving promises but little action. I think this creates all kinds of opportunities for the Russians to exploit,” he added.
He said Brussels’ decades-long approach to autocratic and semi-democratic regimes in the region has backfired.
Tolerance of undemocratic but “stable” regimes, known as “stabilitocracy”, in his opinion, had become very powerful among European Union decision-makers.
“I am just channelling their views, not expressing myself: the Western Balkans is a bit of problem, we don’t have a really easy answer to it, we don’t want to spend much of efforts and resources onto it so what we will do is support the regime that essentially just going to keep things stable. They will pretend to be democrats, we will pretend to believe them. We already know what is going on but at least we will have stability and we don’t need to get worried about Western Balkans,” Galeotti, who recently published a book The Weaponisation of Everything, said.
“This was a disastrous mistake because it has encouraged these anti-democratic and often semi-criminal regimes to establish themselves,” he went on.
But Galeotti sees that this approach is changing.
“I think it’s because, and it just begin to happen now, there is a realisation that this is not a lasting solution, actually this just build up problems,” he said.
“Western Europe’s security will be best guaranteed by a prosperous, stable and integrated Western Balkans,” Galeotti added.
He said that the EU has not delivered on the promises it made to the region at the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003, when the region was offered a European perspective after the bloody conflicts of earlier decade.
“There has been some progress, we have to acknowledge that, but in many ways that is progress which has come from countries in the region, such is Kosovo, which in some ways have grabbed the opportunities and reformed, and then gone to Europe and said ‘Look, you going to have to acknowledge that,’” he said.
Galeotti added that in terms of how the Thessaloniki Summit was framed, “it was meant to be that Europe would be partner on the way, and then Europe, I think, so far has largely failed. There is more to partnership than just providing funds”.
“The gap between promise and progress is precisely the vulnerable point that Russians and the Chinese can explore,” he said.
As Kosovo and Serbia have been involved for more than a decade in a European Union-facilitated dialogue on normalisation of relations, the perception in Kosovo is that Serbia has used the process more for its leverage while not aligning with the EU in imposing sanctions to Russia.
Speaking about Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, Galeotti said Brussels had allowed Vucic to play a double game.
“Vucic has known very well how to play the game of Brussels while he was playing Western Balkan politics in a different way. Vucic is entirely a self-interested pragmatist. At the moment, it is very convenient for him to play a game of balance between Russia and European Union,” Galeotti said.
“To the EU he says, ‘Look, if you push me too far, I still have a friend who I could deal with’, and likewise, to Russia he says, ‘Look, I like you dearly but I need EU money,’” he added.
Galeotti says Kosovo should not try to become “more inconvenient” to the international community.
“This is the dilemma that the European Union has self-created. In an ideal world it would not happen,” Galeotti said.
“What Kosovo would probably need to do is not so much become inconvenient but if you look those countries which have mobilised a coalition of allies. Kosovo, in many ways, has been very closely affiliated with the United States and this has brought advantages especially in the context of NATO, but it does not give you any particular leverage with the European Union,” he concluded.
25 October 2022 - 09:26
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