"Russian destabilization in the Balkans sows doubts about the admission of new EU countries"

The EU and the Western Balkans: Where next?

The flourishing of violent right-wing extremism in Southeastern Europe is threatening political stability in that region, especially in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The Dutch independent study center Hague Center for Strategic Studies (HCSS) draws this conclusion in a report on the Balkan countries. According to the researchers, the greatest destabilization is caused by Russia.

In order to reduce the loyalty of the Balkan countries to the rest of Europe, Russia uses a variety of strategies to create discord and generate ethnic-nationalist sentiments, it is said. Six Balkan countries have applied for admission to the European Union, but some EU countries are hesitant about this.

According to the research, Russia benefits from a sense of shared Slavic identity, especially among Serbs. Moscow also uses the authority of the Orthodox Church to appeal to the traditional values ​​that apply in Serbia, for example.

“In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, Russia is trying to portray Muslims as dangerous fundamentalists, encouraging Islamophobia. Similar claims are being made against Muslims in Kosovo in an effort to undermine efforts to be recognized internationally as a sovereign nation, "one of the researchers said.

Anti-Western disinformation campaigns and media propaganda contribute to the influence of Russia. Such fake information is also spread by political elites who are sympathetic to the Russian cause, it is argued.

The report also signals that paramilitary organizations are contributing to the rise of the extreme right. For example, Russia is present in the region through a motorcycle-funded Moscow gang, through support from the Serbian Cossack army and through so-called patriotic military training camps for young people.

Balkan soldiers are sometimes also invited to train in Russia, says the HCSS study. Many Serbs would also have gone to the east of Ukraine to help Russian paramilitary forces there.

The rise of extreme right-wing trends not only blocks democratic progress in these countries, but can also make accession to the European Union more difficult, warns Rrustemi. Just last week, the parliament of Northern Macedonia dissolved itself and launched early elections. That is eight months before the end of the current parliamentary term.

The move follows the resignation of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev after the European Union did not want to set a date to start discussions on effective accession to the EU block. Zaev called that decision a "historical error."

According to most of the EU Member States, the time is ripe for Northern Macedonia and also Albania to start accession talks, but France and the Netherlands in particular kept their feet tight despite concerns about increased Chinese and Russian interference in the Balkans. France believes that the EU must first reform the accession process. The Netherlands believes that there is still a lot to be done against crime and corruption in Albania.