Will strained relations between Russia and the West spill over into neighbouring countries? We’ve already seen violence in Ukraine, but could existing tensions in the Western Balkans be put under greater strain by increasing bitterness between the region’s two biggest neighbours?
In December of last year, at the 12th annual Balkans Summit held in Brussels by our partner think-tank, Friends of Europe, we spoke to senior policy-makers and politicians from both the EU and the Western Balkans.
One of the questions we put to them came from Valentino, who argued that increased tensions between the EU and Russia will split the Western Balkans:
[The] Western Balkan states will align themselves based on historical allegiances, i.e. those that have been more aligned to the West will favour [EU accession, while] the others will align themselves to the East, and in particular the Russian position…
To get a reaction, we put Valentino’s comment to Edi Rama, the Prime Minister of Albania. He warned that what happened in Ukraine, with vicious ethnic conflict exacerbated by tensions between Russia and the West, should be a lesson to Europe and should encourage it to start thinking in the long-term (i.e. to continue its enlargement process in the Western Balkans):
To get another perspective, we also put Valentino’s comment to Nikola Poposki, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He argued it was important to remember that: “Practically all the countries in our region are extremely integrated”.
Finally, we put Valentino’s comment to Christian Danielsson, European Commission Director General for Enlargement. How would he respond?
Could worsening EU-Russia relations lead to tensions in the Balkans? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers for their reactions!