Balkan crises are solved simultaneously – or not at all

The acceleration of the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina in the past year happened because the United States got involved more actively than before. Being the most powerful country in the world shook things up.

But the US accelerated the process regarding Kosovo because it treats it not as an isolated case, but as one of several huge problems in the region that remain to be solved. More or less simultaneously.

The US officials dealing with the Balkans, and particularly Special Envoy Gabriel Escobar, emphasise how important solving the Kosovo problem is for the entire region. His solutions will not concern only Belgrade and Pristina. They will incorporate a broader vision of stabilising all neuralgic points in the region.

In essence, the future agreement on Kosovo will be one part of a wider project to de-radicalise the region and to extinguish disruptive hotspots, which still firmly keep the entire Western Balkans from the European Union.

Although it often goes unnoticed, Escobar does not accidentally mention the rights of Serbs in Kosovo and, for example, Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the same sentence. It is no coincidence that the American often supports the Open Balkan initiative, because it is a kind of connective tissue for this plan of neuralgic zones in the region, particularly for the period after the political agreements regarding Kosovo and other areas.

An even stronger connective tissue concerns Russia’s position in the Balkans during its aggression against Ukraine. It is urgent, because the traditionally negative Russian influence in the region has become devastating in the past year. It has turned into direct incitement to war and conflicts, wherever there is space for that, and unfortunately there are many such areas in the Balkans. Kosovo is the largest, but there are also Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro as valuable Russian customers.

Montenegro will have an important opportunity to finish the adventure it started two and a half years ago in the presidential elections which will be held in a little over a month. In just two and a half years, Montenegro, from being one of the flagships of the pro-Western Balkans, became an unreliable, chaotic and self-destructive semi-satellite of Russia.

From one of the most stable Balkan states, which had neither the Kosovo issue nor the Bosnian-Herzegovinian chaotic state structure on its back, Montenegro became the epicentre of regional instability.

Moscow rejoices when one NATO member does not function and when people from its government work to turn the Montenegrin ship away from the EU and NATO, in order to sail towards Russia. When the threat of a conflict between political opponents hangs in the air, it is worth its weight in gold for the Russian cause in Ukraine.
It is even more valuable if the problems worsen in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For this purpose, the political leaders of two out of the three constituent nations would serve Russian interests. The Serbian one has not even tried to mask its connection with Russia and Vladimir Putin personally. Along with Belarus and Lukashenko, Milorad Dodik is the only political leader in Europe who openly stands by Russia and its president during Russian destruction of independent and sovereign Ukraine.

Another, somewhat less open, but no less useful for Russia, leader of the Croats in BiH, Dragan Čović, plays an important role in the Russian idea of keeping the Balkans on the brink of conflict, while the aggression in Ukraine continues. “Russia’s player number two in Bosnia”, as the local media call him, Čović, tried his best not to condemn Russian aggression. Dodik is his main internal partner. He sought political support directly from Russia and Putin, and he said that Russia should have a stronger role and a greater presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And that is why the thawing of relations between Belgrade and Zagreb, which was recently initiated by Aleksandar Vučić and carried out through Ivica Dačić, but also through the meeting with Andrej Plenković in Davos, is important for the relations of the two largest Western Balkan countries, which have not communicated for years. But it must also be observed in the light of the de-radicalisation of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where disruptive and pro-Russian actors are those on whom Belgrade and Zagreb have the greatest influence.

The EU’s decision to accept BiH’s candidacy for membership in the Union, not so much on its merits, but as a hand extended and a sign that it has not been written off after all, serves the same purpose.

The US ignoring of the technical government in Podgorica, which has been working for too long without any legitimacy, and because of its policies that dragged the country off course towards the EU, is aimed at the same goal. Derek Schole, adviser to the Secretary of State, simply bypassed Podgorica during his January tour of the Western Balkans.

When it comes to Kosovo, as one of the points in the plan for the consolidation of the Balkans, the US blockade of Kosovo’s application for membership in the Council of Europe has the same goal, until Pristina forms the Community of Serb Municipalities. Although Serbia has shown great patience and constructiveness since the very beginning of the negotiations over Kosovo, it has never received such a strong signal of support from Western mediators, as the US did with the blockade of Kosovo’s entry into the Council of Europe. It is part of the US strategy to pacify the Balkan neuralgic points. Some concessions must also be made to Belgrade.

This approach to solving seemingly different and unrelated crises in the Balkans has a high chance of success. Not only because it is applied by the most powerful country in the world, but also because it correctly concluded that they are interconnected and feed each other with their destruction.

Solving just one knot, any knot, would not bring peace to the entire region. Postponing any of them, until some others are resolved, would not lead the region out of the danger zone. Because in all of the Balkan explosive points stands Russian readiness to turn it into flames. And there is less and less patience for that.