The Cold War that may come to the Western Balkans

By Selim Ibraimi- When the war in Ukraine began, a significant number of specialists thought that the conflict would change Russian policy abroad and at home. Analysts predicted that Ukraine, with support from the West, would win and Russia would lose. Almost two years after Russia attacked Ukraine, Western chancellors are worried about the start of a Second Cold War with Russia.

There are some signs that the long war with Russia will bring a new Europe and new relations not only with Russia. Our focus is Europe and in particular how the Balkan states will act in this new configuration, where together with the US, Germany, and Britain they must decide where the border or dividing line will be. Although the division will not be the same as during the 20th century, some actions of the Allied and Russian forces indicate that such a mixed division in areas is possible.

“Europe is in danger. If we do not change course quickly if we do not mobilize all our capacities if we let Putin win the war in Ukraine, and if we are not able to stop the tragedy that is happening in Gaza, I think that our EU project will be very damaged”, said the head of the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josef Borrell. “It will become a more dangerous world and we will be more vulnerable if Putin wins the war in Ukraine,” NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg told CNN. It is already known that the current war in Ukraine involves a long-term confrontation with Russia and a race between the West and the Russia-China alliance. All this reminds us of the Cold War of the 20th century.

Since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the war in Ukraine has caused the deepest crisis in relations between Moscow and Washington. In this crisis, apart from the EU, the Nordic states and the former Eastern bloc states, the Western Balkans as we know have been part of the race and have historically offered a good case of how the global system of the Cold War can work.

We are bringing here some cases before the Cold War took shape there after 1946. Since the end of World War II in late 1944, the internal war in Greece between Greek communist forces and Western ones was the first struggle between the West and the former Soviets for influence and the division of spheres of interest. Also, the Trieste Crisis (1945-53) produced a Yugoslav-Italian conflict, where another war had to be prevented. Some historical sources indicate that the Cold War began precisely in Trieste. We have several other cases from history that today can be taken as classic examples of what awaits us from the war in Ukraine. After 1939, the Allied forces to defeat Germany made no ideological distinctions.

Today, the united Euro-American coalition has managed to keep Ukraine alive together with several countries that are not in the Western bloc. As we know, Moscow does not rely on a large bloc of states like the former USSR. Despite this, China and some other countries have sided with Russia. In a Cold War between several powers, the EU and the Balkans will mainly depend on the big ones.

Thus, in the territory of Europe, the echos of the Cold War of the last century warn of a future of states that will be aligned in several geopolitical and geoeconomic blocs. Moreover, the fear of the Russian threat influenced Germany for the first time since the Second World War to decide to send five thousand soldiers and military equipment to Lithuania along the border with Russia.

Also, Finland has increased the production of armaments. Last week the US and Finland signed a military agreement that allows US forces to support Finland in the event of a war with Russia. As the western, eastern, and northern parts of Europe are preparing for a Cold War with Russia and other powers, in the Western Balkans we have a different format or mix of policies that differ little from the former Cold War of the 20th century.

The main country that will have an important role in this game is Serbia, about which we wrote about a decade ago. Since Washington is still not clear where the dividing line will be, Serbia has become a “kingmaker”. If Serbia remains neutral or Russian-Chinese, the Balkans will remain divided into several areas with several small NATO member states. And although Serbia has American support, it still leaves many dilemmas as to how long it will continue to stay on two sides.

An ambiguity of the West towards Serbia and the autocrats in the Balkans could have consequences in this reformation. Since Serbia is at the center of the region, neighboring countries with different orientations and more because of the past and connections between them will be dependent on Serbian politics and its economy. North Macedonia together with Serbia is already being integrated in several areas. Montenegro and Bosnia all they are also fragile states that cause concerns in this new reformation in favor of Russia and Serbia. If Kosovo stays in its current status, it will be constantly threatened by Serbia.

Although Albania is in NATO, it will not be able to play any key role in security and in the politics of dividing the spheres of interest. In this cold world emanating from Ukraine, the curtain between East and West will not be as traditional as it used to be with clearly defined borders. It will be an ideological mix of states, but for technological reasons and advances in the military field, it will be tougher than the former Cold War.

The risk will be high for the EU with the possibility of losing power in the new race. The Western Balkans, since there is no clear path and the states are unable to act independently in the new global system of the Cold War, will remain where they are today, threatened from outside and with a decline in democratic and economic standards.

The article was written exclusively for Portalb. mk. The publication rights belong only to Portalb. mk and the author, according to the agreement between them.

Ibraimi holds a Ph.D. in Political Sciences