Three different scenarios for Western Balkans

By Selim Ibraimi -(CSSD) Russia and Turkey are before historic moments and both forces claim to bring a new order in the Balkans, Caucasus and Middle East. From the historical aspect of the XV century, Russo-Turkish rivalry has grown in the Black Sea, Crimean Tatars and was more dynamic in the Balkans.

Both geopolitical features, whether conflict or reconciliation on the territory of Eurasian landscape, the rivalries have historically influenced, shaped and will continue to play a dominant role in the politics of the countries of the Western Balkans. Recent governments certainly intended to strengthen the geopolitical position in Europe and tend to affect the policies of the European Union enlargement towards the Balkans.

The tactical approach of President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan with his counterpart Russian President with Vladimir Putin during the meeting in Moscow in August of 2016 had, three purposes: First, the two forces have improved relations after Russian military plane crashed in 2015. Second, emotions and the momentum of the new geopolitics of Russian-Turkish alliance, against EU in the Eurasian land, have the same weight. Third, President Erdogan after military coup puts him self on the epicenter of regional policy aiming to give Turkey a key role in the current developments.

Turkish government actually “owns” the migrant crisis which serves as the “currency” against the EU and has a tremendous impact on the Western Balkans, namely in the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. After his visit to Moscow and  the impact of the Brexit’s, in the Western Balkans in the next five years on the box are three scenarios which tend to influence internal political process, economic and cultural developments of the Balkan States.
1. Pro-Western democratic governments will aim to join the EU and NATO.

2. Governments led by autocratic politicians with high-level corruption, is likely to be closer to the sphere of interests of Russia and other regional actors.

3. The formation of  independent zones.

The Balkans

Russia intends to present the Western Balkan countries as not part of the scope of Brussels, and will continue to push the policy of maintain neutrality on the case of accession NATO. Macedonia and Serbia are classic examples of neutrality towards the US and the EU. Taking into consideration the historical and emotional circumstances of local population, Turkey has adequate ground handler.
Turkish penetration can be more easily compared to that what Russia has and Erdogan will operate in the former lands occupied by the Ottomans. Western Balkan countries despite the investment and support they had from the EU, actually are not part of any strong economic integration, and it leaves room for penetration of Russia-Turkey. The fact is that the main trading partner for Western Balkans are EU and Turkey.
Meanwhile Germany, China, Russia, US and Italy are the main countries in which Ankara relies on commercial exchange. Great Britain departure from the union was welcomed by autocratic leaders, corrupt economy figures and Russia. This can have an adverse effects  on ongoing transformations in the Balkans. Once the process of integration in the union is not so easy and the departure of the UK, has left a black mark on Europeans, skepticism is growing and rumors against the EU, opened the public debate as” why these countries should join the European Union”.

The enlargement process has slowed because of the helplessness of Brussels for unity within and outside its territory. America remains the only force that can speed up the entry process of the Balkan states in NATO in response to the policies of President Vladimir Putin. For Washington, presents policy problem Serbia, Macedonia and in some respects that of the Bosnian Serbs. Washington maintains  a diplomatic and commercial presence in the Balkans.

Presidential elections in Europe will define the long-term policy toward Europe it self and the Balkans, and here to be seen how Russia and Turkey will reflect in the region. One thing is clear, that the Russian-Turkish alliance will require the new policy for vassal states, that will support the current policies of Russia and Turkey. Historically the connection between these two countries has not been so long and at certain moments have “broken” in the Caucasus, the Black Sea or the Balkans.

Now Balkans is facing new challenges of migration, extremism, poverty and global trends. By observing the current situation in Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and finally to Britain’s exit from the union, in a near future we will not see a rapid process of accession of Balkan states into the EU or NATO as the antithesis of growing power of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

The chances for a “New Balkans” increases, but risk the peninsula turns into a “buffer zone” or called “special area” are still alive. US must reformulate a different approach on how to decrease the influence of rising powers in the region. Russia faces international sanctions, economic decline, demographic decline, but has a budget to modernize the army and becoming assertive and aggressive.

However President Erdogan has three options: 1. To stay together with Russia. 2. To expand and influence outside the current “zero problem” diplomacy policy. 3. Again to become allied with America.
At the end, Turkey and Russia are swiming in the warm waters of the Mediterranean and in the periphery of the sphere of influence of the former imperial zones.

Elections in Macedonia are too provocative as for Washington, Ankara and Kremlin. EU through soft diplomacy  secured a fragile political agreement in Macedonia which is being challenged by internal factors and informative propaganda.

However, elections have the opportunity to donate a “crystal ball” for Washington, Ankara, Brussels and Kremlin for the next offensive in the region. In addition for new Macedonian government the situation will be used for a new game in the Balkans. The worst scenario will be if the Balkans for long time will stand out of  the EU and NATO sphere.