Written by Branislav Stanicek and Anna Caprile.
The Western Balkan countries have emerged as a frontline in Russia’s geopolitical confrontation with the West. While the Russian Federation has strong historical ties with the Western Balkans, and holds a certain soft-power attraction for the region, its influence and economic impact there are declining. Meanwhile, the EU and NATO presence in the region is advancing, and investment and aid from the EU-27 and other players, such as China, have been dwarfing Russian investment.
Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine has put the Western Balkans on the spot again, pushing their governments to take a clear stance towards their historical ally, while the EU has tried to give new impetus to the enlargement process and has reinforced its presence in the region. While polls show considerable support for EU membership across the Western Balkans, a large majority of Serbian citizens in particular continue to consider Russia to be their true ally, despite the EU being Serbia’s major financial supporter.
The legacy of the Yugoslav Wars − a complex political architecture with precarious balances between fractious ethnic and religious communities − has proved fertile ground for the Kremlin’s influence and interference, especially since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russia has used the media and information sphere, stepped up its political and economic influence and mobilised proxy organisations to project its narratives, protect its interests and slow the region’s integration into Western institutions.
This briefing updates and expands on a publication from June 2022.
Read the complete briefing on ‘Russia and the Western Balkans: Geopolitical confrontation, economic influence and political interference‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.