NATO Contesting Russian Influence In The Balkans


NATO is incrementally winning the political war in the Balkans whilst Russian rhetoric is perpetually defensive man-oeuvres to maintain its relevance.

Serbia, probably Russia’s strongest in the Balkans, has initiated a small but potentially massive cooperative pact with NATO Support Procurement Organization (NSPO). The agreement would broaden Serbian participation in multinational operations and simultaneously reduce its cost wage bill.

However, the agreement has been perceived as the initial step towards further cooperation and potential integration with NATO by anti-NATO agents.

Protesters in Belgrade are vocal with even demands of a referendum to determine the outcome of the potential agreement. Evidently, it is not too presumptuous to assume, should it be successful, there will be clear incentives for future security integration.

This further highlights and raises concerns over Russia’s once strong psychological stronghold over the Balkan region. Russia and the Balkan states have long standing  relations whereby the former have had an obsession with the latter dating back to when Metternich was conducting diplomacy for Austria in the mid 1800s.

Western Balkan States Ascending?

NATO’s Enlargement process in Western Balkan is steadily erasing Russian influence and purporting a greater western philosohy. With Croatia and Albania already members, Montenegro given membership invitation,  Bosnia & Herzegnovia invited to Membershiap Action Plan and Serbian already apart of the Partners for Peace (PfP) initiative, NATO is strategically expanding it influence by forming cohesive partnerships with these states.

Simultaneously, Russia has been seemingly powerless to alter the integration. It has been reduced to solitary public condemnations and accusations NATO of been a provocateur. Regardless, NATO’s expansion is eroding Russia geopolitical stronghold in the area.

‘”We treat these subjects as a sovereign right of our Serbian friends, our Serbian strategic partners” said Lavrov,  Russian Foreign Minister, in relation to the NATO-Serbia agreement. Diplomatically, he is correct, but realistically, it’s the solitary mode of action the Russian administration can take. There is no directive or strategy to counter  NATO’s push in the Balkans.

Serbia’s intentions and role could prove a decisive factor for the rest of the regional states. Considered the regional leader, Serbian increased involvement with the military alliance could easily reverse its neighbors negative perceptions of alliance.

The foreign policy of Serbia revolves around military neutrality, similar to its non aligned movement during the Yugoslavia era. Back then, it utilized its geopolitical position to its advantage and capitalized greatly until the end of the Cold War where it lost its significance. It is looking to do the same, but the expansion and pull of NATO in the area and  demands from the European Union access procedures could alter its political behavior.

Michael Harrison
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