East-West Institute: USA to urgently take action in the Balkans, counter Russia

United States Capitol in Washington; Photo: WikiCommons / Scrumshus

BELGRADE – The United States should continue to support Serbia’s membership in the European Union, but also the EU’s position that the new members must adapt to the Union’s policy towards Russia, according to the report by the US-based East-West Institute and the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

The report, titled “Time for Action in the Western Balkans”, evaluates the need for urgent and ground-breaking action by the United States and the EU aimed towards resolving the burning issues and preventing potential conflicts in the Western Balkans.

The report notes that the Western Balkans – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania and Serbia – is once again a cause for concern because of the weak internal governance, economic challenges, inter-regional ethnic tensions and external influences.

The US and the EU should, the report recommends, oppose Russian interference by reaffirming the continuing possibility for the Western Balkan countries to join the EU, NATO or both, but also confronting the Russia-backed media manipulation with objective alternative sources of information and support for independent media.

In the key recommendations for US diplomacy, when it comes to Serbia, the report points out that “the United States should renew and strengthen relations with Serbia, the largest and most powerful country in the region”.

It is recommended that “the NATO membership should remain an option for Serbia, but the expectations of the United States must be lowered because of the historical legacy of the Alliance’s military operations in the region, as well as the possibility of a vociferous opposition from Russia. Cooperation with NATO should continue, with the Alliance encouraging Serbia to limit its security ties with Russia to the arms trade and training.”

“Oscillating EU policy towards the region, however, has given Serbian leaders the opportunity to continue to entertain Russian entreaties, such as the establishment of a quasi-military Russian humanitarian centre in Niš,” the report states.

It is also pointed out, however, that European leaders cannot expect Serbia to decisively dedicate itself to the Union if membership continues to seem to be far-fetched.

“In a word, if Serbia cannot sit in two chairs, neither can the EU,” the report emphasises.

It is also noted that EU membership will require Serbia to strictly adhere to EU policies towards Russia, including sanctions.

In the recommendations addressed to the US diplomacy regarding Kosovo, which the report presents separately from Serbia, it is urged that the slow slide to the frozen conflict should be stopped.

“The US should encourage the EU to revitalize the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, and this dialogue must lead to Serbia recognizing Kosovo as an independent state. The United States should be ready to accept measures agreed upon by the parties as part of normalizing their relations”, states one of the recommendations.

It is pointed out that NATO should work with Kosovo on the development of small, easily armed, defensive military capacities, and the process of launching these forces must include the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, but under no circumstances should Belgrade enjoy the veto power in it.

“KFOR should stay in Kosovo, but a permanent NATO and US base in the region is unnecessary, since it would needlessly provoke Serbia and Russia”, the report notes.

Concerning Bosnia and Herzegovina, the report makes it clear that this country should be an urgent priority to the US in 2018. “The most pressing challenge to Bosnia’s future is the absence of a viable election law as elections this fall approach and tensions accordingly rise. The US, EU, and High Representative should engage directly and at high-level Bosnian party leaders while they negotiate a new election law”, the report recommends.

It is estimated that the Dayton Agreement “in effect froze and institutionalized the country’s ethnic divisions.” Bosnia is, according to the report, at increasing risk of becoming a failed state.

“A long-term solution requires taking a strong stand behind the Dayton Agreement. If Dayton cannot be re-negotiated due to Russian and Republika Srpska opposition, then it must be defended against attempts to redraw borders or create additional divisions”, concludes the BiH section of the report.

The main short-term goal of US foreign policy towards Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should be emphasising the importance of resolving the “name issue” between Macedonia and Greece.

The report finds the recent developments in the process encouraging and recommends that “NATO could also consider restarting the accession process with Macedonia under the ‘FYROM’ name, but formally admitting it only once an agreement is reached”.

Montenegro, as NATO’s 29th and newest member, according to the report demonstrates its firm commitment to join trans-Atlantic structures. It recommends that the US and EU should not assume that Russian meddling in Montenegrin affairs is over. Therefore, support for Montenegro’s security sector development as well as EU accession should be continued.

Albania’s accession to NATO in 2009 is emphasised in the report as a vital step in overcoming its post Second World War isolation. “With a relatively homogenous population and a history devoid of major internal conflicts, Albania nonetheless experiences weak institutions as do other countries in the Western Balkans”, the report states. Opening negotiation talks in order to incentivise the reforms is thus in the interest of the US.

US and EU should oppose Russia’s interference by enhancing the region’s co-operation with NATO and EU efforts in promoting cybersecurity, as well as analysing the scope in which other energy sources – including American LPG – can serve as extraordinary alternatives to Russian energy products.

It is also recommended that the US should encourage and participate in dialogue with the EU and Russia, as part of a wider effort of signalling Russia that European security borders, including the Balkans and NATO’s activities in the Balkans, are not aimed at encroaching upon Russian security interests.

The report concludes that the Western Balkans has a real and measurable impact on European stability and security.

“The number of political, economic and security challenges faced by the region today threatens to spread instability that could endanger the rest of Europe”, it warns.

It is estimated that the problems of the Balkans are not insurmountable and do not require new institutions, nor the significant financial or military commitment of the United States.

Instead, according to the report, solutions require work through two bodies already present in the region – the EU and NATO. A comprehensive solution to the range of political, economic and security challenges in the Balkans requires both entities to cooperate closely with each other and with the United States.

“For the first step towards a stable Western Balkans, a political decision is needed both in European capitals, as well as Washington, to recognize the importance of the region. It is also necessary to realize that relatively inexpensive strategies can lead to significant outcomes,” the report concludes.