“Der Standard”: Russia, Turkey and China trying to expand influence in WB

VIENNA – In its yesterday’s article, Austria’s newspaper der Standard claims that Russia, Turkey and China are trying to take advantage of EU and US’s diminishing activity in the Western Balkans, which lead to an influence vacuum.

“Russia uses the weakness of others”, explains Florian Bieber, professor for Southeast European History and Politics at University of Graz. He adds, however, that the pending Macedonia-Greece agreement and normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo are harming Russia’s interests in the region.

Republika Srpska, a Serbian-majority entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, therefore remains Russia’s greatest asset. “[President of RS Milorad] Dodik visits his boss in Kremlin as often as possible”, claims Standard, citing the example of soon-to-be-built Serbian-Russian culture centre in Banja Luka as the evidence of Eurasia power’s rising influence.

Another regional player is trying to expand its influence in BiH, aligning itself with the interests of Bosniak Muslim population – Turkey. Observes are talking about “Turkification” of Bosniaks through Bakir Izetbegović, leader of the largest Bosniak party, SDA, and a member of the country’s three-person Presidency.

“During the latest visit of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Sarajevo in May, Izetbegović said that he was sent by Allah”, Standard reminds. Cultural policy, such as rebuilding the mosques from the period of Ottoman Empire, is a key component of Turkey’s influence in Bosnia.

Another Muslim-majority country with close ties to Turkey is Kosovo. In March this year, six Turkish citizens were arrested in Pristina by the intelligence agency for their close ties with Hizmet, a movement founded by former ally, and now the arch-enemy of President Erdoğan, Fethullah Gülen.

Anti-Gülen campaign, however, is not helping Turkish cause in the Balkans, claims Bieber. “A lot of energy is spent on the campaign, and because of that some of the influence in the region is lost”, he explains.

The article closes with a quick recap of the role the world’s fastest rising power, China, plays in the region. It has been, so far, strictly economic. “Foreign direct investments are negligible, but the same can not be said for infrastructure projects. In this field, China represents a geoeconomic challenger to the EU, but not a geostrategic one”.