MUNICH – The war against Ukraine and Ukraine’s application for EU membership changed the way the EU looks at the Western Balkans and enlargement process, it is concluded during the discussion on the Western Balkans, co-organized by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) and European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR),
Side event at this year’s Munich Security Conference, “The Russian Bear Doesn’t Hibernate: Are the Balkan the Next Conflict Zone?” tried to give answers about what channels and practices are used by Russian agents of influence in the region, what are the reasons and the consequence for Russia to provoke a potential new conflict in Europe and what should the West do to prevent such development strategically and in the long term.
The participants agreed that the positive energy of Ukraine’s commitment to the EU accession could help and motivate the Western Balkans. Still, this does not mean that Ukraine will have special treatment and fast-track accession to the EU.
“The EU will not break its framework to accelerate the accession of Ukraine because the EU is not a charity organization. Therefore, it is a new challenge to the Western Balkans’ accession process. At the same time, the integration of the Western Balkans will take a lot of time considering how long it took the countries even to open the accession process “, was one of the conclusions of the discussion.
It is emphasized that one of the main problems comes from the desire of the region to balance everything. That is why the geopolitical vacuum is created in the region and filled by third parties, not just Russia and China.
“We have been losing people’s hearts and minds, and the support to the EU membership has been declining because people are getting disillusioned “, it is said during the side event at Munich Security Conference.
According to participants, the EU needs a more systematic and self-confident approach to dealing with the narratives from Russia for showing to people in the region that Russia is not a solution. According to participants, this is also important for some EU member states like Bulgaria or Slovakia.
Regarding Russian influence in the Western Balkans, participants agreed it is not present in Albania, such as in Serbia, North Macedonia, and Republika Srpska. The participants agreed that it is “discouraging “to see how much the EU is engaged in Serbia in particular but still is not perceived as a positive actor.
“The EU should be clearer in the communication with the Western Balkan countries”, it is said and added that the real question is how to push back Russia from the region and push the region forward to the EU.