PolitiKAS Debates: Foreign Stakeholders and Benefits, Possibilities and Challenges for the Western Balkans

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Belgrade Open School and Eduardo Frei Foundation organized another debate within the program PolitiKAS debates: New Normal.

About the „Influence of Foreign Actors in the Western Balkans“ the participants had the opportunity to listen to Milan Krstić, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science. The debate on May 25th 2021 on the Zoom platform was moderated by Pavle Nedić, researcher at the Institute for International Politics and Economy.

The aim of the debate was to talk about the most important interests and strategies of foreign actors who are having an influence on the Western Balkans, about the difficulties which are caused by foreign influences as well as the way how the states can adapt to them.

In his introduction Pavle Nedić pointed out that the „United States of America are a world super power and an actor present in all parts of the world as well as in the Western Balkans. This region is an area, in which the USA have been influential for a long time and in the 90ties they were essential for the solution of the conflicts. With President Trump a specific foreign policy was implemented with the desire to withdraw America from different parts of the world and from interventionism. However, at the end of Trump’s presidency the politics was changed and the US Administration got interested in the Western Balkans again trying to look for the solution of certain questions. With the new Biden Administration it was announced that America would be coming back to multilateral relations and that it would regain the role it had during previous Administrations”.

 Is the Work on Solving the Situation in the Balkans Going to be an Opportunity for the EU and the USA to Become Closer?

Milan Krstić pointed to the „proactivity of the new American Administration and the desire to engage in a synergy with the EU when it comes to some issues including the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. That can be a signal that it is possible to achieve a solution with the support of the USA and it can be a sort of guarantee that everything which is agreed upon will be implemented. I believe that the politics of the Biden Administration, when it comes to the Western Balkans, will be very similar to the politics of Donald Trump.“

„From the point of view of America, there shouldn’t be a lot of room for the influence of Russia and China in the Western Balkans. The documents which have been signed by Belgrade and Pristina point to that, because they refer to what the orientation of Belgrade should be when it comes to Beijing and Moscow (5G equipment, diversification of energy sources, etc.). An eventual difference compared to the Trump Administration is obvious when it comes to the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Biden Administration will offer help to resolve some institutional problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it will support the regional economic integration, which has become a joint market, even stronger”, Krstić pointed out.

Strategies of Russia and China

„There could be many problems in bilateral relations between Russia and China, who are now working closely together and have some kind of a strategic cooperation, and that could be an opportunity for the USA to get closer to the Russian Federation in order to balance out Beijing as a serious threat for the American power“, Krstić said.

Speaking about the influence of Russia, Krstić said that „the Russian Federation has different sources of power at the local level. The main source in Serbia, in the Republic Srpska and in Montenegro and North Macedonia is the popularity of Russia and of President Putin among the citizens. Another important source of influence are gas and energy sources, since our region is dependent on the gas from the Russian Federation. The third source of influence is the fact that Russia is a member of the UN Security Council. There are also trade relations and Russia is a significant trade partner of Serbia (it is among the top five when it comes to the export and import of goods)”.

“When it comes to China, it is not a country with a majority of Slavic (orthodox) population but it has soft power which is now especially deepened with the COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy. Many citizens see China as the main challenger of the USA, which makes it positive in the eyes of the citizens of Serbia because of the scars that the USA left in Serbia in the 90ties. In its activities in the region China is focussed on the economy. The significance of China as a foreign political partner has increased in the whole region”.

Effects of Internal Divisions, of the EU Crisis and EU Authority in the Western Balkans

The COVID pandemic has made the crisis within the EU worse and it has brought a new view on European values. All processes within the EU get unavoidably transferred to the Western Balkans.

Krstić concluded that “it is contributing to the decrease of EU enthusiasm of citizens. That is what the data in the public opinion research shows. Our EU integration process takes a long time and in the meantime there was the crisis of the Eurozone, the migrant crisis, Brexit, the pandemic. All of those crises have influenced the legitimacy of the EU as the most important normative and transformative power in the region significantly. When it comes to the authority of the EU, the main thing is how the financial crisis will influence the wellbeing of the EU citizens within the EU. A bad example is the way how the Covax system was handled and that is a bad message for the citizens in the countries which are in accession negotiations. The frequency of such situations might influence the popularity of the EU in the region extremely negatively. It is true that the living standard in the EU is better than in other countries and that the citizens would like to enjoy those living and mobility standards and that is what makes the EU attractive.”

 

What is the Future and Potential of Regional Cooperation?

Krstić thinks that for the Western Balkans it is the most important task to implement the economic integration and to be a joint market with countries who are all striving to become EU members.

It was concluded at the debate that “besides working on preserving good relations to Russia and China, which will become increasingly important in the area of economy, it is significant for Serbia to position itself toward its European future and the EU membership as its middle-term objective, which should be worked on from the economic, political and value-oriented perspective”.

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Belgrade Open School and Eduardo Frei Foundation organized another debate within the program PolitiKAS debates: New Normal.

About the „Influence of Foreign Actors in the Western Balkans“ the participants had the opportunity to listen to Milan Krstić, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science. The debate on May 25th 2021 on the Zoom platform was moderated by Pavle Nedić, researcher at the Institute for International Politics and Economy.

The aim of the debate was to talk about the most important interests and strategies of foreign actors who are having an influence on the Western Balkans, about the difficulties which are caused by foreign influences as well as the way how the states can adapt to them.

In his introduction Pavle Nedić pointed out that the „United States of America are a world super power and an actor present in all parts of the world as well as in the Western Balkans. This region is an area, in which the USA have been influential for a long time and in the 90ties they were essential for the solution of the conflicts. With President Trump a specific foreign policy was implemented with the desire to withdraw America from different parts of the world and from interventionism. However, at the end of Trump’s presidency the politics was changed and the US Administration got interested in the Western Balkans again trying to look for the solution of certain questions. With the new Biden Administration it was announced that America would be coming back to multilateral relations and that it would regain the role it had during previous Administrations”.

 Is the Work on Solving the Situation in the Balkans Going to be an Opportunity for the EU and the USA to Become Closer?

Milan Krstić pointed to the „proactivity of the new American Administration and the desire to engage in a synergy with the EU when it comes to some issues including the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. That can be a signal that it is possible to achieve a solution with the support of the USA and it can be a sort of guarantee that everything which is agreed upon will be implemented. I believe that the politics of the Biden Administration, when it comes to the Western Balkans, will be very similar to the politics of Donald Trump.“

„From the point of view of America, there shouldn’t be a lot of room for the influence of Russia and China in the Western Balkans. The documents which have been signed by Belgrade and Pristina point to that, because they refer to what the orientation of Belgrade should be when it comes to Beijing and Moscow (5G equipment, diversification of energy sources, etc.). An eventual difference compared to the Trump Administration is obvious when it comes to the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Biden Administration will offer help to resolve some institutional problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it will support the regional economic integration, which has become a joint market, even stronger”, Krstić pointed out.

Strategies of Russia and China

„There could be many problems in bilateral relations between Russia and China, who are now working closely together and have some kind of a strategic cooperation, and that could be an opportunity for the USA to get closer to the Russian Federation in order to balance out Beijing as a serious threat for the American power“, Krstić said.

Speaking about the influence of Russia, Krstić said that „the Russian Federation has different sources of power at the local level. The main source in Serbia, in the Republic Srpska and in Montenegro and North Macedonia is the popularity of Russia and of President Putin among the citizens. Another important source of influence are gas and energy sources, since our region is dependent on the gas from the Russian Federation. The third source of influence is the fact that Russia is a member of the UN Security Council. There are also trade relations and Russia is a significant trade partner of Serbia (it is among the top five when it comes to the export and import of goods)”.

“When it comes to China, it is not a country with a majority of Slavic (orthodox) population but it has soft power which is now especially deepened with the COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy. Many citizens see China as the main challenger of the USA, which makes it positive in the eyes of the citizens of Serbia because of the scars that the USA left in Serbia in the 90ties. In its activities in the region China is focussed on the economy. The significance of China as a foreign political partner has increased in the whole region”.

Effects of Internal Divisions, of the EU Crisis and EU Authority in the Western Balkans

The COVID pandemic has made the crisis within the EU worse and it has brought a new view on European values. All processes within the EU get unavoidably transferred to the Western Balkans.

Krstić concluded that “it is contributing to the decrease of EU enthusiasm of citizens. That is what the data in the public opinion research shows. Our EU integration process takes a long time and in the meantime there was the crisis of the Eurozone, the migrant crisis, Brexit, the pandemic. All of those crises have influenced the legitimacy of the EU as the most important normative and transformative power in the region significantly. When it comes to the authority of the EU, the main thing is how the financial crisis will influence the wellbeing of the EU citizens within the EU. A bad example is the way how the Covax system was handled and that is a bad message for the citizens in the countries which are in accession negotiations. The frequency of such situations might influence the popularity of the EU in the region extremely negatively. It is true that the living standard in the EU is better than in other countries and that the citizens would like to enjoy those living and mobility standards and that is what makes the EU attractive.”

What is the Future and Potential of Regional Cooperation?

Krstić thinks that for the Western Balkans it is the most important task to implement the economic integration and to be a joint market with countries who are all striving to become EU members.

It was concluded at the debate that “besides working on preserving good relations to Russia and China, which will become increasingly important in the area of economy, it is significant for Serbia to position itself toward its European future and the EU membership as its middle-term objective, which should be worked on from the economic, political and value-oriented perspective”.

Belgrade Open School
Bulevar oslobodjenja 177
11000 Belgrade