The Balkans is a significant transit point for gas from Russia to Europe; where the West and Russia have many geopolitical interests, and are always competing to control this critical passage.
Countries in the Western Balkans, some of which are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), such as Greece, Croatia, Slovenia, Albania and Montenegro, and some, such as North Macedonia, are trying to join the military alliance, but somehow, in their interests, want closer ties with both West and Russia.
The countries of the Western Balkans, which are more inclined to join the European Union for economic benefits and high living standards, are trying to get closer to Europe and the United States. Russia, on the other hand, is using gas leverage to draw Europe and the Western Balkans.
Despite Russia’s efforts to enter the Balkans, Montenegro joined NATO last year and North Macedonia is following suit.
In any case, Western Balkans countries need Russian gas, and given that one-third of European gas is supplied by Russian company Gazprom, they cannot keep the European Union and the United States alone.
Serbia, the largest country in terms of area and population among the former Yugoslav republics, has good military relations with Russia, the United States, and the European Union. However, Serbia prefers to source his military equipment from Russia for religious and traditional reasons.
Meanwhile, Serbia has proven its allegiance to Moscow by not supporting Western sanctions against Russia and by not expelling Russian diplomats over accusations it poisoned a former Russian spy in Britain.
It should be noted that the Russian Federation also strongly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, especially in the case of Kosovo, in all international institutions and the UN Security Council.
Russia’s rivalry with Europe and the United States in the Balkans can be considered a hot gas competition.
On the one hand, Russia seeks to sell more and build dependence on countries in the region. By supporting other projects such as the Trans Adriatic, Europe and the United States are trying to attract Balkan countries to transport gas.
Thus, it can be said that the Balkans region, in addition to being a strategic political region, is also an economically important passage for the West and Russia.
Despite Russia’s efforts to make the region dependent, seven Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Montenegro) signed an agreement in May 2017 on the joint development of the gas pipeline, which reduces dependence on Russian gas.
Nevertheless, Russia did not lag behind the United States in this competition. In October 2016, it signed an agreement with Turkey to build the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, which transports Russian gas to Europe from under the Black Sea.
Cold War in the Balkans
Since the end of the Cold War between the United States and Russia, the two countries have always competed on different fronts in every corner of the globe.
The United States has expanded its political presence in the Western Balkans through bilateral political and security relations and NATO membership. It has almost fortified its geostrategic presence in the region since the Cold War and during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
Strengthening the power and expansion of NATO in Southeast Europe can be considered one of the White House’s most important actions in this regard.
On the other hand, Russia is seeking to increase its influence in the international community and take the initiative in the region.
In this regard, Moscow considers Serbia as its most potent tool and believes that Belgrade cannot claim Kosovo is part of its territory within the international law framework without Russia’s help in the UN Security Council.
Accordingly, Russia seizes this opportunity and continues its political assistance to Serbia and the Serbs to retain its significant influence in the Western Balkans.
Overall, the Balkans is a new region for the Cold War between the West and Russia. Russia’s most important concern is the expansion of NATO’s presence in the Western Balkans region and some Western Balkan countries’ membership in this military alliance.
Such an issue has caused Moscow to expand its relations with countries in the region day by day. The donation of six Russian MiG-29s to Serbia can be considered incentive packages.
Meanwhile, Europe and the United States are trying to reduce the countries’ dependence in Moscow and make fair use of NATO membership tools.
Despite Montenegro’s participation in Western sanctions against Russia, Vladimir Putin even congratulated the Social Democratic Party leader, Milo Đukanović, on winning the 2018 Montenegrin presidential election.
This shows that Moscow has not yet lost hope in the Western Balkans.
The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Greek City Times.
Amin Bagheri is an Iranian research fellow at the International Studies Association .His primary research interest lies in the international relations, political science and conflicts in the Middle East. You can see more of his work on Twitter.