The Western Balkans has never been a priority for the EU, compared with other problems it is facing, says Bodo Weber from the Democratization Policy Council.
In an interview for the European Western Balkans website, Weber described the EU as being “on autopilot” when it comes to enlargement.
Stating that “he and his DPC colleagues had been warning about Russian influence in the region for almost a decade,” he noted that the US “handed over Western leadership in the region to the EU.”
But the EU did not do a great job of this – and instead “Russia took advantage of the vacuum that occurred when Western leadership that got transferred to the EU never came – and jumped into.”
“That became evident when Moscow started supporting the one man in the region who first identified and exploited that vacuum – Republika Srpska (Serb Republic) leader Milorad Dodik. By supporting him, Russia does not actually back the RS or Bosnian Serbs as such, but rather advances Dodik’s own spoiler role,” said Weber.
According to him, the EU will be able to “resist” Russia’s influence if it develops “the political will to strategically approach the region and to apply in a meaningful way the instruments and tools already in its possession.”
Weber then said that Russia’s role in the Western Balkans region “is not at all important from an economic point of view.”
“Trade relations, for example, are not necessarily favorable. To take one specific example, the amount of trade between Serbia and Russia is marginal compared to the amount of trade between Serbia and the EU. So, Russia does not have much to offer in a material sense,” he said.
But it does “in an ideological and a nostalgic sense” which, however, “comes with no real leverage.”
According to Weber, US President Donald Trump’s policy toward the Balkans, but also toward the EU, Russia, and NATO, remains unknown.
“The US election brought some temporary destabilization, but I think that the previous US policy of supporting the EU in the Western Balkans will more or less continue and stabilize in the future,” he said.
As for the role of Germany in the Western Balkans and the Berlin Process, Weber said that the initiative “actually succeeded in creating some readiness for cooperation among prime ministers, governments and presidents despite all this new cross-fire in the public spheres” – but that results are “limited compared to what initially had been announced and planned.”