Friday

19th Jul 2019

EU alarmed by Russian meddling in Balkans

  • EU diplomats during the week accused Russia of playing a "destabilising" role in the Western Balkans (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU leaders said at a summit on Thursday (9 March) that “external challenges” have contributed to the “fragile situation” in the Western Balkans in a thinly-veiled reference to Russia.

The summit communique also voiced concern on “internal” factors, referring to a recent flare-up in nationalist and ethnic tensions in the region.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The EU has pointed at Russia for a failed coup in Montenegro (Photo: Sarah Tzinieris)

It pledged the EU’s “unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans” and said the EU remained “engaged at all levels” to implement “EU-oriented reforms and projects”.

The statement on “external” interference was added to the final draft after EU diplomats discussed Russia during the week.

Earlier drafts of the summit declaration had contained stronger language on EU engagement, however.

The EU had earlier pledged to “support stability and … deepen political and economic ties” with Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, but this was redacted from the final text.

Summing up the debate at Thursday's dinner in Brussels, European Council chief Donald Tusk said: “Tensions and divisions [in the Western Balkans] have got out of hand partly due to unhealthy external influences which have been destabilising several countries for some time”.

“I will propose to leaders that we take action, including in our strategic communications,” he added.

British prime minister Theresa May named Russia as the culprit.

“In light of the alleged Montenegro coup plot, I will call for us to do more to counter destabilising Russian disinformation campaigns and raise the visibility of the Western commitment to this region,” she said on Thursday in Brussels.

She said the UK would host a summit on the Balkans in 2018 for the sake of “collective security” in Europe.

EU states are also wary of Turkey and Gulf Arab states’ efforts to increase influence in the region, but Russia’s behaviour is seen as more dangerous.

Russian behaviour

EU diplomats said Russia tried to orchestrate a violent coup in Montenegro last year to stop the country from joining Nato, as planned, in May.

It has supplied arms to Serbia, prompting a backlash by Kosovo which has threatened to walk away from EU-mediated talks.

It has also claimed that the EU is trying to create a Greater Albania in a line designed to aggravate ethnic tension in Macedonia.

The British prime minister’s warning on “Russian disinformation campaigns” pointed to Moscow’s wider propaganda effort.

Russian media, such as RT and Sputnik, have, for instance, reported fake news that the West was planning to assassinate Mirolav Dodik, a Serb leader in Bosnia, and that it was behind pogroms against ethnic Serbs in Kosovo.

The EU foreign service already has a “strategic communications” cell, but its mandate does not cover the Western Balkans.

EU engagement

European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said three years ago that no new states would enter the EU in his term in office.

EU capitals also lost appetite for enlargement amid Brexit and the migration crisis, as well as fatigue with slow Balkan reform.

Juncker on Thursday defended his old statement.

“I don't think this was a mistake when I announced back in July 2014 that there would be no enlargements … because as a matter of fact no candidate country is ready to join,” he said.

“We did not stop the enlargement negotiations,” he added.

Some member states, such as Poland and Slovakia, had wanted to send a stronger message of EU support for Balkan accession.

Tusk invoked “the promise of Thessaloniki” to reassure Balkan leaders of their EU future, referring to an EU summit pledge on accession made in the Greek city in 2003.

He also echoed the stronger language on EU engagement that had been redacted from the summit’s final declaration.

“The European Union remains … fully committed to the stability and prosperity of the region,” Tusk said.

EU Commission to target fake news

Mariya Gabriel, the EU digital economy commissioner, announces expert panel and says fake news can be tackled if people are given credible and diverse information.

Stolen Russian billions ended up in EU states

Illicit money flowing out of Russia ended up in almost every single EU state, an investigation has found, posing questions on the integrity of Europe’s banking systems.

Analysis

EU should stop an insane US-Iran war

"If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!", US president Donald Trump tweeted on Monday (20 May).

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. EU goes on holiday as new UK PM arrives This WEEK
  2. Survey: Half of EU staff 'don't know' ethics rules
  3. Von der Leyen signals soft touch on migrants, rule of law
  4. Timmermans: von der Leyen will be tough on rule of law
  5. Timmermans trolls 'idiot' Brexit negotiators
  6. Rudderless Europe: Will real Germany please stand up?
  7. PiS & Fidesz claim credit for von der Leyen victory
  8. Von der Leyen faces gender battle for commission posts

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us