Will the Balkans be Russia’s next virtual battlefield?


Russia’s efforts to project its power abroad are likely to continue and to expand, observers suggest.

The Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns seek to “crumble democracies from the inside out” by “winning the second cold war through the force of politics, as opposed to the politics of force,” according to national security expert Roy Godson.

“Russia has developed the capability to launch an attack on the Baltic states with as little as 24 hours’ notice,” a Lithuanian intelligence assessment recently concluded, notes analyst James Jay Carafano:

That dire warning dovetails with a report from RAND that concluded Russia could capture most of the Baltic states in a matter of days—even with a NATO intervention…. Further, the NATO Center of Excellence on Strategic Communications, principally focused on disinformation, is in Latvia. Estonia hosts the NATO center on cybersecurity.

Battle for the Balkans

Should Putin opt to follow the path of least resistance, then the Balkans look like his best bet, Carafano writes for the National Interest:

  • Standoff in Serbia-Croatia-Kosovo. Talk of a miniature arms race may be overblown, but there is no question that tensions have ] ratcheted up. Serbia recently announced that it would receive additional armed helicopters from Russia. Kosovo has been threatening to stand up its own military. And nearly five thousand NATO troops are parked in the middle of all of this.
  • Messiness in Macedonia. Russian meddling, corruption, squabbling with Albania and a muddled U.S. response have made for a toxic cocktail. Moscow seems intent on using the unrestto pry the tiny nation away from the West.
  • Battling in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A burgeoning separatist movement in the Republika Srpska threatens to rekindle divisions that have simmered since 1995 and the Dayton Peace Accord. Putin seems happy to pour gasoline on the smoldering ashes.
  • Bad Stuff in the Black Sea. Putin would love to make the Black Sea a Russian lake. Period.

The Balkan wars of the 1990s seem like a distant memory. But the possibility of renewed crisis in the region is growing, according to Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy, and Ivana Cvetkovic Bajrovic, the NED’s Senior Program Officer for Southeastern Europe. The emerging Balkan crisis is partly the result of the failure of the countries of the region to achieve meaningful democratic progress since the fall of communism, they wrote for World Affairs.

Rather than butting heads with Russia head-on, however, much of what America can and should do to squeeze Putin’s malignant efforts out of the equation ought to focus on the region itself rather than on the Kremlin’s misbehavior, Heritage Foundation vice president Carafano contends:

  • Improving Governance and Reducing Corruption. The United States and the European Union might team up to energize efforts to build stronger, more democratic, effective and resilient public and private institutions in the region.
  • Promoting Economic Freedom. No part of western Europe is in greater need of economic improvement. Several Balkan countries lag in key indicators of economic freedom. Policy reforms in those areas could unleash rapid economic growth.
  • Preventing Transnational Terrorism. Islamist extremists have their eyes on the region as well. Italian police recently busted an Islamist terror cell that included at least one Kosovar. Several hundred individuals from the region have fought as jihadis in Iraq/Syria…..
  • Promoting Regional Cooperation. The United States ought to encourage and promote the Adriatic Five initiative involving Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. Such initiatives build trust, confidence and regional solidarity…


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