Russia has remained more than a political deadlock for NATO, for some years.
Since the separation of Kosovo from Serbia, and subsequent declaration of independence, information campaigns have been Russia’s strategy in the Balkans at least for the past eight years. Putin’s foreign policy, the importance of Russia’s autocracy and power, and the subsequent uproars were all a result of indisposition, humiliation and affliction of such tenacious occurrences. When Russia lost its influence in Kosovo after the latter became autonomous, and Putin used political upheaval and independence to justify the assertion of Russia’s power, by fighting in Crimea in 2014 and South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008, Russia moderated the happenings with two reasons; the interest to control Bosphorus Straits and secondly, pan-Slavism.
Pan-Slavism has remained huge in Russia. Proliferation of the idea in media, kept it alive, so much so, that the outlets apply anti-Western rhetoric and anti-establishment, referring to ideologies and events that resonate among the Serbs including the bombing of Serbia by NATO in 1999. They even hold the conspiracy theories about an on-going threat from the West such as pathological hatred of Slavs by the former U.S secretary Madeleine Albert after the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO. Local pro-Russian politicians and analysts reinforce the narrative by reminding Moscow’s veto audience about its support in undermining the Kosovo’s UNESCO bid and the Srebrenica genocide resolution.
The communication strategy is paying off to Russia since more Serbs (67.2% in favour and 18.8% against) prefer being allied with Russia rather than joining the European Union. However, there is a challenge from the military perspective. The Balkan states are discouraged from joining NATO in favour of military cooperation with Moscow-supported Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). This anti-NATO campaign may impact, in the short-term, the EU (EUFOR) and NATO (KFOR) peacekeeping missions in Western Balkans. Such anti-EU sentiments are stalling European political and economic integration. For instance, the fall of Berlin Wall ushered in an era of nationalist and authoritarian regimes that have been in power for quarter of a century. Such regimes are pursuing state-capitalist growth models resulting in mediocre economic performance. Contextually, Putin’s destabilisation of Ukraine lies in his dream to lead Eurasian Union – an effort to recreate the former Soviet Union.
The role of NATO in the Russia- Balkan States relationship cannot be undermined, but at the same time, cannot be over-emphasised for good reasons. Since the foundation of NATO-Russia Council in 2002, Russia and NATO have collaborated on issues such as anti-narcotic, counter-terrorism, civil emergency planning, and submarine rescue. Russia also broke off diplomatic ties with Bosnia Serbs after NATO’s attacks on Bosnia Serb forces at Sarajevo. NATO is set to build an exceptional relationship with Russia on the basis of the shared objective for peaceful Europe and cooperation NATO. However, the accession accord signed by NATO with Montenegro, is yet an example of the inherent competing nature of Russia, in case of EU and its influence. NATO says it’s a measure to counter Russia’s invasion and occupancy of Crimea and Ukraine. As far as Russia’s economic relationship, the country’s economic balance is inhibited by its efforts to compete EU influence. It has also limited exports from Balkans and adversely affected inflow of Russian investment. This makes Russia’s desire for power all the more evidently power-zealous, and nothing more. In case of military outrage, it still remains to be seen how much of the world will be left to see the aftermath, or where NATO will seek ministration. Trump being an advocate of pursuing those who are antagonists’ antagonists, it is a predicament to forecast any political positions.