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SPEECHES, INTERVIEWS, ARTICLES

25.06.2019

Minister-Counsellor’s reply to the IISS strategic comment “Russia and the Western Balkans”

I feel compelled to comment on IISS strategic comment “Russia and the Western Balkans” (17 June), edited by Benjamin Rhode, which alleges that “Russia’s stated policy aim is to prevent the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU”. This presumption reflects a biased and politicized approach to assessing the role of Russia in the region. The IISS has chosen to ignore the fact that Russia has never spoken out, or acted, against the accession of the Balkan States to the EU. What we always emphasise is that those countries must decide for themselves how far the prerequisites required for joining the EU meet their national interests.

The Russian position on that issue, in general, is based on the fact that European integration has not become a panacea for all woes and it could never be. We have some questions regarding certain methods used by Brussels when implementing its strategy in the Balkans. One such question that in many respects remains open is whether the course for European integration pursued by regional States is in harmony with their interests of cooperating with non-EU countries. It is essential for us that the accession of the Balkan States to the EU does not create new dividing lines in Europe. Western Balkan nations must not be forced to confront an artificial choice between the European Union and Russia.

The paper's assumption that Russia intends “to sow discord where possible” in order to prevent the integration of the Western Balkans into NATO also looks misguided. Russia is clear about the right of each country to freely decide on ways to ensure its security. With this in mind, we assume that we, too, are entitled to the same freedom. With NATO openly positioning itself as an anti-Russian bloc, its further enlargement will only force us to plan responses. Russia-NATO tensions spilling into the Western Balkans is not a scenario that we are seeking. More importantly, this would undermine the fragile stability in this region. Far from “sowing discord”, we believe it essential to be honest with our friends in the region as to the consequences of some decisions which are being imposed on them from the outside.

Another one of the IISS conclusions that don’t hold water is that “Russia’s policy seems to be to keep Bosnia and Herzegovina unstable”. Russia is actively engaged in promoting the stabilisation process in the country based on the principles of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement. Within the framework of the UN Security Council and the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, Russian representatives consistently work to ensure that full responsibility for the situation in the country, including the sphere of justice, is transferred to the Bosnian authorities. We firmly believe that it is the outdated institution of the High Representative, effectively an international protectorate, which is hampering long-term stability in the country. At the same time, key to stable and balanced development of Bosnia is the preservation of equality of its three constituent peoples. 

The IISS has also tried to diminish the significance of Russia as a partner for the six Balkan States. Yet their relations with our country are determined by our shared history, strong bonds of friendship, common Slavic roots and cultural and religious affinity, as well as by our long-standing positive involvement in the regional processes. A dynamic high-level dialogue between Russia and these countries further confirms our strong connection.

In conclusion I’d like to highlight that Russia is open for engaging in projects implemented in the Western Balkans through the EU. We are convinced that joint actions and healthy competition may produce a multiplier positive effect on social and economic development of the whole Balkan region.

I trust that this commentary will usefully complement the IISS paper.

 

25 June 2019, 15:00

 




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