Global Perspectives - Antonia Colibasanu

There are rising problems in the Western Balkans. Serbia’s role in fostering region stability is growing as tensions increase in the traditionally problematic Balkan triangle of Croatia-Serbia-Bosnia.

Serbia’s balancing act between Washington and the European Union on one side and Russia on the other has gained visibility since late 2014. Russia lost ground when the South Stream project was put on hold and Russia’s economic problems started to become more obvious. The EU accession process was the West’s main tool to counterbalance Russian influence in Serbia. The EU funding attached to that process has become more important for Belgrade, especially with Russia’s economy weakening — Serbia needs investment. Solutions for increasing the country’s energy security evolved around European alternatives, as Russian-backed infrastructure projects failed.

But the EU has its own problems. The United States promised last year that it will help Serbia access natural gas from a new terminal in Croatia. Vucic travelled twice to the United States in 2015 to discuss ways to improve bilateral ties. American delegations have also arrived in Belgrade over the last year. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been among the visitors, and discussions between the American and Serbian governments increased ahead of Biden’s August visit.

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Meanwhile, rhetoric among neighboring countries Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia became more charged over the summer. Croatia and Serbia have been exchanging terse diplomatic messages over Croatia’s rehabilitation of some of the World War Two-era Croatian ultranationalist regime fighters as national heroes — Serbia sees them as terrorists and fascists.

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In Bosnia, the anti-terrorist exercises organized on Aug. 25 by Serbia and the Republika Srpska – one of the two administrative entities of Bosnia, mostly inhabited by Serbs — have added to pre-elections quarrels in Bosnia (local elections are to be held in October) as well as to ethnic tensions ahead of the Bosnian Serb Referendum announced on Aug. 11 by the president of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik, to be held on Sept. 25.

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On Aug. 29, during a meeting with foreign ambassadors in Belgrade (attended by all foreign ambassadors except the Croatian ambassador) Vucic said that “Serbia thinks that regional stability has been endangered for the first time in a more serious manner.” Outside pressures as well as internal socio-economic problems are contributing to a tense atmosphere. The evolution of the West-Russia balance remains a determinant factor of the regional stability, with the EU symbolism still the key element for these countries’ modernization and reform, but also for regional and European security.

 

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