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Who destabilizes the Balkans: Putin or the Americans?

Who destabilizes the Balkans: Putin or the Americans?

Ahead of his visit to Serbia on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an interview for „Politika” and „Novosti” accused the United States and other western countries, which he hasn’t named, of destabilizing the Balkans. To back his claim, Mr. Putin offered as examples NATO’s bombing of former Yugoslavia back in 1999, the „illegitimate” recognition of Kosovo’s independence, the change of Macedonia’s name to „accelerate its inclusion in NATO” and the fact that Montenegro „was drawn into NATO” in disregard of the popular will.

Mr. Putin said that Russia has always viewed the Balkans „as a space for constructive cooperation. That is why the aid for consolidating the security and the stability in the region is our absolute priority. We are for the respect of the rights and interests of the Balkan countries, for the respect of international law”, said the Russian leader.

Vladimir Putin’s statements are in flagrant contradiction with Russia’s increasingly intense actions of destabilizing the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Montenegro joined NATO on June 5, 2017. In an attempt to prevent its accession to NATO, Russia went so far as to stage a coup using its military intelligence service (the GRU).

The conspiracy aimed to block Montenegro’s entry into NATO and to kill the premier Milo Djuckanovic and replace him with a pro-Russian government. Fourteen people were indicted by Montenegrin prosecutors, including two GRU officers, Eduard Shishmakov (aka Shirokov) and Aleksandar Popov, accused of organizing, on October 2016, a failed attempt of a coup d’état.

Aleksandar Sindjelic, the key witness in the trial, is known to the Romanian public after the Romanian authorities have expelled in the fall of 2017 the Serbian national Bratislav Zivkovic, who was declared undesirable in Romania for 15 years. The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) has monitored him during 2017 as he was trying to obtain secrets about Romania’s military bases and the radar defense systems at the Black Sea.

Russia has denied its involvement in the coup d’etat attempt, even though Moscow is openly supporting the „Democratic Front” and other groups that are opposing NATO membership, and advocate strengthening ties with the Kremlin.

In the case of Macedonia too, Russia has not shied away and had tried intensively, also through subversive actions, to make Greece reject the historic agreement signed last summer between Athens and Skopje.

Athens announced that in July 2018 it expelled two Russian diplomats and banned the entry of two other people who tried to bribe officials and prompted protests to prevent an agreement between Greece and Macedonia that would allow the former Yugoslavia to join NATO. One of the underlying conditions for entering the North Atlantic structures is to resolve any ethnic conflicts or territorial claims.

But Russia is an expert precisely in exploiting ethnic tensions, especially in a complex region like the Balkans. Russia has categorically denied the allegations. Putin called the accusations „rubbish” and said that intelligence services could have resolved such situations „without theatrical actions.” In the end, Greece and Macedonia signed the agreement on June 17, 2018, the former Yugoslav republic now being called Northern Macedonia.

The agreement puts an end to the nearly 30 years of dispute between the two countries. Greece has committed then to no longer oppose Macedonia’s accession to NATO and the negotiations of this small Balkan economy of just 2.1 million inhabitants to join the European Union.

In the case of Greece, as with Montenegro, Russia has encouraged ultra-nationalist and sovereignist movements to block NATO membership and divert the pro-Western course of these small Balkan countries.

But the most recent scandal involving Russia’s involvement in acts of espionage aimed at destabilizing the Balkans is the case of the expulsion of several Russian citizens from Hungary.

Since 2010, ten Russian nationals have been expelled from Hungary for acts of espionage. The authorities in Budapest have not made public any of these cases to avoid an open confrontation with Russia, a sign that Orban government has tried to hide these case from the public eye. The Hungarian government has signaled that it is trying to balance the need to maintain good relationships with Russia with the discomfort of Russian espionage.

In the case of Hungary too, the same military intelligence service (GRU) appears to have been involved. Russian intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover at the Russian Embassy in Budapest trained far-right paramilitary groups in Hungary and neo-nazi organizations such as the National Front of Hungary.

It seems that the Russian agents in Hungary are less concerned with espionage in that country, and they are more focused on the Balkan states to destabilize the region. The expulsions from Hungary were not an isolated case. Other European countries, such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland, have expelled Russian citizens accused of espionage in recent years.

But the fact that the expulsions have happened with great discretion has encouraged Russia to intensify its espionage activities since it has nothing to lose.

The question now is how vulnerable a country like Romania is in the face of Russia’s destabilizing actions? How dangerous is the Dragnea-Orban relationship, an Orban which the PSD leader not only imitates but also allows him to officially encourage the autonomous discourse in Transylvania? And let’s not forget that the Russians are experts at exploiting the ethnic aspect.

But beyond that, a corrupt country controlled by oligarchs, with a paralyzed and politically controlled justice system, in which misinformation and crime rates reach alarming rates, is easy prey. Russia encourages all this to weaken states and deviate them from their western paths, in an attempt to return to the Soviet model of the countries in its sphere of influence.

Therefore, who destabilizes the Balkans and Eastern Europe: the Russians or the Americans?

Sources: Reuters, HotNews.ro, Direct36, 444.hu

Traducerea: Ovidiu Harfas

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