The Balkans has long been considered to be geopolitical “break line”. It was there that the First world war. The situation in Yugoslavia in April 1941 precipitated the Soviet war with Germany. The impetus for the cold war was the Truman doctrine of March 1947, involving U.S. aid to Greece and Turkey. During conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, many feared a return to the First world war and then cold war in the light of the Russian decision to support Serbia. Today the Balkans called South-Eastern Europe and, apparently, are on the path of integration into the EU and NATO. Anyway, the region is considered the “soft underbelly” of the West and largely differs from the customized to deal with the Russian threat to the Baltic North. But what is the Russian threat to the South-Eastern flank, which is considered by the example of Bechev in work “Russia in South-Eastern Europe”?
Quite often, the experts voiced the geopolitical (the desire of Russia to obtain access to the Mediterranean sea) and the geo-cultural invariants (Moscow — the Third Rome, the brotherhood of Slavic and Orthodox peoples), as well as historical factors (the Russian support of Bulgaria in the XIX century and Serbia in 1914). Dimitar bechev of the doubt on this common interpretation. According to him, Russia’s relations with South-East Europe (including Turkey) are explained by the opportunism, the shameless pragmatism and game interests. He sees this as not greater Russian strategy, and the ability of Moscow to skillfully play the cards (despite the fact that she has a few trump cards) and to use the weaknesses of Europe, whether the stagnation in the expansion policy, the crisis of liberalism, the new authoritarian tendencies, the Greek crisis and tensions between Turkey and the EU.
During the war in the former Yugoslavia, the Russian leadership was not unconditionally on the side of Milosevic, and the “Russian-Serbian partnership” should not be exaggerated. However, during the crisis in Kosovo, the leadership tried to show that Russia can once again play the role of an independent pole of power. The intransigence of the Serbs became a hindrance for him, and he in the end had to put pressure on Belgrade to put an end to the NATO operation in 1999. The Balkan crises have pointed to the Russian opportunities, but Moscow did not like that it made a fait accompli, particularly in terms of Kosovo’s independence.
In 2000-ies Russia and Serbia have rethought their relationship. Serbia, like its neighbours in the former Yugoslavia, trying to play the Russian card against the Europeans and to attract Russian investment, returning at the same time Moscow’s accumulated debt. In parallel, Serbia and Montenegro strive to join the European Union, which has already taken Croatia. In 2017, the Black seaOriya joined NATO (Croatia and Albania did it in 2009), despite the opposition of Russia. The author sees such a controversial policy, the legacy of Tito, who skillfully maneuvered between the West and the Soviet Union. Serbia declared neutrality in 2007, but found that Russia is not hostile to the independence of Kosovo since, as endorsed by the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the war in Georgia in 2008. The increase in tensions after the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 has aggravated the dilemma. Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia refused to support the EU sanctions, but the West is the Russian threat to draw the fucking region to their side.
In Bulgaria, Russia was able to use the traditionally good attitude, rivalry in politics and corruption of the elite, but abandoned the project of gas pipeline “South stream”. In her opinion, it made too many concessions and soon realized that Sofia operates as a “vassal of the West.” As for Romania, she had fears of Russian actions in neighbouring Moldova. In the end, Sofia and Bucharest are members of the EU and NATO, which is fixed on the shores of the Black sea.
Finally, Greece and Cyprus flirting with Russia 1990-ies is not so much due to historical feelings, but in virtue of the strategic and commercial interests. Russia looked as a source of support against Turkey. It could do Greece a partner in the construction of energy infrastructure and to help her with financing in terms of debt and EU policies. Moscow has turned Cyprus into opaque financial platform. But although Athens and Nicosia in favour of Pro-Russian policy on European negotiations, Russia practically does not help them when they agree on something with European partners.
Despite the region’s dependence on Russian gas, Russia does not have the same means of economic and financial influence, as the European Union, and cannot offer an attractive model. Whatever it was, she well knows how to use the political problems and corruption thanks to the media and many local colleagues in all areas. The Russian threat is proportional to the European crisis. The paper emphasizes the last of the three interpretations of Russian and Soviet foreign policy (offensive, defensive, opportunistic) when that “hard” wing of the West and Russia is focusing on the first two. Therefore, anxiety should call first, my own weakness, which creates conditions for Russian opportunism, rather than speculation about the return of the cold war.
a Pierre Grosse (Pierre Grosser), Professor of international relations at the Paris Institute of political studies