2 Aug 2022 7:34 p.m
A conflict that has been frozen for two decades could heat up again as a result of Europe’s new systemic Cold War. The question is to what extent regional players have retained their passion for showdown, revenge or expansion.
An analysis by Fyodor Lukyanov
Tensions regularly erupt between Belgrade and Pristina over the Kosovo issue that has never been resolved since 1999, when the province gained de facto independence after the US-led NATO campaign against the former Yugoslavia. This time, however, there is a risk that the more or less routine friction will escalate into a dangerous conflict because the geopolitical framework has changed dramatically.
The Kosovo problem was solved at the end of the 20th century in strict accordance with the then prevailing approach and with apparent lack of alternatives. Disputes have been settled on the EU’s notion of fairness in most parts of Europe – that is, outside the former USSR. Where they could not be resolved amicably, pressure was applied to the insurgents, even to the point of using military force, which was primarily one used, as always, by the US. The most recalcitrant actors were those in the Balkans. The war in Bosnia took place in the first half of the 1990s, and the conflict over Kosovo in the second half. Without assessing the qualitative and moral aspects of politics over the past 25 years, we can talk about the most important.
The region emerged under conditions where the only future roadmap for the various states was eventual EU membership – with prospects ranging from relatively near future to very distant but seemingly inevitable. There were no other options, no plan B, C or D. Accordingly, it was the EU that regulated all processes on the ground and in general this constellation was taken for granted.
In addition, other forces such as Russia and Turkey, which have traditionally been active and important in the Balkans, have signaled their presence – and often quite clearly – but never claimed to have a decisive voice in how things were arranged. This framework also defined the room for maneuver for the countries in the region, including those that were the most vocally dissatisfied, such as Serbia.
Now, however, two important circumstances have changed: First, the EU is in such a vulnerable state that it is not prepared to take full responsibility for the extremely complex political situation in its immediate periphery. It cannot promise membership and even if such a promise were made it would not guarantee anything.
The EU’s response to the problems in the central Balkans – in Bosnia and Kosovo – has not produced the desired result over the past quarter century. It is all the more unlikely that it will work now, because the second factor is that Russia and the West, i.e. the EU, the USA and NATO, are in a state of acute confrontation.
As a result, there is no reason to expect Moscow’s help in resolving the situation, be it in Kosovo or Bosnia. For now, the West’s preferred practice of “selective interaction” – engaging with Russia where we need it but refusing to engage on other issues – can no longer be employed. There will be no collaboration. Russia and the West will be on opposite sides of the barricades everywhere, whatever the issue. We are in a systemic cold war. And this reality can have a major impact on what will happen in the Balkans.
The question is to what extent regional actors have retained their passion for showdowns, revenge or expansion. There is a suspicion that this zeal has been exhausted and emasculated, but if that zeal is still burning, this time external forces will intervene in the conflict and support the opposing sides.
more on the subject – Serbia: Vague European perspective and new blackmail from Brussels
Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club
RT DE strives for a broad range of opinions. Guest posts and opinion pieces do not have to reflect the editor’s point of view.