The EU Not To Hand Over Western Balkans To China and Russia

The coronavirus consequences will be enormous but alliances such as NATO and the EU can give the best response to these challenges, despite their slow initial reaction, was assessed by the participants of the online conference of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro (ACM). They added that the Western Balkans need to be in focus of the Brussels administration, otherwise, China and Russia will use this opportunity.

The participants of the live conference on the ACM Facebook page were Savo Kentera, President of the ACM, Fabrizio Luciolli, President of the Atlantic Treaty Association and of the Italian Atlantic Committee, Damir Marusic, representative of the Atlantic Council of the USA, and Bosko Jaksic, journalist from Serbia.

Kentera stated that this COVID pandemic changed our lives in more than one way.

“With the Western democracies struggling to contain the virus and its consequences, many have praised Chinese response strategies of the other authoritarian regimes in tackling the crisis. Both China and Russia have seized the momentum to emerge as international benefactors sending medical equipment, supplies and human resources to the countries affected by virus”, Kentera assessed.

Speaking of the situation in the USA, the country which is currently most affected by the virus, Marusic said that the quarantine in the USA will last at least until the end of May. He also thinks that not sufficiently strong central government in Washington represents the additional problem to the USA in this situation and adds that the virus will definitely affect the upcoming elections in that country.

 “Everything is discussed through the lenses of the virus. What I find astonishing is the fact that the Democrats drew back and let President Trump do what he wants. They are probably just waiting for his mistakes to gain their political points. But it is wrong to think that the virus can be defeated only from the center, everything is left in Trump’s hands which could go against the Democrats in the end. I understand why they are doing this, but it is a very risky policy” Marusic stated.

Fabrizio Luciolli assessed that the virus did not attack people only, but the multilateral organizations such as the UN, the EU and NATO.

“It turns out that we have two different Europes within the Union. Italy, Spain, Greece and France have been on one side for long while on the other side are northern countries led by Germany. Italy has been absolutely alone for so long. Russia and China used this. Pandemic will cause great economic problems. Each Italian will have EUR43 thousand of debt which will be a huge challenge” stated Luciolli.

Clear tactics of Beijing

 Commenting on the aid from China which has been sent all around the world, Bosko Jaksic said that the tactics of Beijing is clear and is just an introduction in their attempts to strengthen economic and political position after the pandemic.

 “Russia launched the narratives that it is successfully fighting the crisis, aiming at undermining European institutions. Pressurized by China, the EU did not criticize Beijing in its last report. It’s understandable since the economic trade between China and the EU was more than EUR1 billion. China does not want to take the blame but is sending the aid with the intention to strengthen its political and economic position after the pandemic”, states Jaksic.

Working many years as a journalist and editor of the foreign policy editorial of the Belgrade’s „Politika“, he reminded that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, when talking about fraternal relations with both the Russian and Chinese Presidents, praised particularly the aid coming from China and Russia.

 “I’m not sure about Vucic’s intentions. By such behavior, he maybe wants to attract greater aid from the West. Vucic counts on the West’s help to resolve the issue of Kosovo, but he doesn’t want their help in strengthening independence of the institutions and freedom of the press. The coronavirus helped him in the sense of strengthening his power like Orban in Hungary, but the opposition is quiet and the parliament didn’t work up until recently,” Jaksic stated.

Speaking of the situation in the region, Jaksic assessed that the Western Balkans has become the epicenter of the new disinformation campaign. He added that even though NATO has built up democratic processes in the region by Montenegro’s and North Macedonia’s joining, China and Russia are increasing their activities.

Lavrov’s statement, a continuation of the Russian pressure on Montenegro

Kentera also agreed with these assessments, indicating that Montenegro wants to live by standards that are promoted by the Western system of value and not by authoritarian regimes’ rules, such as Chinese and Russian. He added that Russia is neither giving up on the Balkans, nor on Montenegro as its sphere of interest. Kentera reminded that this was showed by the latest statement of Russian Diplomacy Chief Sergey Lavrov, who said that he hoped the Montenegrin government would be left by those pursuing Anti-Russian politics.

 “Such statement is neither friendly nor diplomatic. We can see 2016 recurrence, when before the attempted coup we witnessed similar statements coming from Moscow. The newest statement is coming without any provocations from Montenegro’s part, but neither this nor any other statement will influence our European path; it will only strengthen our position in NATO. We seek stronger rule of law and democracy, and I don’t think that China or Russia are offering them, on the contrary,” Kentera stated.

Marusic assessed that a stronger role of the EU will be the key to the Western Balkans, despite the crisis caused by the pandemic. He stated that the Balkans must continue to be in the Brussels’ focus, if the Union wants a stable region.

Luciolli estimated that instead of “communion”, during the crisis the Union has seen strengthening of individual national approach, commenting on the NATO’s reaction as well.

“Even NATO, as well as the EU, didn’t act swiftly at the beginning. This is understandable because of its complex organization, which is both a political and a military alliance. Now, the only such multilateral organization, which does the job properly and which gives the results on the field, is NATO,” Luciolli said.

The Atlantic Council will continue to organize similar online conferences on current affairs in the upcoming period.

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The EU Not To Hand Over Western Balkans To China and Russia
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