The Balkan region is still very strategically important region, where ethnic tensions within nations and neighbors keep inciting regional instability and are main target of the persistent, malign Russian influence, said Mr Tod Wolters, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).
Testifying before the Committee on the Armed Forces of the US Senate, Mr Wolters said that Montenegro represented an example of success in the Balkans, despite Russia’s attempts to divert the country from its Euro-Atlantic path.
“Apart from historic and cultural ties with the Balkan region, Russia sees maintenance of social and political tensions in the region as central principle of its actions aimed at preventing specific Balkan nations from making progress on the Euro-Atlantic path. However, Montenegro and North Macedonia’s accession to NATO represent examples of success”, Mr Wolters said.
Speaking about the Western Balkans region, Mr Wolters reminded that China and several other nations had failed to recognize the independent status of Kosovo.
“Kosovo and the neighboring Serbia haven’t normalized relations yet, but we still encourage both sides to hold dialogue and find peaceful solution”, Mr Wolters said.
He adds that KFOR mission is the main destabilizing force in Kosovo.
Serbia, he adds, is trying to establish balance between Russia and the West, but its ambitions towards the EU are hindered by internal corruption, structural and economic challenges, EU sanctions and the request for the normalization of relations with Kosovo.
China has appeared as alternative patron, getting involved in economic and defense affairs.
As far as Bosnia and Herzegovina is concerned, Mr Wolters says that B&H remains “immersed in political and ethnic instability”.
“Encouraged by Russian influence, obstructionists look for the greater autonomy of the Republika Srpska in order to weaken authorities and halt progress in further compliance with NATO and the EU. Nationalist politics and deeply-rooted ethnic divisions among Bosniaks and Bosnian Serbs undermine values of B&H”, Mr Wolters said.
Speaking about security in Europe, Mr Wolters says that political uncertainty, energy competition and advanced technologies threaten to jeopardize the established democratic order.