By Alon Ben-Meir and Arbana Xharra-Mareeg.com-As the EU seeks to increase its influence in the Balkans, Russia and Turkey have been working hard to strengthen their own ties to the region. The EU’s renewed interest in its southern backyard has been prompted by fears of Moscow’s mounting impact in the Balkans. Although Russia’s closest European ally is Serbia, it is not the only country with a long history in the Balkans. Turkey is another heavyweight, gaining huge support from corrupted officials throughout the Balkans. Like Russia, Turkey is investing in major national projects strategically calculated to have the greatest economic and political impact on the financial market.
To demonstrate his commitment to Serbia, in a joint news conference held on May 7 in Ankara with Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vucic, Erdogan said that the target for 2018 is $2 billion, going to $5 billion in the long term. Among the biggest projects, the Belgrade-Sarajevo highway will strengthen regional and economic ties. Vucic thanked Erdogan for ‘stabilizing’ the Balkans, declaring that “Turkey is the biggest power, the strongest country in the Balkans.”
On May 17, during the EU-Western Balkans Summit held in Bulgaria, European leaders expressed their concern over Turkey’s and Russia’s expanding influence in the Balkans, particularly since the Balkans were once part of the Ottoman Empire, and subsequently under the Soviet Union. Erdogan has made his unscrupulous position clear to Western powers, stressing that Turkey will become as powerful and influential as the Ottoman Empire was during its heyday.
Russia considers Serbia its most trusted ally in Europe and is investing heavily in large projects, especially in the energy sector. Even though Vucic recognizes that he is receiving substantial support from Putin, he is strengthening his alliance with Turkey as well. While Russia and Turkey are competing for influence in Serbia, they are still collaborating because of their joint opposition to the EU’s continuing and extensive involvement in the Balkans.
Vucic seeks to join the EU and build a trilateral relationship with Russia and Turkey, which directly challenges Western values and interests. Vucic, however, cannot “dance” in two weddings at the same time. His anti-Western alliance triggered alarm bells in the European Union. French President Emmanuel Macron put Ankara and Moscow in the same light, saying that he did not want “a Balkans that turns toward Turkey or Russia.”
The European Union is still Serbia’s largest trading partner; however, Serbia is heavily dependent on Russia for military equipment, which in many ways defines Russian-Serbian relations. There are approximately 1,000 companies in Serbia owned partially or entirely by Russians, with an estimated revenue of 5 billion Euros. In October 2017, Serbia bought six Russian fighter jets.