Riders on the storm - opinion

The Western Balkans have been chosen by China and Russia as an extremely convenient ground for their own hybrid war proving ground.

 Russian and Chinese flags. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
Russian and Chinese flags.
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)

What is painfully obvious today is that countries of the Western Balkans have been chosen by China and Russia as an extremely convenient ground for their own hybrid war proving ground.

There are three probable reasons why the Balkan countries were chosen as ideal ones for this type of “training exercise”. Firstly, all these countries have declared their intention, and many among them their concrete commitment in terms of politics by embarking on official negotiations with the EU for integration into theUnion, and adoption of all the values such an accession entails. Secondly, the EU member states are the most significant trading partners for each of these countries (on the average, 60% of their overall trade is with the EU), and hence, this makes them a part of the European Economic Area (EEA). Thirdly, fairly many of these countries are already NATO member countries (Albania, Montenegro, and Northern Macedonia). This is what makes them the EU “representative sample” for a successful simulation of hybrid warfare games.

Opposite to what is often perceived, the essence of these activities is not directed towards the corruption of local politicians or aimed at greater dependency on the Chinese to be achieved by extending new credit lines with little or no control of its spending, although it would be unwise to discard all of the above as inconsequential.

Nevertheless, there seems to be double-bind objectives involved: speaking of the Balkan countries, the main goal is to undermine democratic institutions as the most essential elements for their accession and ultimately successful negotiations on the EU accession. The success of China and Russia in this arena would help the stabilocracies, which are widely entrenched as a model of political action, transform to autocracies with no democratic future. Consequently, the will of the majority would become utterly irrelevant in terms of politics and economy, and onlyrevolutions could bring about the change. Further on, this would lead to forever lost time, as regards possible success in full transition, which is of vital national significance for all Balkan countries. With no exception!

On the other hand, this geopolitical game by China, followed by Russia is aimed at practicing a model of further destabilization of the EU and the USA. Namely, at least for the time being, the lack of any specific impact of the European Commission’s measures in the case of Hungary (and partly in the case of Slovenia and Poland, too) is more than a clear indication that the EU lacks the power to resolve this issue alone, within a reasonable time. What is most worrying is that the core of this issue is not fully recognized within the EU, and this lack of understanding goes far beyond a mere administrative or technical issue. This issue refers to fundamental principles of democracy and values the EU it founded on. As such, it cannot be resolved through Brussels bureaucracy approach, at least not successfully.

 The author, Dr. Vladimir Krulj (credit: Courtesy) The author, Dr. Vladimir Krulj (credit: Courtesy)

This is something that Mr. Biden’s Administration has realized and it is now trying, together with the EU to set a common front which could confront successfully China first of all, and then Russia, too. Of course, the success of such an initiative will largely depend upon the decisiveness, promptness and successful resolution of internal EU issues, which is the very reason why the “Hungarian” issue is followed with due attention. From Chinese perspective, in particular.

Of course, this further generates less interest of the EU member states in the enlargement issue and essentially leaves the Balkan countries without any help in the hybrid war which is often directed against these very countries.

The example of Montenegro is rather an illustrative one in this respect. Although a NATO member county and the Balkan country which is far ahead of any other country in the negotiations for the EU accession, it fails to continue on this path alone. Namely, even after the elections, which in this new State were among the most democratic ever, the consequences of the intensive hybrid war which has been going on for quite some time are visible here; pushing the agenda of a 30-year old rule of a system personified in the President of the State in an intensified conflict and permanent involvement of pro-Russian factors both inside the new Government coalition, and the neighboring countries. And lastly, an enormous increase in the national debt as a result of a loan obtained from China under unknown conditions. All of the above gave rise to huge tensions in Montenegro which, at one point, wereon the verge of pushing the country into a civil war.

This begs the question of what the Balkan countries themselves can do, considering all of the above mentioned? In essence, furthering the EU accession and a true commitment to the principles of democracy on which it had been founded must be affirmed in institutional terms.

In terms of tactics, it is most necessary to develop ties with the countries which themselves have (successfully) fought the hybrid war created by countries with autocratic presage. To this effect, the hint points in the direction of Israel, as a natural partner. Certainly, this should not be limited to sophisticated technical systems and hardware solutions only which are generally examined when cooperation with this State is considered. First of all, one should try and share in the wealth of experience this State, as well as the companies originating from this country have accumulated in terms of education and ongoing implementation of various programs which open up the possibilities not only for the recognition but an efficient response to any threats the hybrid war entails, too. Possible success in this area would probably bring some attention within the EU, too. Perhaps it might also yield some security solutions, and some concrete benefits to the EU, too, to ultimately realize the importance of its enlargement to the Balkans.

Dr. Vladimir Krulj is an Economics Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, Auditor at ENA (ECOLE NATIONALE D’ADMINISTRATION) and Serbian and French Economist (HEC)