The Balkans Back at the Center

The Balkans & South East Europe in the middle of geopolitics again

Alemko Coksa from Pixabay
Alemko Coksa from Pixabay

Over the past 10 years, the Balkans have been a focal point of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative as a way to gain a foothold in Europe, garner influence and create investment opportunities. For Russia, although not as important as Ukraine, the Balkans can serve as a bargaining chip for negotiations with Europe. As for the EU, the accession of Balkan countries has been on the agenda for a while, albeit in a low-key manner. The Covid-19 epidemic has put all those forces in motion, making the Balkans the epicenter of regional and global power moves.

Political and economic opportunities are likely to emerge for a region that lags behind Europe in all parameters.



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Red Flags: Triaging China's Projects in the Western Balkans

Center for Strategic International Studies (01.03.21)

This report, the third in a series on Chinese economic activities in the Western Balkans, provides recommendations for U.S. and partner responses to China's growing economic and political influence in the region and a “red flags” checklist to help identify activities that warrant further scrutiny.


Decade of patience: How China became a power in the Western Balkans

Vladimir Shopov, ECFR (02.02.21)

China has become the most prominent third actor in the Western Balkans. The country’s activities are spread unevenly across the region, but they follow a common approach that is marked by China’s wide-ranging efforts to establish itself in key economic areas and to gradually position itself as an indispensable actor. As European and US ambivalence towards the Western Balkans persists, the region will be in increasing danger of falling into an endless spiral of competition between various foreign actors.


Low Hanging Fruit for China: Western Balkans Reassured by Brussels as Pandemic Tests Relations

EUbulletin (10.05.20)

The EU reaffirmed its commitment to Western Balkans nations earlier this week (6 May), including by pledging €3.3 billion to help battle the coronavirus pandemic in the region amid fears that the region will be a battleground for great power competition.


EU battles to fend off China's 'mask diplomacy' in Balkans

Yasuo Takeuchi, Nikkei Asian Review (09.05.20)

As the novel coronavirus spreads in the Balkans, the European Union finds itself in a fierce battle for influence around the region with China and Russia, which have been quicker to send medical staff and other support.

Filling the Balkan Power Vacuum

Cameron Munter & Valbona Zeneli, The American Interest (08.05.20)

Western inattention has created opportunities for China and Russia to make mischief in the Western Balkans. It’s time we put an end to it.


China’s Balkan Investments Are Paradoxically Speeding Region’s EU Integration

David Felsen and Dennis Feltwell, Balkan Insight (07.05.20)

If the EU suddenly seems more interested than it was in integrating the Western Balkans, it is partly because the expansion into the region by large regional powers such as China has got Brussels worried.


EU offers more aid, membership to Balkans in riposte to China, Russia

Robin Emmott, Reuters (07.05.20)

The European Union’s 27 leaders on Wednesday gave their “unequivocal support” for the six Balkan countries to eventually become members of the bloc and offered them more financial support as Brussels seeks to check Chinese largesse.

Covid-19: China, US, EU and Russia vie for Balkans influence

Valerie Hopkins, Financial Times (05.05.20)

The FT's South-East Europe correspondent Valerie Hopkins reports on moves by China, Russia, the EU and US to gain the upper hand in Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and the western Balkans.


European Investment Bank will provide 10 Million Euros to Banks in Bosnia and Herzegovina financing SME

Sarajevo Times (28.04.20)

The European Investment Bank will provide EUR 10 million to Raiffeisen Leasing doo Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and unlock new financing for local small and medium companies. The EIB loan will allow the company to finance projects and working capital for SMEs operating in industry, tourism and services sectors, as well as agriculture. This support comes at a time when SMEs are the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and are facing unprecedented challenges.

Central Europe’s China Reckoning

A. Wess Mitchell, The American Interest (23.04.20)

Central Europe has an opportunity to benefit from the coming restructuring of global supply chains—but only if it gets out of bed with Beijing.


Perception of EU aid amidst the pandemic faces challenges across the Western Balkans

Abdullah Kesvelioglu, European Western Balkans (14.04.20)

That the EU has a problem of visibility in some parts of the Western Balkans, even though it has been its biggest donor and trading partner for decades at this point, was already well known. However, the COVID-19 crisis currently seems to be unlikely to improve this state of affairs.


Coronavirus diplomacy: how Russia, China and EU vie to win over Serbia

Shaun Walker, The Guardian (13.04.20)

As the Coronavirus pandemic spreads, countries see an opportunity to use soft power and aid to advance their personal foreign policy goals. Russia, China and the EU find themselves in the middle of it in order to please Serbia.

China Has Its Eyes on Serbia

Vuk Vuksanovic, Foreign Policy (08.04.20)

Beijing is using the coronavirus pandemic to expand its influence into the EU’s backyard.


The Western Balkans in Times of the Global Pandemic

Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group, Policy brief (April 2020)

In its emergency response, the EU needs to include all Western Balkans

countries in assistance and post-emergency reconstruction plans, irrespective of the status of their accession talks. The full inclusion of the region is essential so as to prevent dire economic consequences and geopolitical drift. Support to overcome post-crisis economic and social effects should be conditioned on measures to reduce state capture.

EU diplomats give green light to Albania and North Macedonia

EUObserver (24.03.20)

EU states' ambassadors have provisionally agreed to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, ending months of uncertainty after France vetoed it last year. Ambassadors took the step Monday, with EU affairs ministers to discuss it Tuesday, prior to adopting the move by so-called written procedure. North Macedonia was due to hold snap elections over its EU bid on 12 April, but these were postponed due to the virus.