Controlled crisis would give Russia bargaining tools and distract from Ukraine, says Ivan Krastev. Could the Balkans be the next playground for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and his politics of destabilisation? he asks, writing for The Financial Times:
One of two scenarios could play out in the year ahead. The Kremlin could withdraw from eastern Ukraine and try to repair its relations with the west. Or it could try instead to regain the initiative, increasing the pressure on European leaders and try to split the continent asunder…..
At the heart of the Kremlin’s influence in the region is not cultural affinity, Slavic solidarity or the influence of the Orthodox Church, but something altogether less noble. Corruption connects people, and in the Balkans it connects dangerous people. Most of the Balkan oligarchs have their Russian connections. Russian foreign policy could easily make use of them.
But destabilising the Balkans — if that is indeed what Moscow is trying to do — is a risky project. Russia can offer these societies neither a working economic model, nor an attractive political one. It cannot even pony up much cash. Shared resentment is not the same as shared perspective. Abandoning the construction of the proposed South Stream pipeline reduced Moscow’s influence.
“Russian companies will be big losers from any Russian attempt to destabilise pro-western governments in the Balkans,” argues Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, and a council member of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum. “And as the story of the Ukrainian crisis demonstrates, oligarchs are unreliable allies. They do not have friends, only financial interests, and fears.”