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Russia in the Balkans: Great Power Politics and Local Response

The present paper looks into the current policies of Russia in the Balkans. It argues that after a short period of withdrawal from the region, Moscow is currently making efforts to regain its position and, in some sense, it has been a quite successful come-back. Russia has enhanced its economic presence, political clout, and symbolic influence in some of the countries of the region. However, Russia’s present return to the Balkans is of a quite different nature than its past engagement there as Moscow has now moved to a more assertive foreign policy. The paper also looks at the response of the Balkans countries to Moscow’s policies. It argues that the Balkans countries have adopted a more pragmatic approach to relations with Russia and as a result, Russia and these countries are in the process of finding a new, workable modus operandi for their interaction.

Russia in the Balkans Great Power Politics and Local Response
Serbia’s President Vučić (2nd L) and Russia’s President Putin (5th R) during a meeting on April 26, 2019. ALEXEI NIKOLSKY / TASS via Getty Images
 

Introduction1

This paper sets out to analyze Russia’s position in the Balkans. The departure points for the paper are several problematic factors. Firstly, it has often been argued that Russia’s identity as a great power shapes its assertive foreign policy.2 While this might be true in Russia’s relations with West, this type of account discards all the cases of collaborative Russian-Western interaction. Secondly, most analyses of Russian foreign policy tend to discard geographic variance in Russian foreign policy. One of the most obvious examples could be the striking contrast between Russia’s active opposition to perceived Western expansion in the Black Sea region, as opposed to its indifference to Chinese penetration into Central Asia.3 Driven on this problematique, the paper will seek to explore the meaning of the Balkan region for Russia’s identity. Thirdly, Russian foreign policy is often analyzed by scholars working on Russian foreign policy in various regions; less attention has been paid to the response of these countries to Russian policies. Such a narrow perspective often misses the important input that the countries of the region provide to shaping the outcome of regional politics.

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