The Slovenia Times

Pahor warns Western Balkans must not fall under Russian sphere of influence


Bled - President Borut Pahor reiterated his appeal for the speedy integration of Western Balkans countries in the EU as he argued in an address to the Bled Strategic Forum that they should not be allowed to fall under Russia's sphere of influence should new bloc divisions occur.

"The longer the EU enlargement process, the more these countries are prone to Russian aspirations - or at least to Russia's growing influence," he said in his keynote address as the event opened on Monday.

Labelling this a "central geopolitical issue," he said it was conceivable that the new bloc division, which he said was a growing prospect after the war in Ukraine, might run "right across the middle of the Western Balkans - and this is cause for concern."

He said that in this respect, Bosnia and Herzegovina was of key importance.

"Should the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina escalate, this might pose a serious security risk for the country, for the region and for the whole of Europe. Now is the time to understand and resolve this problem."

Pahor recalled Slovenia's proposal that Bosnia and Herzegovina be granted candidate status this year, and if possible, without conditions.

But he noted that Serbia will play a decisive role if it comes to the division of Europe in the Western Balkans given its "traditional security, political, economic, cultural and emotional attachment to Russia."

Serbia would probably be willing to risk a break with Russia "only if given firm assurances about its place in the European Union," of which the country is not completely sure.

"In my view, we must do everything in our power so that our actions convince Serbia to strengthen its political will for European perspective. Getting Serbia on board with the Western European option would in turn greatly contribute to resolving problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to progress in the Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue," he said.

The EU must however insist that Serbian official policy rejects the idea of the so-called Serbian World, that Serbia rejects separatist tendencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that Belgrade successfully pursues and concludes the dialogue with Prishtina.

"The EU has a major role to play on issues related to the ramifications of the war in Ukraine and to the situation in the Western Balkans. In my opinion, the EU should make a much greater effort to draw the Western Balkans into its zone of influence and eventually into its membership."

While acknowledging that there is concern about the political costs of this course of events, he said experience showed that that "the price of indecision can be much, much higher and much sadder."

There is still time to act, but consensus must be reached in Brussels as soon as possible that enlargement to the Western Balkans has become a key geopolitical issue.


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