The issue of Kosovo’s contested statehood has kept Brussels busy for more than ten years now. Advancing on this front is more pressing than ever in the new geopolitical context forged by the Russian war in Ukraine. What is at stake is not only the resolution of a sensitive bilateral dispute that has become noxious for the whole region, but also the EU’s quest for strategic autonomy, which can only be achieved through greater convergence on such issues.
In an extraordinary about-turn, the invasion of Ukraine has forced Germany to abandon its “culture of restraint” and to increase its defense spending dramatically. Berlin has even abandoned its principles of not exporting arms to countries at war and has announced that it is sending thousands of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Kyiv, to be followed by tanks and rocket launchers.
The Balkan region is historically and geographically an intersection of different migration routes and civilizations. Its attractiveness to a number of foreign states seeking to pursue their interests makes the region susceptible to influence both from the East and the West. At present, all Balkan countries are either EU members or seeking to join the EU, while some are also NATO members; they seem to be firmly anchored ideologically in the camp of pro-Western, liberal democracies. That does not prevent them from maintaining active economic, political and cultural relations with states such as Russia, China, Turkey and the Gulf States. These non-Western actors are often considered to be an option to fill in certain “gaps” or to complement cooperation with Western partners when it comes to attracting foreign capital, increasing exports, securing infrastructure funding, etc. At the same time, this cooperation is seen as undermining certain core values required in the process of EU integration, such as democracy, rule of law, human rights and good governance.
The war in Ukraine has resulted in the Russian government ramping up its instrumentalization and manipulation of history, with the Great Patriotic War in particular being used intensively as a main source of legitimization. In the West, Russian aggression has prompted a revival of already overused historical analogies. Those who call for talks with Moscow and a rapid settlement are fearful of an escalation with tragic consequences, as in 1914, when leaders “sleepwalked” their way into the First World War. And those who are alarmed by a return to a world of authoritarian expansionist powers insist on the need to counter an aggressor described as genocidal; comparing Russia’s intentions to those of Hitler, they seek to avoid a repetition Munich-style appeasement of the 1930s and to bring about the fall of the regime. Analogies can also be made with the course and consequences of the Korean War (1950–1953), which, like the current war, had a Eurasian dimension: The Korean War raised fears that the USSR would take advantage of the war to attack Europe, while the war in Ukraine immediately raised fears of a Chinese offensive, in particular against Taiwan.
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