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WB Summit 1

  The ratification of the Macedonia name deal between Athens and Skopje on Friday capped a year in which the West renewed its focus on integrating the Western Balkans into the Euro-Atlantic community.   Bulgaria factored into the renewed push to integrate the region into NATO and the EU because Sofia made Western Balkan integration a focal point of its European Council presidency that spanned the first half of 2018. Sofia capped its EU presidency by hosting the EU-Western Balkans summit last May. The summit was a high-level gathering of EU and Western Balkan leaders, the first of its kind in 15 years.   Now that 2018 is complete and the Macedonia name dispute has been settled, one can have a clearer look at the fruits of Bulgaria’s push to

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Foto: Tanjug/Tanja Valić

  The purpose of this analysis is not to follow the chronicle of events, the media coverage and the reflections on President Putin’s visit to Belgrade, but to deliberate on its ‘net present value’ — what is its net impact and net worth as a trend.   For all the hype and grand talk, the practical value is negligible, well below what both presidents Putin and Vučić ascribe to it. There is plenty of symbolism and posturing, but Russia’s real geostrategic agenda is not identical to what Vučić presents as national interests to the Serbian audience.   Belgrade faces a dramatic dilemma – on one side, a possible date of entry into the EU of 2025, which seems increasingly chimeric, yet the only sensible option, as all neighbors are either

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macedonia

  Most of the languages spoken around the world come from someplace else and nobody seems to mind that. English is spoken by many millions in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc., but there has yet been no effort to declare that language American, Canadian, Australian etc. Even the Irish, who have a good reason to be unhappy about the way they were treated by the English historically, have no problem acknowledging that the language they speak is English. It’s the same in Latin America, where the language they use is neither Argentinian nor Colombian or Venezuelan, but what the conquistadores, rapacious as they were, brought with them.  There is also a small prosperous country in Europe called Switzerland that has done very well for itself for centuries recognizing

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Serbia’s Presevo Valley with the city of Presevo in the foreground

  2018 was supposed to be a year in which Serbia and Kosovo made progress in resolving their longstanding territorial dispute. This year, the European Union moderated more dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, or at least tried to, and set a target date of 2025 for Serbia to join the bloc, an accession that hinges on Serbia striking a deal with Kosovo on normalizing relations. Additionally, a major breakthrough occurred in the middle of the year in another longstanding dispute in the region, the Macedonia name dispute, giving hope that similar progress may occur in Serbia-Kosovo relations.   Yet, 2018 is concluding with Pristina imposing and hiking tariffs on imports from Serbia (and from Bosnia) and voting to turn the Kosovo Security Force into a regular army. Meanwhile, Belgrade is

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balkanite

  Although seventeen years have elapsed since NATO’s military intervention, policy makers should not assume that all conflicts in the Western Balkans have been assigned to history. Disputes continue to fester over statehood, territory, and political authority, compounded by the uncertainties of international integration.   The promise of EU and NATO membership has been the key incentive to democratize each state and promote inter-ethnic co-existence. Without that prospect reforms falter and local disputes are revived. In the wake of the EU’s existential crisis and preoccupation with “Brexit,” enlargement is not high on the Union’s agenda. It seems unlikely that any country can be considered for accession for at least a decade. Such receding opportunities for membership will undermine Balkan commitments to the rule of law and can result in democratic reversals.

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istambul-2017

  In a year that has begun with a bloody attack on Europe’s southeastern edge, the SEE region figures to again factor prominently in world events. What transpired in Southeastern Europe in 2016 and what lies ahead in 2017?   2016 was a very violent year in Turkey, where war, terror and mass arrests grabbed the headlines. In 2017, the bloodshed has already begun. More than three dozen New Year’s Eve partygoers were killed just minutes after the year began. Now, Turkish President Recep Erdogan will seek to exploit the chaos in order to transform Turkey’s system of governance and obtain the executive presidency he has long desired.   While blood spilled in Turkey, the year 2016 in the Balkans was characterized by an uneasy peace. Following the Brexit vote

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Photo: @PartiaZmianaPL

  In recent months in almost all countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Russian networks of influence have come under heavy public scrutiny. Moscow’s networks of influence in many ways fit into one and the same pattern, albeit with some national specifics.   The main differences reflect the mix of state and non-state actors recruited by the Russian side through official and semi-official channels, including diplomatic channels, governmental institutions, oligarch-led business networks, media, the Orthodox church, intelligence services — the foreign intelligence service and its his civilian offshoots and the military intelligence agency, GRU — and cultural and information channels. The degree and nature of participation of indigenous sources — political parties, media, individual politicians and companies — also affect the varying natures of Russian networks of influence.   Where

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montenegro_territory_expanded_1830-1944

Several events during the past three weeks related to a failed coup attempt in Montenegro, which went largely underreported and not analyzed, give fresh ground for revisiting the strategy and policy script of Moscow in the Western Balkans, and in particular to Montenegro and Serbia.   The news story covered the arrest of 20 Serbian citizens in Montenegro on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks and an armed assault on the parliament building in Podgorica on the evening after the election.   According to the head of the Montenegrin police Slavko Stojanovic, the investigation traced down a criminal terrorist organization that had all the resources needed to carry out the attacks – a large amount of cash (€ 125,000); the latest communication and surveillance equipment, including satellite photos and sophisticated mobile