WESTERN BALKANS BETWEEN INTEGRATION AND FRAGMENTATION
Western Balkan countries seek alliance with the West via European and/or Euro Atlantic integration, while the EU’s citizens increasingly declare to be Eurosceptic. While the Balkans is seeking a home in Europe, we should think the other way around. Meaning, not only about the Balkans trying to find its place in Europe, but also about Europe trying to provide that place for the Balkans. The Balkans has returned to the focus as a quite interesting geopolitical region. Western Balkans is and must remain a part of Europe. Accordingly, regional cooperation within the Western Balkan region acts as a precondition for the European and Euro Atlantic integration to which almost all Western Balkan countries strive. Are the conflict potentials increasing and the interests of the great powers colliding in the Balkans? Can Western Europe be at home in the Balkans? Is the EU leaving the Balkans open to the influence of other global actors? In case of fragmentation of Europe, i.e. the EU, will the Balkans be, in the words of Winston Churchill, "the soft belly of Europe"?
NATO ENLARGEMENT: ENHANCING EURO-ATLANTIC SECURITY OR INCITING CONFRONTATION?
The Alliance is committed to the Open Door Policy, which has been a pillar of NATO since its inception. Russia considers NATO enlargement a primary threat and strongly opposes Montenegro's membership as it inevitably affects its interests in this strategically important region. US presidential elections in 2016, which resulted in the election of Donald Trump as the president, may shift US Foreign Policy. Trump, who often criticized NATO as obsolete, has vowed to reset relations with Russia. Whatever happens between them, Russia, who views expansion as a violation of promises made by Western leaders at the end of the Cold War, will continue to take counter-measures in order to prevent it. The main question now is how the Montenegro NATO membership will reflect on its relation with Russia and how that relation will affect relations in the region? Will it promote cooperation and enhance Euro-Atlantic security or incite new confrontations?
US COMMITMENT TO EUROPEAN SECURITY – THE ERA OF UNCERTAINTY?
The US president’s questions about NATO’s relevance, demands for greater burden-sharing, “America First” foreign policy philosophy, and openness to better ties with Moscow induced questioning across Europe. Elections this year in France and Germany could bring nationalist right wing parties to power and thus threaten the EU. A doubt if the European security, as the core of the transatlantic relationship, will stay a pillar between NATO and US emerges due to the EU existential crisis. What is the future of America’s long-term role and how should Europe respond to potential shifts? Will NATO remain highly relevant both for the US and Europe, as a cornerstone of transatlantic security? Will the US remain committed to a continued cooperation and partnership with the EU? In this era of uncertainties one seems certain: there will be no lack of challenges in the years ahead – challenges which will affect both sides of the Atlantic.
RUSSIAN INFLUENCE IN SEE - REGAINING POWER?
Southeast Europe is yet again on the map of Russia’s interest sphere. It is set to regain power over the region and change some rules of play. In order to achieve that, Russia is acting on two fronts. First, which has been present in the past 10 years is economic influence through investments (mostly real-estate) and second which is increasingly intensified lately is political influence. In the blizzard of international changes, from Brexit to possible foreign policy shifts in the USA, Montenegro has found itself windswept. Furthermore, its NATO membership met great disapproval from the Russian side. This disapproval escalated on October 16 (Parliamentarian election in Montenegro) when Russian nationals, connected with the Russian security services, planed and tried to orchestrate coupe - claims which Russian officials are strongly rejecting. But are clear sign of stronger and more present political influence. Can we expect more aggressive Russian policy in this part of Europe and what will be its long term outcome? Will potential EU crisis force European leaders to focus on their own issues and thus potentially leave ‘vacuum’ in this region, ready for other actors to profit there?
SHAKING THE WEB OF ALLIANCES: TURKEY, RUSSIA AND THE WEST
Historic enmity between Turkey and Russia surfaced in November 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that had been attacking Turkmen Syrian rebels near the Syrian-Turkish border. Much to Ankara’s disapproval, Russia is helping defend the Assad regime. But the tides are shifting. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to restore friendly relations with Moscow – sending a letter of apology to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the downing of the warplane, and visiting Russia in August 2016. These two countries took a big step toward normalizing relations, with their leaders announcing an acceleration in trade and energy ties at a time when both countries have troubled economies and strains with the West. Will the fact that Turkey got tired of waiting for EU membership and closer cooperation with Russia lead to the alignment of its policy with Russia and Iran over Syria? Can this really be an indicator of a "major shift" in constellation of power in the Middle East? Does this reflect the decline in US influence in the region? Can Russia really offer Turkey an alternative to the NATO security partnership?
MEDIA IN THE POST-TRUTH ERA: RETHINKING DEMOCRACY AND SECURITY
We are - as a society - inundated and overwhelmed with a flood of information from a wide array of sources, but these sources of information serve the interests of individuals that own them. As political dramas and tensions have unfolded in democratic Europe, Putin’s Russia has made brilliant use of old and new forms of propaganda to exploit political divisions. Europe has been grappling with Russian interference most intensely since Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Russia seeks to disrupt unity in the European Union and the West. It aims to destabilize democracies to portray this form of government as weak and unable to secure the safety of its citizens. The alleged Russian campaign to influence U.S. elections was simply the latest in the country's efforts to erode faith in the democratic process. If this is current state in established democracies, what can we expect in democracies in transition? Did social media also contribute to the failure of democratic consolidation and to what extent? What are, if any, the mechanisms to control the spread of disinformation?