Ivan Krastev for FT: Would Russia Try to Destabilise Europe's 'Soft Underbelly'?
A controlled crisis in the Balkans would give bargaining chips to Russian President Vladimir Putin and distract attention away from Ukraine, Ivan Krastev, chairman of Sofia-based NGO Centre for Liberal Strategies, has opined.
“Could the Balkans be the next playground for Vladimir Putin and his politics of destabilisation?”, Krastev asked in an article published by the Financial Times on Wednesday.
According to Krastev, Putin“could withdraw from eastern Ukraine and try to repair its relations with the west,” or “ it could try instead to regain the initiative, increasing the pressure on European leaders and try to split” Europe.
Noting that German Channcellor Angela Merkel had recently spoken about such possibility, Krastev said “it is worth taking seriously.”
According to the author, if Russia wants to increase the pressure on Europe, the Balkans - "the EU’s backyard (and) the underbelly of Brussels’ diplomacy" are a “likely hotspot”.
“If businesses with large deposits and Russian connections were suddenly to pull their money out, the result could be widespread insolvency, and with it civil strife. Pro-western governments would teeter,” according to Krastev.
The high level of dependence of the Balkan economies on Russian oil and gas, corruption in the region, as well as the Russian connections of “most of the Balkan oligarchs”, which the Kremlin could easily exploit, make a destabilization effort a possible scenario.
However, Krastev said, a destabilization of the Balkans – “if that is indeed what Moscow is trying to do - is a risky project”, as Russian companies will be big losers from any such attempt.
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