Paul Stronski and Annie Himes
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Russia’s Game in the Balkans

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Abstract

As Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his renewed campaign for global influence, Russia increasingly is asserting itself in the Balkans, hoping to slow down the region's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions and tarnish the image of Western-style democracy in Southeastern Europe. Russia also seeks to exacerbate political and social fissures in several Balkan countries, including providing financial and public relations support for far-right groups. Moscow’s willingness and ability to aggravate and prolong political instability in select Balkan countries appears geared toward undermining, or at least delaying, their prospects for integration into the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As xenophobia and populism upend political systems in European countries with far stronger institutions, the Kremlin’s cultivation of far-right groups and authoritarian-style politicians in the Balkans is worrying. Russia’s efforts will fuel democratic backsliding and political polarization—both of which complicate Balkan states’ EU and NATO prospects.