“NATO’s leaders will gather at the Brussels Summit in July to strengthen their posture against Russia’s threats to its neighbors as well as Moscow’s more subtle subversion of democracies throughout the West. It is vital that the alliance declare a bold, new initiative at the summit to protect the most vulnerable target in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sights ― the still unsettled Balkans.

The unfinished Western strategy for the region is to bring the fractious Balkan countries into the stabilization and modernization process of joining the European Union and NATO. Thus far, the picture is mixed: Slovenia and Croatia are both EU and NATO members, while Albania and Montenegro are NATO members but only EU aspirants. Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Serbia are not members of either institution.

Russia’s aim in the Balkans is more modest and its tactics more subtle than the brutal invasion of Ukraine. Putin doesn’t need to seize any territory. He can win simply by stalling further accession of these states into Western institutions.

To achieve this, the Kremlin is sewing confusion over the facts, rising doubts about Western intentions and resolve, and cultivating loyalty through money, weapons and high visibility appeals to Orthodox Slav kinship and patronage. With the region still deeply polarized, Russia’s game plan has heightened the prospects for interethnic violence, an outcome that would play right into Putin’s game plan.”by  and Edward P. Joseph (Defense News)