European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell expressed the European Union’s concerns over Russia’s influence and intervention in the Western Balkans during a visit to Albania.
In a press conference with Prime Minister Edi Rama in Tirana on Tuesday, Borrell also highlighted the “increasing Russian disinformation and propaganda” in the region.
Borrell is touring North Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) this week amidst concerns that Russia’s influence in the region, particularly in Serbia and BiH’s Republika Srpska, may cause clashes in the Western Balkans.
The two leaders discussed Albania’s support for Ukraine through its work at the UN Security Council, the country’s EU accession process, and sanctions against Russia. The top EU diplomat praised the Albanian government for their work in aligning their foreign and security policy with the EU.
Rama urged the EU member states to unblock Albania and North Macedonia’s start of their first EU accession talks by convincing Bulgaria to lift the veto on its neighbor.
Speaking of energy and foodstuff price hikes, which have sparked protests in the country prompting Rama to allege that protesters are aiding Putin’s agenda in the region, the prime minister warned Borrell to include the Western Balkans in possible financial support schemes for union members.
“In case the EU has any plans to mitigate for [Ukraine] war consequences, it should not exclude the Western Balkans as they did with vaccine distribution,” he stated.
Borrell agreed on consequences of the Russian aggression for European economies but excluded sanctions as the reason for this, arguing that the interconnectedness of world economies and Russia using this as a weapon were the reasons for price hikes.
He stressed that Albania has met all conditions to sit in the first intergovernmental talks on EU accession, which he hoped will happen until June.
Borrell will visit Sarajevo tomorrow, his last destination in this regional tour.