The European Commission Vice-President and top diplomat Josep Borrell has started a trip in three Western Balkan countries amidst increasing security concerns in the region following the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Borrell visited North Macedonia on Monday, and will be hosted in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the next two days.
“North Macedonia firmly condemned Russian aggression of Ukraine, fully aligning to EU sanctions. I thanked President Pendarovski for his personal engagement, including in countering disinformation,” Borrell tweeted after meeting with the Macedonian president. He reiterated the EU’s support for a democratic and secure Western Balkans region.
Pendarovski highlighted his country’s alignment with the EU foreign and security policy, in face of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and beyond that, and reiterated the need for Bulgaria to lift its veto for North Macedonia’s first EU accession talks to start.
Borrell is expected to also assure Albania of the EU’s firm support for its security and EU prospects.
In contrast, Bosnia and Herzegovina is suffering under continuous threats and attempts by the Republika Srpska to dissolve the country, and Borrell will have to deal with tougher issues during his visit.
In alignment with Serbia’s policy of refusing to align with the EU foreign and security policy, Serbs in Bosnia also have vetoed attempts to impose sanctions on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.
Serbia and Republika Sprska – one of the two entities constituting Bosnia and Herzegovina – are Russia’s strongest allies in Europe and the only ones still refusing to impose sanctions since 2014 when Russia took over Crimea. No Serb leader in both countries has ever condemned Russia’s aggression in their public statements. Meanwhile, Belgrade is the only European city to hold rallies in support of Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A second rally took place on Sunday.
The EU doubled its military presence in Bosnia after the invasion of Ukraine, but it has so far chosen to be soft on Serbia and Republika Sprska.
A group of members of the European Parliament recently urged the European Commission to quit its leniency on Serbia, and push the country to choose between the European Union and Russia.
A number of politicians in the Western Balkans have called on the EU to be on alert over Russia’s attempts to spread the conflict into the region through its proxies, Serbia and Republika Srpska.