Not in Our Backyard I: Why NATO’s Balkan Presence Upsets Russia


As the tensions between the Russian Federation and the United States in Ukraine and Syria receive the most media attention, the two states are waging a shadow war of political and economic influence and cloak and dagger activities in the Balkans. Part One of this two-part Leksika investigation examines the historical motives for why Russia wishes to limit Western influence in the region. 


Background

On 12 June 1999, to the complete surprise of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), paratroopers from the Russian Federation’s Air-landing Forces (Vozdushno-desantnye voyska Rossii; VDV) arrived at Pristina International Airport located in Kosovo, a disputed province of Serbia, then part of the now-defunct Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The deployment followed a 78-day bombing campaign launched by the Alliance in an effort to pressure then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to ease harsh counterinsurgency activities in Kosovo. The blue berets arrived to the open arms of the local Serbian populace as NATO prepared to move forward with its plan to divide Kosovo into five security zones – four under the command of European states and one controlled by the United States. The Alliance meant for the Pristina airport to serve as the headquarters for its Kosovo Force (KFOR). It was a plan that Russia vehemently opposed.

Russia wanted a role in the post-bombing peacekeeping process, though NATO rebuffed its demands to control its own troops, fearing that an independent Russian military presence in Kosovo would lead to a partitioning of the province into a Serbian north – where Russia wanted its command sector – and an Albanian south. Russia complained that NATO rejected its requests to take part in the peacekeeping process and lied about the timetables for the deployment of Allied forces to Kosovo. The result was the presence of 200 Russian troops in Pristina, Kosovo’s provincial capital.

Though Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called the deployment “an unfortunate mistake,” leading to speculation that Russia’s military was conducting its own foreign policy (further cemented when Foreign Minister Ivanov insisted that the troops were disobeying orders from an unidentified authority to leave), the political capital that then-President Boris Yel’tsin could gain by ordering such an incursion was undeniable. Sergey Prikhodko, the president’s aide, confirmed the decision to move on the Pristina airport was that of the Russian leader. The act would relieve President Yel’tsin from parliamentary criticism of the capitulatory Kosovo peace deal.

Reports soon emerged that this would not be the limit of the Russian intervention. A Russian official, General Leonid Ivashev claimed that Russia had thousands of VDV troopers on standby at number of airbases, ready to deploy in two hours. Other reports told of Russia marshalling close to 100 additional troops and 60 armored vehicles for deployment into Kosovo. Many of the troops came from a peacekeeping force Russia already had stationed in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, which provided truckloads of supplies and communications equipment to the forces stationed at the Pristina airport. (Most NATO personnel actually knew the Russian officers from their time in Bosnia.) President Yel’tsin’s office also leaked information indicating that Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces (Raketnyye Voyska Strategicheskogo Naznacheniya; RVSN) had focused its missiles on states involved in the Kosovo intervention. The president even stated on Russian state television that continued NATO intervention in Kosovo would lead to a broader European war. Both sides began negotiations to diffuse the situation with General Adrian Feer of Britain’s 5th Airborne Regiment communicating directly with Russian troops at the airport while Russian and NATO military officials met in Macedonia to discuss a possible Russian command zone in Kosovo.

However, the actions of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), U.S. Army General Wesley K. Clark, almost scuttled the negotiations. General Clark ordered British Lieutenant General Sir Michael Jackson to lead a force of 500 British and French paratroopers, along with tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs), to confront the VDV at Pristina International Airport. Russian troops set up a checkpoint on the outskirts of the airport to prevent the arrival of British troops. General Jackson rebuffed General Clark’s order, stating that he would not “start World War III” for the SACEUR. (General Jackson conferred with his own superior, General Sir Charles Guthrie, in a process known as “red-carding,” in which an officer can ask his national commander for permission to disobey the orders of a superior officer in the NATO chain of command.)  An American Naval officer and leader of NATO’s southern command, Admiral James Ellis, similarly rejected General Clark’s orders to land helicopters onto the airport runways, hindering the arrival of Russian Ilyushin transport planes.

Eventually, cooler heads prevailed. The best NATO could do to obstruct Russia’s delivery of its airborne forces to Kosovo was to convince Romania and Hungary to deny their airspace to Russian military airlifters. In July, both sides reached an agreement allowing for the stationing of Russian peacekeepers in Kosovo. Russia would be part of KFOR, but its 2,000 troops would take orders from an independent command. The administration of then-U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton encouraged General Clark to retire early as SACEUR.

The Pristina airport incident highlighted not only the geopolitical differences between NATO and Russia’s approaches to the Balkan region but also the potential for a kinetic exchange between the two nuclear powers in the post-Cold War era. These factors deserve further scrutiny as NATO and Russia continue to fight over the Balkans (this time using political and economic soft power and shadowy intelligence activities) and the world remains fraught with potential for hot war between Russia and NATO along other fault lines, namely in Ukraine, Syria, and the Baltic states.

Before examining the current Russo-Atlantic competition in the Balkans, however, it is important to first establish a historical context; to understand why Russia wishes to expel NATO from the Balkans and to examine the actions by NATO in the region in the immediate post-Cold War era that Russia viewed as destabilizing. Russia still invokes these events in its propaganda statements and uses their legacy to gain political support among certain Balkan populations

Fractured

Russia’s deep-rooted Orthodox Christian faith naturally drew it to the Balkans (especially Serbia), and the tsars first set their sights on the region in the late 1800s as the Ottoman Empire fell into decline. Russian agents aided the Balkan nations in their efforts to escape the sultan’s yoke. At the same time, fearing increased Russian influence in the region, the Western powers actually sought to prop up the Sick Man of Europe as a bulwark against the Third Rome. This would be the first but hardly the last time that Russia would clash with Western Europe in the Balkans. To counter Russia’s pan-Slavic ambitions, the European powers at the 1879 Congress of Berlin divided the Balkans into states reminiscent of those that exist today. The division only exacerbated ethnic tensions in the region, leading to two Balkan Wars and the First World War.

After the Great War, the victorious powers created a united Balkan state called Yugoslavia. In World War II, the country came under Nazi occupation with some regions annexed by the Axis while Croatia became a satrapy of the Third Reich. The Yugoslavs turned to the Soviet Union and their divided country’s own communist party to liberate them. During this period, the Serbs became the ethnic group in the region most targeted by Nazi and collaborator forces. In 1945, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed, consisting of six republics – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia – and two autonomous provinces within Serbia. The state, under the leadership of Croat and anti-Nazi Partisan fighter Josip Broz Tito, developed relations with both the West and the U.S.S.R.

As the Soviet Union collapsed around it, Yugoslavia fell into economic turmoil in the early 1990s brought about in part by debt owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank for loans taken out since the 1980s. The crisis led to the IMF taking over Yugoslavia’s Central Bank, an act that effectively neutered the federal government and led to the rise of separatist movements throughout the country. The secessionists soon received foreign support with a newly-reunified Germany providing arms and training to insurrectionists in Slovenia and Croatia. Germany was quick to recognize both states when they declared independence in 1991. American involvement in the region closely followed that of Germany with the U.S. stationing troops in Macedonia in 1992.

The first major post-Cold War Balkan conflict broke out in Croatia. The Croatian separatist leader, a Holocaust denier named Franjo Tudjman, began a movement to repair the stained legacy of the Ustase, Nazi collaborators who established an Axis-backed Croatian puppet state, and called for Croatia to be rid of Jews. A more immediate target for his movement, however, were the Krajina Serbs who wished to remain part of Yugoslavia. Between 1992 and 1995, Croatian forces drove more than half-a-million Serbs from their homes using terror tactics such as rape. The government killed another 200,000 Serbs through executions, and artillery bombardments.

Even bloodier fighting was to break out in Bosnia-Herzegovina. On 29 February-1 March 1992, Muslims (called Bosniaks) and Croats in Bosnia voted for independence in a referendum. Serbs in the republic boycotted the referendum. While many Bosniaks sought to escape the Serbian yoke, there was a bizarre mixture of Nazi-inspired ultra-nationalism and Islamism driving elements of their independence movement. A major figure in the drive for Bosniak independence was Alija Izetbegovic, a member of the Young Muslims (Mladi Muslimani) in World War II. Inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist organization just getting off the ground at the time, Izetbegovic and his confederates sought to establish an Islamic state in the Balkans. They would then spread this “Islamistan,” as they called it, to North Africa and the Middle East through jihad. During the war, the Young Muslims collaborated with the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS). In August 1992, Izetbegovic formed Katibat al-Mujahidin, an organization for veterans of the Soviet-Afghan War that had come to wage jihad in Bosnia. Bahraini al-Qa‘ida operative Ali Hamad claimed that Bosnia would offer “state protection” to jihadists, and the government reportedly offered passports to foreign Islamic fighters. The mujahidin flooded into the region to fight the Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, and some training camps reportedly remain in Bosnia.

In March 1992, Izetbegovic refused to sign the Carrington-Cutileiro agreement, a partition plan for Bosnia. (The Bosnian Serb leadership refused to sign Carrington-Cutileiro before eventually accepting it.) As a result, ethnic tensions resumed. On 6 April, after the EU recognized Bosnia’s independence, Serb forces under the command of Radovan Karadzic laid siege to the city of Sarajevo. They used rockets, mortars, and snipers to target primarily Muslims, but also other Bosnian Serbs and Croats. The barrage lasted 44 months. Bosnian Serbs soon took control of over 70 percent of the country. They hoped to carve out a Serb republic. In May, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Serbia for supporting Serb militias in Bosnia and Croatia.

At the same time, nationalist Serb and Croat militias carried out ethnic cleansings. One of the largest massacres of the war took place in the town of Prijedor when Bosnian Serbs ordered all non-Serbs to vacate the town in April 1992. Over 50,000 non-Serbs, forced to wear white armbands and mark their doors with white flags or sheets, fled the town under the pressure of Serb nationalists. The Serbs put over 25,000 Bosniaks and Croats in what were effectively concentration camps. Three thousand people died.

In January 1993, war broke out between the Muslims and the Croats, but the U.S. resolved this situation by May, creating Muslim-Croat federation. Meanwhile, the advance of the Bosnian Serb Army (Vojska Republike Srpske; VRS) was initially halted by the April 1993 deployment of the U.N. Protection Force (UNPROFOR). The peacekeeping detachment protected six “safe zones” including Srebrenica, Goradze, and Zepa, though the towns remained isolated from humanitarian aid convoys. In March 1995, Bosnian Serb President Karadzic cut off the remaining aid convoys to Srebrenica and Zepa. On 9 July, he called for a conquest of Sarajevo itself. The war cry was part of an ambitious operation: The VRS would besiege the Bosniak enclaves of Srebrenica, Zepa, and Goradze, all under U.N. protection. After taking another enclave, Bihac, with the help of Croatian Serb forces, the Bosnian Serbs would march on Sarajevo itself.

The 20,000-strong UNPROFOR did not wish to choose sides in the conflict, but Washington wanted it to move to counteract the Serbian advance. That year, the VRS’s General Ratko Mladic led an assault on Srebrenica, an enclave that served as the temporary home for over 60,000 Muslim refugees. Both President Karadzic and General Mladic would face war crimes indictments for what transpired next.

Despite being under U.N. protection, the Serbian assault on the town went virtually unchallenged by the peacekeepers. Serb forces executed over 7,079 Muslims while tens of thousands of other refugees fled to the neighboring town of Tuzla. The event only strengthened the resolve of the U.S. and its NATO allies. They vowed to provide cover for Goradze, Bihac, Sarajevo, and Tuzla. (Serb forces had taken Zepa by this time.) The U.S. strategy moved to attempting to convince the Bosnian Serbs that not achieving a diplomatic settlement would come with grievous consequences. It wanted President Milosevic to cut off economic aid, namely military support, to the Bosnian Serbs. The Yugoslav leader refused despite receiving offers of direct negotiations with the U.S. and an end to economic sanctions.

The U.S. proposed the withdrawal of the UNPROFOR to put pressure on the Serbs as it did not want to deploy its own troops to Bosnia except to enforce a peace agreement. The plan was to follow the withdrawal of UNPROFOR with NATO airstrikes until President Milosevic agreed to cease support for the VRS. The removal of UNPROFOR would also allow the U.S. to bypass an arms embargo that prohibited the Bosniaks from receiving the necessary weapons to defend themselves. Once Yugoslavia came to the negotiating table, the American plan called for the division of Bosnia into Serb and Muslim-Croat sections.

As the airstrikes began, a simultaneous Bosnian-Croat offensive took Serbian territorial gains down from 70 percent to 50 percent. The bombing campaign followed the Serb shelling of Sarajevo. In August, the Serbs came to the negotiating table with the Dayton Accords successfully settled by 21 November. The Dayton Accords effectively created two government structures: the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many of 60,000 U.S. and NATO troops that came in to enforce the peace were UNPROFOR peacekeepers folded into the new Implementation Force (IFOR).

Also present in IFOR were Russian military personnel. Despite undergoing dramatic economic and political turmoil at the time, Moscow was by no means a passive player in the Bosnian conflict. Russia and the U.S. clashed over the role of the latter in Bosnia. Russia felt the U.S. showed too much support for the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government. In negotiations in 1994, the Bosnian government requested 58 percent of the former Yugoslav republic’s territory as opposed to the 51 percent offered by the U.S., Russia, and the EU. Russia suspected that the 58 percent demand by the Bosnian government came with U.S. backing. In 1995, President Yel’tsin criticized the NATO airstrikes against Serb forces in Bosnia. Though Russia did not provide arms or personnel to the VRS during the war, a number of its citizens partook in combat actions as volunteers. The exact amount of fighters that participated is unknown, but some reports indicate the numbers may have been as high as 500 or 600. According to the VRS, 37 Russian mercenaries died during the war. Three died on 12 April 1993 during fighting near the city of Visegrad. On 5 November 2011, the Republika Srpska unveiled a monument to these fighters.

To best understand the experience of the Russian volunteer fighter in Bosnia one should examine the career of the now-infamous Igor Girkin (also known as Igor Strelkov), well known for his involvement in the Russian-supported insurrection in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk republics. Girkin served in both the Soviet and Russian armies and in Russia’s military intelligence agency, the Main Intelligence Directorate (Glavnoye razvedyvatel'noye upravleniye; GRU). In addition to Bosnia and Ukraine, he has past combat experience in Transnistria, the Russian-supported separatist enclave in Moldova, and Chechnya. Girkin is a staunch Russian nationalist and monarchist. He reveres Mikhail Drozdovskiy, a leader of the anti-Bolshevik White Guard, and often dresses in clothing from that period. (Russian Communist and Cossack volunteers would join monarchists to fight in Bosnia.) When Strelkov (whose adopted name roughly translates to “Shooter”) became a well-known figure for his involvement in the Donbas, Bosnian media posted what was supposedly a picture of him in Visegrad, where Bosnian Serbs massacred 3,000 Muslims in the spring of 1992. Strelkov claims the photograph is of his friend, Aleksandr “Ace” Mukharev.

Nevertheless, Strelkov did fight for the VRS from November 1992 to April 1993 according to his diary. He served in the 2nd Russian Volunteer Detachment led by Mikhail Trofimov. This group fought alongside the 2nd Podrinjska and 2nd Majevicka Brigades of the VRS as well as the Osvetnici (“Avengers”) led by war criminal Milan Lukic. This group participated in the rape, torture, and murder of Muslim men and women from Visegrad. Russian volunteers reportedly took part in some of these atrocities. Authorities in Visegrad today refuse to condemn the incident as a genocide. Strelkov, fighting directly with his friend Mukharev’s Tsar’s Wolves fighting group, attempted to distance himself from Bosnian Serb atrocities. His diary describes instances of Bosnian Serb military incompetence and contains accounts of VRS forces razing and looting villages.

Russia’s clash with the West did not end with the negotiation of the Dayton Accords or the withdrawal of volunteer fighters. Almost 20 years later, Russia would oppose a U.N. resolution labelling the Srebrenica massacre a genocide. Serbia and the Republika Srpska also opposed the measure, and Russia likely did so to appease its supporters in those areas. (It was reportedly Serbia that told Russia to block the resolution calling Srebrenica a genocide, something a number of international tribunals and organizations have already declared.) Russia’s refusal to classify Srebrenica as a genocide represents its attempts to get closer to Serbia and further undermine Western influence in the Balkans. It also appeals to Serbian nationalism. Still, Serbia adopted a resolution in 2010 calling the event a “great crime.” It even arrested some officials involved in the massacre.

As will be explained later in Part II of this series, Serbia is the lynchpin to Russia maintaining its influence in the Balkans. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that much of Russia’s resentment toward the Western presence in the Balkans concerns derives from action taken against Serbia by NATO in 1999.

Bombs Over Belgrade  

In 1999, Serbian activities in its province of Kosovo attracted the attention of U.S. officials such as Madeleine Albright, the hawkish secretary of state, and Richard Holbrooke, one of the key architects behind the Dayton Accords. In Kosovo, President Milosevic’s forces carried out a harsh campaign against a dissident group that U.S. officials feared could lead to ethnic cleansings like those that took place in Bosnia. These officials called for an early intervention from the international community as well as the U.S. and threats to respond with military force if Yugoslavia did not accept the terms of negotiation. 

Peace talks lasted in Paris and Rambouillet until March 1999. They concerned Kosovo, the majority-Albanian region of Yugoslavia (specifically Serbia) that declared its independence. The declaration came after a campaign by the Milosevic government to expand Serbian influence in the province, a process that alienated many of the ethnic Albanians from high society. When calls for independence became violent, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) became the face of the Kosovar separatist movement. Certain American officials described the KLA as a terrorist organization (it even engaged in organ trafficking) even as it received support from the Central Intelligence Agency and the British government in the form of training and arms. The Albanian community, Islamists, and the drug trade provided the KLA with most of its funding. It targeted not only Serbs, oftentimes destroying properties such as homes and churches, but also Albanians that disagreed with its positions. In a 1998 meeting, Serbian officials told their U.S. counterparts that in Northern Albania, fighters affiliated with then-al-Qa‘ida leader Usama bin Ladin provided the KLA with weapons and training. NATO officials claimed that Yugoslav forces were engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in their fight against the KLA. (The irony was that the eventual bombing would uproot over 200,000 Serbians from their homes.) Some observers pointed out that both the Serbs and Albanians committed atrocities and that Western governments and media only focused on those of the former.

Peace talks eventually fell apart because of the Rambouillet Accords, which President Milosevic did not accept. Under the accords, NATO troops would occupy all of Yugoslavia, be free from arrest and prosecution by Yugoslav authorities, and given control over the country’s telecommunications and transportation infrastructure. Naturally, the Yugoslav leader refused to sign the agreement. NATO’s response was a 78-day bombing campaign that began on 24 March 1999. The mission – codenamed Operation ALLIED FORCE – would be the first time that NATO used force without U.N. approval. Nineteen of the Alliance’s member states participated in the intervention in some way. NATO used 1,000 aircraft, launched primarily from bases in Germany and Italy, in conjunction with naval forces. The aircraft flew over 38,000 combat missions. 

The bombing proved devastating for Yugoslavia with over a thousand NATO aircraft launching over 2,300 airstrikes and dropping about 14,000 bombs at 990 targets. Alliance munitions included depleted uranium rounds and cluster bombs with the unexploded remnants of the latter still posing a threat to the civilian populace. Structures destroyed included 40,000 homes, 300 schools, 20 hospitals, 90 historical and cultural monuments and a number of libraries. On 7 May, NATO aircraft even struck the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, the F.R.Y.’s capital. Though the Alliance said the strike was a mistake, one should note that both China and Russia opposed military intervention in Kosovo at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC). The U.S. blamed the CIA for issuing faulty maps after the attack resulted in the death of three Chinese citizens, including two journalists, and the injury of 20 others. The Alliance also targeted Radio Television Serbia, killing 16 media personnel and used munitions against petrochemical plants, which caused toxic chemicals to seep into the Danube River. Bombs also struck an open-air marketplace and a passenger train.

In the aftermath of the campaign, 2,000 civilians, among them 88 children, were dead with thousands of more injured. NATO claimed that the death and damage was the result of battlefield accidents. (In the Alliance’s defense, its aircraft had to fly above the optimal altitude to avoid being targeted by Serbia’s air defense apparatus, but this approach only made airstrikes less accurate.) The air campaign also produced severe economic damage. Serbian government estimates place the number of deaths at 2,500 with 12,500 more injured. Human Rights Watch (HRW) maintains that 500 civilians died. The bombing also destroyed 470 kilometers of road and 600 kilometers of railway. The Serbian armed forces lost 631 personnel with 28 missing. Other estimates claim that over a thousand Yugoslav military and police forces died in the bombing campaign. Some bombs even landed on the Albanian refugees that the Alliance airstrikes were meant to defend. 

The intervention ended on 9 June with Yugoslavia signing the Military Technical Agreement and agreeing to withdraw its troops from Kosovo. On 10 June, the UNSC passed resolution 1244, establishing the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). As a result, over 36,000 U.N. peacekeepers arrived in the country. By 15 June, Serbia was supposed to have withdrawn all of its police and military forces from Kosovo.

The Hague Tribunal charged Milosevic and six top Serbian officials with war crimes. Milosevic passed away in 2006. The International Tribunal reported the deaths of only 2,000 people – Serbs, Roma (“Gypsies”), and Kosovars – proving that no genocide took place. However, the Albanian mafia and other criminal gangs preceded to cleanse Kosovo of Serbs and Roma following the bombing campaign. The U.S. continued to aid the KLA as it resumed its campaign of burning homes, churches, and businesses. Many KLA officials made it to the highest echelons of the post-war Kosovo government, and the country remains a hub of human and narcotics trafficking and other criminal enterprises. It also hosts a military base, Camp Bondsteel, constructed by Haliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR). The Serbian prime minister at the time, Vojislav Kostunica, vehemently opposed the base’s construction. One such nefarious individual supported by the U.S., Agim Ceku, became prime minister of Kosovo. 

The U.S. eventually recognized Kosovo as independent. Russia and a number of other states refused to do so.

In 2006, Yugoslavia finally dissolved, though many of the new, corrupt governments established in the wake of its collapse remain quite unpopular and there is some degree of what one can call “Yugonostalgia” spreading throughout the region with many longing for the days when the region was united. In 2008, 1,000 protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade with some making it into the compound, setting fires, and tearing down the American flag. The U.S. claimed that Serbia allowed the largely non-violent demonstration to spiral out of control.

In March 2017, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic stated that Serbia would seek “respectful” relations with NATO without seeking membership in the Alliance. The Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated region of Bosnia-Herzegovina, will also refuse membership in NATO according to Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik. Anti-NATO protests draw tens of thousands of participants, and many Serbians still honor the late Milosevic as a hero who stood up to NATO. Many also call for NATO to be punished for committing war crimes.

The conflict cemented an anti-NATO and pro-Russian sentiment in Serbia. Viktor Zavarin, Russia’s envoy to NATO from 1997 to 2002, said that the bombing ushered in an era of the “chaosization of international law and its arbitrary manipulation,” a sentiment felt by many officials in Moscow.

The U.S.’s disregard for international law in the Kosovo conflict and its support for anti-Russian ultra-nationalist and Islamist forces in the 1990s form the basis for Russia’s resentment of its activities in the Balkans. However, at the time, Russia could only serve as so much of a bulwark against Western activity in the region. The West could simply ignore any diplomatic initiatives proposed by Russia, and, in the case of Bosnia, military aid to its allies came only in the form of volunteer fighters. Russia cooperated militarily with the West in the Bosnia peacekeeping process only to confront the West militarily in Kosovo four years later. Even then, it could not prevent the partition of Serbia.  

Powerless in the 1990s, Russia underwent new economic and political growth in the early 21st century under the leadership of President Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin. Though President Putin did not prioritize Russian involvement in the Balkans early in his rule, the expansion of NATO and the EU into the region along with perceived attempts by the West to carry out regime change in Russia’s near abroad brought the Kremlin back to the Balkans. This time, Russia’s approach to the West in the region would be more confrontational and its activities more subversive.

Concluded in Part II

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons