Keep an Eye on the Balkans

Nov 19th, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

Keep an Eye on the Balkans

November 19, 2009 | From

Trouble is brewing.

Brad McDonald

The Balkan Penninsula

The Balkan Penninsula

The Balkans is a region we love to forget. Sandwiched between the Adriatic and Black seas, the peninsula is a hodgepodge mix of religions, peoples and cultures. The complexity and obscurity of the Balkans—together with its geographic situation—fosters the perception of the region as a largely irrelevant backwater to Europe, Russia and the Middle East.

History punctures this perception.

Historically, the Balkans is a place where civilizations have converged and clashed. During the Middle Ages, the peninsula fell under the control of the Byzantine Empire. In the 15th century, it became a focal point of the westward-bound Ottoman Turks. In the 19th century, it emerged again as a point of tension between East and West during the Crimean War. When the great European war comes, observed Bismarck, it will “come out of some … foolish thing in the Balkans.” Turns out, he was right. Less than 50 years later, the Balkans were where Germany instigated the First World War. Twenty years after that, it became a key strategic theater for Hitler and the Axis powers. And who can forget the Balkan crises of the 1990s?

It ought to come as no surprise then that 10 years on, the Balkans are emerging once again as the convergence point of Russian and European ambitions.

On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Serbian President Boris Tadic in Berlin, where Mrs. Merkel made it clear that Germany fully supports Serbia’s entry into the European Union. Apparently Germany is satisfied that Serbia has met all the conditions to have its Stabilization and Association Agreement (saa) with the EU unfrozen, and will now go to bat for Belgrade before the rest of the EU. Backed by Europe’s heavyweight, Serbia’s entrance into the EU looks positive.

Also on Monday, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels agreed to proceed with Albania’s request to enter the rapidly evolving 27-member bloc. Within the next few months, Albania will fill out a 4,000-word questionnaire, and the European Commission will decide whether Albania is eligible for candidacy. Together, these two moves by Germany and the EU place Serbia and Albania more firmly in line with Croatia and Macedonia for entrance into the EU. If successful, these four will join Slovenia, Hungry, Romania and Bulgaria as full members of Europe’s rising power bloc.

But Monday’s announcements were not as innocuous as they might appear. These moves, noted Stratfor, “are the clearest indication thus far from the European Union that it is serious about bringing the rest of the Balkans into the European Union as soon as possible” (November 17, emphasis mine throughout). This reality was made clear by EU leaders themselves Monday, when they stated that their decision to support Albania’s request for EU membership “reaffirms that the future of the western Balkans lies in the European Union.”

Not everyone was excited about Monday’s announcement. Resurgent Russia seeks to reassert itself regionally and globally. Under Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin is securing power and influence on its periphery, particularly along its border with Europe. This, essentially, was the reason for Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008. Strategically and historically, the Balkan Peninsula—though it doesn’t fall within Russia’s immediate sphere of influence—demands a watchful eye in Moscow, and, when the opportunity arises, a helping hand.

Which is why Germany and the EU’s decisions this week are noteworthy.

Last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a much-publicized visit to Belgrade, where he offered a €1 billion (us$1.5 billion) loan to the Serbs and openly discussed the possibility of a strategic partnership with Serbia. Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he, according to the Eurasia Daily Monitor, instigated the “Sarajevo government to oppose U.S. and EU-proposed constitutional and economic reforms.” Beyond its political wrangling in the region, Moscow remains a primary economic player in the Balkans, particularly in the energy sector.

Then there’s Russia’s intriguing military designs in Serbia. On October 21, Russia signed a deal with the Serbs to construct a humanitarian center for emergencies in the southeastern city of Nis. While it was billed as a regional hub for emergency relief in southeastern Europe, some experts couldn’t help but notice the political and military nature of the planned facility. With the center’s connection to the highest levels in the Kremlin, analysts at Stratfor reported that “it has the potential to redefine how the world looks at the Balkans and Russia’s involvement in the region” (October 21).

The humanitarian center will be operated by the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations. Rooted in Russia’s foreign military intelligence directorate (also known as the gru), this ministry handles more than just national emergencies. Stratfor reports that “it is involved in the suppression of militant activity in the Caucasus and is in charge of the Russian civil defense troops,” which essentially gives the ministry its own military force, as well as access to the Russian military. When you consider the connections, “it has to be considered that Moscow might lay logistical groundwork [in Serbia] that—intentionally or not—has military value” (ibid.).

Do you wonder what Germany and the EU thought about that? Stratfor continues, “Despite [some] limitations, which make the move largely symbolic for the near future, Moscow is on its way to setting up its first logistical center with potential military uses outside of the former Soviet Union. In addition, the center will be run by a ministry that serves as the wing of the Russian military intelligence unit. If one puts this in the context of the recent visit to Belgrade by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev … it must be concluded that Russia is moving into the Balkans with enthusiasm.”

Remember, that was just last month!

This week, we witnessed Germany and the EU inform Serbia (and Albania) that they’re ready to put them on the track for full EU membership. Interesting, isn’t it? Coincidences of this nature are rare in international relations. It appears the Balkan Peninsula, particularly Serbia, is emerging, once again, as major point of tension between Russia and Europe.

Ultimately, Europe and Russia face two options. One: They can sit down together, debate their strategic interests, and carve up Eastern Europe and the Balkans between them. Hitler and Stalin did that very thing in 1939. Two: They can allow the tension to mount till it erupts into an armed conflict. More than likely, as the Trumpet has forecasted, we will see the first option. Watch for Russia and Germany/Europe to come together and hash out some kind of non-aggression pact akin to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact struck just days before World War ii.

It is also possible that the Kremlin, concerned by the rapidly evolving and strengthening European superstate, could decide it needs to send the EU and the West a shot across the bow. The provocation by the Kremlin of a military or energy crisis in a place like Serbia, or maybe Ukraine, would certainly caution Berlin and Brussels against ignoring the strategic interests of its eastern neighbor. It would also likely bring Germany and Europe to the negotiating table with Russia.

Whatever happens, history demands that we keep an eye on the Balkans. And so does Bible prophecy.

In the meantime, be diligent about keeping an eye on the Balkans!

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