From “The Great Serbia” to “The Great Albania”: How Moscow Destabilizes the Balkans

Russian analysts are once again predicting “a big war” in the Balkans. Early this month the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISR), as part of the president’s administration, (previously – as part of foreign intelligence) published an article called “How the great Albania could explode small Europe”.  Its author Igor Pshenichnikov paints quite an apocalyptic picture, according to which the relinquishing by Kosovo’s authorities of control of its border with Albania will lead to bloody destruction of federal borders across all Balkan countries, writes Kseniya Kirillova.

By Pshenichnikov’s thought, relinquishing of control – that’s a “new yet a very courageous step by Kosovars toward unification with Albania for the sake of building “the great Albania”.

Realization of this idea creates a threat of war across the entire Balkan peninsula. And the Balkans, as well-known, is a “powder keg” of Europe” – prophecies the author.

Dodik

This clearly isn’t the first time when the experts from the RISR and other analysts close to Kremlin predict (or possibly provoke) a war on Balkan Peninsula. 

However, the last time the threat of war came not from Kosovo or Albania but instead from a person who is close to RISR himself – Milorad Dodik, (pictured right), the leader of one part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbian republic; and it wasn’t tied to the idea of “the great Albania” but “the great Serbia”. Specifically, at the beginning of 2017 Dodik announced that it is better for Bosnian serbs to create a unified state with Serbia and serbian territories in Kosovo.

Before then Dodik already pointed out that Bosnia had no future as a state and that its constituent parts – the Serb republic and the Muslim-Croat federation – should divorce peacefully. Bosnian Serbs, in his opinion, should form a single state with Serbia and Serb municipalities in North Kosovo, which would later be joined by Montenegro. Thus, he announced plans to hold a referendum on the secession of the Serb republic in the first half of 2017. However, Montenegro’s joining NATO that followed afterwards apparently destroyed ambitious plans by Serbian republic leader.

By the way, Milorad Dodik’s ties to Kremlin are quite easily traceable even by open sources.  For example, back in July 2015, there was a report on the above-mentioned RISR website which said that its director Leonid Reshetnikov was awarded The Order of Petrović Njegoš "for merits and notable personal contribution to the development of scientific and cultural cooperation between Russia and the Serb republic, which is of huge importance to the establishment of the Serb republic.

Also awarded were Putin's aide Igor Shchegolev "for exceptional merits in the post-war development of the Serb republic,"Orthodox" businessman Konstanin Malofeyev (Ukrainians know him as the financier of the war in Donbas) for his "activity and achievements of huge importance to the establishment of the Serbian republic.” They received their awards from the hands of the republic himself, Milorad Dodik.

At about the same time a number of analysts have pointed out that Serbs vs. Albanians standoff would be especially advantageous to Moscow, since it will create the illusion of a christian-muslim conflict, where Albanians fighting against Serbs could be immediately labeled “ISIS terrorists”.  According to their opinion such propaganda product would obviously cause Russian population to have more sympathy than the war in Ukraine or even Syria.

From the beginning of last year Russian mass media actively began informational preparedness of this legend, reporting about radical islamists with combat experience in Iraq and Syria flooding Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some articles in Russian media directly predicted an imminent war in the Balkans, preemptively accusing radical islamist terrorists for it (among which, according to specific experts, Russia has many of its own people). Kremlin’s TV channels also announced terror attacks in the Balkans.

However, as already been mentioned, Montenegro’s entry into NATO dealt an irreparable blow to the idea of “the great Serbia”. Influx of Syrian fighters into the peninsula has not been observed either, and the regional experts noted directly that traditional conflicts between Serbs and Albanians are of an entirely different nature than today’s problems with radical islam. However, Moscow apparently didn’t give up on the idea of destabilization of the Balkans, deciding this time to come from another angle and accused Albanians directly of inciting a war.

If Albania and Kosovo unite, the entire architecture of the Balkans will collapse. Separatist tendencies among the Albanian population of Macedonia are quite strong… Albanians live in a row of southern regions of Serbia, and separatist slogans are heard down there more and more… Apprehensions exist about conflicts developing in southern regions of Montenegro… Thus, if unification of Albania and Kosovo does not happen, Macedonian, Serbian and Montenegro’s Albanians will not just stand by. They will begin to seek their own place in “the Great Albania”. With their own territories of course. If anyone thinks that Serbians will look at such development of this situation calmly, they’re seriously mistaken… And then the new Balkan war is inevitable. And this war, like ripples in water, will spread further – to the entire Europe. With refugee flows, terror attacks, illegal weapon movements.

Igor Pshenichnikov

At the same time, at the end of his article the author concludes that ever aforementioned process could represent an attack on Moscow and an attempt to “open a third, after Syria and Donbass, ‘front’ of a proxy-war against Russia,” thereby clearly hinting that Kremlin intends to intervene into Balkans processes in the same manner it already operates in Ukraine and Syria.

Meanwhile a former ambassador of Montenegro to NATO, professor of practical diplomacy and foreign relations at Boston University Vesko Garchevich has explained, in an interview to our website, that while the idea of “the Great Albania” does exist, at its core it’s a mistake to ascribe it to all Albanian leaders, and even more so – to inflame multi-ethnic strife on this topic.

The idea of "Great Albania" really exists and there are people and politicians both in Albania and Kosovo who dream this dream. They believe that the eventual unification of all Albanians (including the two states) is a question of time. That being said, I'd like to draw your attention to other similar great states projects that exist in the region. One of them is the idea of Greater Serbia which implies unification of all Serbs living in the Western Balkans including those who are now in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Republic of Srpska) and Kosovo; another one is the project of Greater Croatia. It's very difficult to prove how much Albanian leaders support the idea of Great Albania. Some of them are very supportive whereas the top-ranking leaders of the two states cautiously address this issue” – he explained.

Also, the former ambassador points out: publications such as the above-mentioned RISR article only undermine already fragile peace in the Balkans.

It's risky and politically unacceptable to attribute this idea to someone though you don't have solid evidence to prove your assertion and accusation. Good relations between Serbs and Albanians and Serbs and Croats are critical for the long-term stability in this part of Europe. It would be more useful and politically opportune to promote dialog and conciliation among those nations not to drive wedges among them in order to provoke tensions and instability” – he concluded.

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Kseniya Kirillova

Kseniya Kirillova

Kseniya Kirillova is a Russian journalist focussing on analysing Russian society, political processes in modern Russia, and the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict. She writes for Radio Liberty and other outlets and is an expert of the Ukrainian Centre for Army, Сonversion, and Disarmament studies.

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