Mutual accusations by Russia and the EU in the Balkans are virtually indistinguishable from their dialogue on any other subject. Even the Western Balkans, where there are ostensibly no grounds for geopolitical rivalry and where the sides complement each other well, are turning into a source of apprehension, miscommunication, and irritation simply due to the overall atmosphere of distrust and the differences in basic approaches to international relations.
A new confrontation between Belarus and Russia over oil revenues and political integration has delivered a serious blow to the two countries’ long-standing alliance. There are talks that even the Belarusian independence is under threat. Faced with a choice between more money and more sovereignty, Minsk will inevitably choose sovereignty. In the long run, this conflict demonstrates the gradual breakdown of Russian-Belarusian “brotherhood.”
Widely regarded as the EU’s most pro-Russian member-state, Hungary is, in fact, cooling to Russia. The two countries’ leaders are focused on old projects instead of looking to the future, while Viktor Orban is growing more critical of Russia both at home and abroad. For Orban, Vladimir Putin is increasingly useless, having been replaced with an even better ally: Donald Trump.
Recent changes in the Belarusian government only affect the socioeconomic sector. The doves from the Foreign Ministry and the hawks from the security services remain untouched, because the reshuffle has little to do with the foreign policy agenda: it’s the economic situation that concerns President Lukashenko the most.
Judging by how they are preparing for it, the Belarusian authorities apparently expect that a threat to stability could arise quite soon. It’s not clear how they envisage the source of the danger: economic problems, an information attack from the East or West, or perhaps they are contemplating carrying out painful reforms. But what is clear is that they have serious concerns about how non-state media would behave if something did happen.
In the past few years, Minsk has started citing Russia as its main threat—but only as a theory intended primarily for external consumption. Now it has been dangled before domestic audiences.
The decision to annul the opposition’s victory in Chi?inau’s mayoral election is among the most confrontational taken by Moldova’s self-avowedly pro-European authorities. But the convergence of internal and external factors that the anti-government protests need to succeed has not yet occurred. The defeat of anti-government forces shortly before decisive parliamentary elections will leave Moldovan society even more apathetic.
Belarus’s newfound role as a peacemaker has helped Minsk gain previously unimaginable freedom of maneuver with both the West and Russia. Minsk will likely continue to defend and uphold its status as a mediator, even if warring parties do not want to negotiate.
The Prague Spring was the nobler and more enduring face of 1968. The Western protests were mostly about middle-class counterculture and were subsumed by a culture of consumerism, while the Eastern European tradition of anti-totalitarian dissent has endured.
The Bulgarian public and the country’s major political parties regret the deterioration of Russo-Bulgarian relations since 2009, when, under Western pressure, Sofia withdrew from almost all of its joint projects with Moscow, including the Belene Nuclear Power Plant and South Stream pipeline. These moves yielded no tangible benefits for Bulgaria and even had some adverse effects. Now, calls for a more pragmatic and self-centered approach to Bulgaria’s relations with Russia are gaining momentum.