BELGRADE, Serbia — For some European international locations watching Russia’s brutal warfare in Ukraine, there are fears that they may very well be next.
Western officers say probably the most susceptible may very well be those that aren’t members of NATO or the European Union, and thus alone and unprotected — together with Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova and Russia’s neighbor Georgia, each of them previously a part of the Soviet Union — together with the Balkan states of Bosnia and Kosovo.
However analysts warn that even NATO members may very well be in danger, resembling Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on Russia’s doorstep, in addition to Montenegro, both from Moscow’s direct navy intervention or makes an attempt at political destabilization.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “has mentioned proper from the beginning that this isn’t solely about Ukraine,” mentioned Michal Baranowski, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw workplace.
“He informed us what he desires to do when he was itemizing his calls for, which included the change of the federal government in Kyiv, however he was additionally speaking concerning the japanese flank of NATO and the remainder of Japanese Europe,” Baranowski informed The Related Press in an interview.
As Ukraine places up stiff resistance to the two-week-old Russian assault, Baranowski mentioned “it is now probably not clear how he’ll perform his different targets.”
However the Biden administration is aware of deep considerations in Japanese and Central Europe that the warfare in Ukraine could also be only a prelude to broader assaults on former Warsaw Pact members in attempting to revive Moscow’s regional dominance.
EU overseas coverage chief Josep Borrell has mentioned that “Russia is not going to stop in Ukraine.”
“We are concerned for neighbors Moldova, Georgia, and the Western Balkans,” he mentioned. “We have to keep an eye on Western Balks, particularly Bosnia, which could face destabilization by Russia.”
A take a look at the regional scenario:
Like its neighbor Ukraine, the ex-Soviet republic of Moldova has a separatist insurgency in its east within the disputed territory often known as Trans-Dniester, the place 1,500 Russian troops are stationed. Though Moldova is impartial militarily and has no plans to hitch NATO, it formally utilized for EU membership when the Russian invasion started in a fast bid to bolster its ties with the West.
The nation of two.6 million individuals is without doubt one of the poorest international locations in Europe, and it is internet hosting tens of hundreds of Ukrainians who fled the warfare. The invasion has prompted heightened considerations in Moldova not solely over the humanitarian disaster, but additionally due to fears that Putin would possibly attempt to hyperlink the separatists east of the Dniester River with Ukraine through the latter’s strategic port of Odesa.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Moldova final week and pledged: “We stand with Moldova and every other nation that could be threatened in the identical method.”
Moldovan President Maia Sandu mentioned there was no indication but the Russian forces in Trans-Dniester had modified their posture, however careworn that the priority was there.
“In this region now there is no possibility for us to feel safe,” Sandu mentioned.
Battle erupted between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 when Georgian authorities troops tried unsuccessfully to regain management over the Moscow-backed breakaway province of South Ossetia. Russia routed the Georgian navy in 5 days of combating and a whole lot had been killed. Afterward, Russia acknowledged South Ossetia and one other separatist area, Abkhazia, as impartial states and bolstered its navy presence there.
The federal government of West-leaning Georgia condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however hasn’t proven the identical solidarity that Kyiv displayed through the Georgia-Russia warfare. A whole lot of Georgian volunteers had been stopped by authorities from becoming a member of a global brigade combating Russia in Ukraine.
Georgia’s seemingly impartial stance has turned out hundreds in nightly rallies in central Tbilisi in solidarity with Ukraine. Final week, Georgia’s authorities utilized for EU membership simply days after declaring it would not speed up its software as fears of a Russian invasion grew.
Recollections of Soviet rule are nonetheless recent in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. For the reason that invasion of Ukraine, NATO has moved shortly to spice up its troop presence in its japanese flank allies, whereas Washington has pledged further assist.
To residents of the Baltic nations — significantly these sufficiently old to have lived beneath Soviet management — the tensions previous to the Feb. 24 invasion recalled the mass deportations and oppression. The three international locations had been annexed by Josef Stalin throughout World Battle II and solely regained their independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
They joined NATO in 2004, placing themselves beneath the navy safety of the U.S. and its Western allies. They are saying it’s crucial that NATO present resolve not simply in phrases however with boots on the bottom.
“Russia always measures the military might but also the will of countries to fight,” mentioned Janis Garisons, state secretary at Latvia’s Protection Ministry. “Once they see a weakness, they will exploit that weakness.”
Blinken, who visited Latvian capital Riga on Monday, mentioned the Baltics have “formed a democratic wall that now stands against the tide of autocracy” that Russia is pushing in Europe.
It might be onerous for Russian troops to achieve the Balkans with out partaking NATO forces stationed in all of the neighboring international locations. However Moscow may destabilize the area, because it already does, with the assistance of Serbia, its ally which it has been arming with tanks, refined air protection techniques and warplanes.
The Kremlin has all the time thought of the area its sphere of affect though it was by no means a part of the Soviet bloc. A devastating civil warfare within the Nineteen Nineties left not less than 120,000 useless and thousands and thousands homeless. Serbia, the most important state within the Western Balkans, is mostly blamed for beginning the warfare by attempting to forestall the breakup of Serb-led Yugoslavia with brutal drive — a transfer resembling Moscow’s present effort to tug Ukraine again into its orbit by navy drive.
There are fears within the West that the pro-Moscow Serbian management, which has refused to hitch worldwide sanctions in opposition to Russia, may attempt to use the eye targeted on Ukraine to additional destabilize its neighbors, significantly Bosnia, the place minority Serbs have been threatening to separate their territories from the joint federation to hitch Serbia. Serbian officers have repeatedly denied they’re meddling within the neighboring states, however have given tacit assist to the secessionist strikes of the Bosnian Serbs and their chief, Milorad Dodik.
The Russian Embassy in Bosnian capital Sarajevo warned final 12 months that ought to Bosnia take steps in the direction of becoming a member of NATO, “our country will have to react to this hostile act.” Becoming a member of NATO will drive Bosnia to take a aspect within the “military-political confrontation,” it mentioned.
EU peacekeepers in Bosnia have introduced the deployment of about 500 further troops to the nation, citing “the deterioration of the security internationally (which) has the potential to spread instability.”
Kosovo, which cut up from Serbia 1999 after a NATO air warfare in opposition to Serbian troops, has requested the U.S. to ascertain a everlasting navy base within the nation and velocity up its integration into NATO after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Accelerating Kosovo’s membership in NATO and having a permanent base of American forces is an immediate need to guarantee peace, security and stability in the Western Balkans,” Kosovo Protection Minister Armend Mehaj mentioned on Fb.
Serbia mentioned the transfer is unacceptable.
Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence is acknowledged by greater than 100 international locations, primarily Western nations, however not by Russia or Serbia.
Montenegro, a former ally that turned its again on Russia to hitch NATO in 2017, has imposed sanctions on Moscow over the warfare in Ukraine and is seen as next in line within the Western Balkans to hitch the EU. The nation is split between these favoring pro-Western insurance policies and the pro-Serbian and pro-Russian camps, elevating tensions.
Russia has repeatedly warned Montenegro’s pro-Western President Milo Djukanovic, who led the small Adriatic state into NATO, that the transfer was illegitimate and with out the consent of all Montenegrins.
Russia could hope to ultimately enhance its ties with Montenegro in a bid to strengthen its presence within the Mediterranean.
Stephen McGrath in Bucharest, Romania, Matthew Lee in Washington, Sabina Niksic in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, contributed to this report.
Comply with AP’s protection of the warfare in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine