NORDSCI Conference proceedings 2022, Book 2

Political Science

THE MUSLIM FACTOR IN RUSSIA’S FOREIGN POLICY IN THE COUNTRIES OF THE WESTERN BALKANS

PhD Student Iliyan Krumov

ABSTRACT

Guided by geopolitical theory, the Balkans can be seen as a geopolitical node of strategic importance, due to its role as a crossroads between East and West, intertwining cultures and religions. Precisely because of this, the region has always been an area of rivalry between the great powers. This rivalry has accumulated great historical weight in the region, which is being used politically to divide the countries of the Balkans. As a result, today we use the term "Western Balkans" (WB), which should distinguish those countries of the region that are not part of the EU, from those that are full members of the organization. This distinction as well ongoing changes in the global geopolitical balance of power created a vacuum of influence in the region, which the Russian Federation gradually began to fill. Moscow has strengthened its influence in the region and challenged its pro-Western orientation using economic, political, cultural and religious levers.
The WB remained the last part of Europe not yet fully integrated into EU and NATO structures, and Moscow sees the geographical location of the region's countries at the crossroads of a united Europe. Unlike the post-Soviet zone, Russia is currently unable to enter the territory of the countries of the region and distance it from the EU and NATO. That is why Moscow attaches great importance to the situation in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Republic of North Macedonia and Kosovo, seeking to influence events in Belgrade, the Serb-dominated part of Bosnia and Herzegovina - Republika Srpska, Podgorica, Skopje and Pristina. Due to historical and cultural preconditions, these countries are exposed to serious Russian hybrid pressure.
The region is a field of the ongoing “hybrid war” between Russia and the West. Given Moscow's enormous influence over local political, media and business circles, and support from the Russian Orthodox Church, the Kremlin can inflame ethnic and religious tensions, block reforms, support extreme nationalist and anti-Western groups, and take any necessary actions to prevent regional conflicts from being resolved. All this is the result of the historical past, the political and ethnic disputes and economic rivalry, which were and are caused in no small measure by Russia.
Based on the multi-ethnic and multi-religious demographic composition of the population of the above-mentioned countries and that of Russia, Moscow is looking for new ways to penetrate and exert influence in the region. For this countries of the WB, to expand its toolkit of forms, methods and means to achieve its goals. This is possible because Russia has a Muslim republic (Chechnya) within it, whose leader (Ramzan Kadyrov) is highly trusted by Putin.
The connection between the Muslims of Russia and those of the countries of the WB is carried out through Moscow-controlled non-governmental organization - the "European Muslim Forum" (EMF), which work with governmental and non-governmental representatives of the countries of the region.
The article aims to examine the issue qualitatively, and mainly general scientific methods will be used (analysis, synthesis, induction, deduction and historical) and some special ones, such as: economic, political and psychological, in accordance with the topic of the article. For this purpose, publicly available materials will be used, based on which research and critical analysis of the problem at hand will be done - various studies and analyses, primary and secondary data, documents and statistics.
In conclusion, an assessment will be made of Russia's actions and their potential to influence the social and political condition of the countries under consideration.

KEYWORDS

Russia, hybrid war, Western Balkans, Muslims, influence

REFERENCE

NORDSCI Conference proceedings 2022, Book 2,Volume 5, ISSN 2603-4107, ISBN 978-619-7495-30-0, DOI paper 10.32008/NORDSCI2022/B2/V5/16, Pages 183 - 191 pp