‘Western Balkans Belong in Europe’: EU Leaders Pledge Support to Kosovo, Serbia and Moldova

Written by | Tuesday, May 10th, 2022

European leaders have voiced their support for Serbia and Kosovo in their aspirations to join the European Union and pledged additional military support to Moldova, to cope with the spillover from Russia’s aggression in Ukraine
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti then later Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met (4 May) with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin. Standing alongside Kurti, the German leader stressed that “the Western Balkans belong in Europe.” But Scholz also added that “for Serbia, it is important that it continues its path of reforms and that includes on media freedom and fighting organized crime.” Beyond the reforms each country needed to undertake, according to Scholz, progress on the issue of rapprochement between the two was paramount, calling it “enormously important” to their membership aspirations. “All open questions must be clarified in this dialogue,” Scholz said, referring to issues between the neighbors.
Berlin is trying to unite the fractious Western Balkans in the face of Russian influence that Kosovo’s Albin Kurti described as a threat to peace and security in the region. Largely ethnic Albanian, Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 1999 before declaring independence in 2008. Though most EU member states recognize Kosovo’s independence, Serbia does not and still claims it as its own territory. Kurti said that in the face of Moscow’s actions, Kosovo saw no alternative but to join the EU and NATO to secure its future. Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and its suspected exploitation of unresolved conflicts in the Balkans to foster anti-European sentiment have in part motivated Berlin’s push to bring countries in the region into the EU. The invasion has put Serbia, for instance, in a difficult position. While it has condemned Russia’s invasion, its historical religious, ethnic and political ties with Moscow have kept it from signing on to sanctions.
Meanwhile, the 27-nation bloc is looking into how it can provide more military support to Moldova, squeezed between Romania and Ukraine, which is widely seen as a possible next victim of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. European Council President Charles Michel said on a visit to Chisinau (4 May) that the EU’s help would include more assistance with building up the country’s forces. Just like Ukraine, Moldova is a former Soviet republic with ambitions to join the EU. Vladimir Putin’s Russia, however, has plans to restore as much as possible from the former Soviet Union. The Moldovan authorities are sensitive to signs of growing tensions in Transnistria, an unrecognized Moscow-backed sliver of land bordering southwestern Ukraine. Transnistria is officially Moldovan territory but has been controlled by pro-Russian forces since 1990. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of trying to drag Moldova into war.

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