Press "Enter" to skip to content

Understanding Balkan Geopolitics

Hits: 457

In his latest interview for Serbia’s National Public Service Radio, Srdja Trifkovic discusses the geopolitical significance of the Balkan Peninsula, through the centuries, in the context of today’s complex strategic equation in Southeastern Europe.

Q: The Balkan Peninsula is an area where empires, cultures and religions have clashed for centuries. For starters, can we define the geostrategic significance of the Balkans, or at least to outline some of its permanent features?

ST: Those permanent features are primarily geographic. The peninsula is the land bridge between Central Europe and the Middle East. At the same time, it is the point of encounter and conflict between various cultures, civilizations and religions. This had been a constant feature of the region even before the division of the Roman Empire [into its eastern and western domains] in the fourth century AD, which was an event of meta-historical importance.

A key feature of the Balkans is that for the greatest part of their history the peoples inhabiting the peninsula have not been the masters of their destinies. The matrix of geopolitical vectors: the Byzantines’ attempt to protect the border on the Danube from the incursions of Goths, Bulgars, Avars, Slavs, and others in the early medieval era, which ended in the late medieval times the fall of Constantinople, Bulgaria and Serbia to the Ottomans. This was followed by the creation of the Hungarian line of defense against the Turks. After the fall of Hungary [in 1526], it was immediately followed by the Habsburgs’ establishment of the Military Frontier in the western heartland of the peninsula in the 16th century.

This has always been an area of chronic conflict and instability. In the modern times it was manifested—as we can say now, 99 years later—in the failed Yugoslav experiment. Yugoslavia was the heartland of what is today known as the “Western Balkans,” in reality the core of the region as a whole. Had unification come about half a century earlier, when Cavour unified Italy in 1859, or when Bismarck unified Germany in 1871, the prognosis could have been more favorable and the outcome less catastrophic. Unfortunately, in the final stages of the Great War, unification based on the linguistic and allegedly racial-ethnic kinship was obsolete. Divergent national identities had been well established. The potential for new conflicts, new destruction and bloodshed, remains undiminished. It is far greater than the potential for cooperation and a happy joint path to some “European” future . . . [ST segment continues at 8 minutes 30 seconds]

A defining moment came with the Crimean War 1853-1856, when Great Britain and France joined the Ottomans against Russia. This was a major development: Russia had been Britain’s ally against Napoleon and had the potential to become Europe’s hegemon after the Congress of Vienna. She had lagged behind [the West European powers]. This war was chiefly a British project. The entire second half of the 19th century was marked by the so-called great game between Britain and Russia, primarily in Central Asia, where the primary British concern was to prevent Russia’s access to the Indian Ocean, potentially through Persia or Baluchistan. Russia’s access to the Mediterranean through the Bosphorus was London’s secondary obsession. Its primary concern was to deny Russia access to a warm ocean. Even if the Russians had succeeded in their long-term design to demolish the four minarets and return the cross to the dome of the Hagia Sophia, they would still be imprisoned in a continental sea controlled by the British at its western entry, Gibraltar, and at its southeastern passage, at Suez.

This “great game” was partially resolved in the aftermath of the Russo-Turkish war in 1878. Tzar Alexander II, following Serbia’s underwhelming performance in its own war against the Turks, decided to create a Greater Bulgaria. The peace of San Stefano [between Russia and Turkey, March 1878] envisaged the creation of a huge Bulgarian state, from the walls of Constantinople, across the shores of Thrace which are now part of Greece, to the entire Macedonia, and even the newly liberated parts of Serbia in Leskovac, Vranje and Pirot. This was overturned at the Congress of Berlin [13 June-13 July 1878]. From that moment on, Serbia’s Prince Milan, later King, adopts an austrophile position, having been disappointed in Russia. With the May coup in 1903, however [when the last king of the Obrenovic dynasty was deposed and killed], Serbia was not explicitly “pro-Russian,” but her policy started leaning to St. Petersburg. Even though Serbia was left high and dry [by Russia] during the Annexation Crisis in 1908, she was eager to join the Balkan coalition put together under the Russian patronage in 1912 which resulted in the successful war against the Turks in the First Balkan War.

The alliance fell apart in the second Balkan war, catastrophic for Bulgaria, and a year later came the July crisis of 1914. Here I need to stress that the key actor in that crisis was Germany, not Austria-Hungary. The Dual Monarchy would not have been able to present Serbia with an unacceptable ultimatum, had she not received a cheque blanche from the Wilhelmine Germany. The Germans wanted to use the Austro-Serbian clash as the cause for a preventive war against Russia. They were greatly concerned that Russia, after the war with Japan and the 1905 revolution, embarked on the path of intense modernization under Chancellor Pyotr Stolypin. Her subsequent growth rates were comparable to those of China after Deng Xiaopig. The Balkan dispute between Austria and Serbia was very niftily converted by the Berlin decision-makers into an all-European war, in which Germany would first destroy France in six weeks—in accordance with the Schlieffen Plan—and then turn to the slower-mobilizing Russia. All along, the Balkans were an object of the games played by the outsiders,

Let me recall some pertinent statements by the greatest statesman of the 19th century, Otto von Bismarck, political genius par excellence. At the time of the Congress of Berlin he warned that Germany should not tie her lively frigate to the old Habsburg barge He also said that the whole of the Balkans was not worth the bones of a healthy Pommern Grenadier. Some years after the Kaiser removed him from chancellorship in 1890, he said that he did not know when the new war would come about, but he knew where: “some damn stupidity in the Balkans.” . . . [ST segment continues at 31 minutes 45 seconds]

Q: Russia’s influence in the Balkans appears to be more strongly felt that before, including the projection of her soft power manifested in the presence of Russian-sponsored media and NGOs. How significant is this?

ST: After three trips to Moscow, St. Petersburg and the Crimea this year, and twelve visits to Russia over the past three years, I can say with some certainty that Moscow does not have a coherent strategy in the Balkan region. There are many divergent policies at play. There’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is staffed by many people appointed during the tenure of Andrei Kozyrev in the 1990’s, who now occupy senior positions. They are reluctant to make any proactive moves which would further aggravate—as they see it—Russia’s relations with her “Western partners.” On the other side, you have a circle close to the defense minister Sergey Shoygu and Dmitry Rogozin, who advocate a more active role. You also have the oligarchs, who don’t give a hoot for the Serbs as Russia’s “Slavic, Orthodox brothers” but only care where’s the loot. In any event, they feel more at home in Greenwich Village, or London’s Chelsea, than in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

And of course we have Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, who is not a superior chess master who plans his five or six moves ahead. He has allowed the “Orange Revolution” to hit him in Ukraine under Yushchenko in 2004, and—a decade later—the sequel, with far more significant geostrategic consequences, at the Maidan. The return of the Crimea, and the possibility of some form of autonomy for the Donbass, is scant comfort for the loss of the strategic depth which Ukraine had provided to Russia’s vulnerable southwestern flank . . .

The potential for further bloody conflicts in the Balkans still remains. I greatly fear that nothing has qualitatively changed in the region, that all of the salient features of the conflict in the 1990’s are still present.


Originally published on 2017-12-11

Source: Chronicles Magazine

Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!

Donate to Support Us

We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.

READ MORE!
The Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty
Fifty-one years ago today Israeli fighter aircraft and torpedo boats tried to sink the USS Liberty, a surveillance ship stationed off the coast of Egypt during Israel’s attack on Egypt and Syria. Israel was unable to sink the USS Liberty, but did manage to kill or wound almost the entire crew. Thirty-four Americans were killed and 174 were wounded. There are two explanations for the attack. As Washington has blocked every attempt at an investigation, we do not know which one is correct. Perhaps both are the reasons for the attack. One is that Israel, which was committing a war crime by ...
READ MORE
Remembering the NATO Led War on Yugoslavia: Kosovo “Freedom Fighters” Financed by Organized Crime
Twelve years ago, March 24th, 1999, marks the commencement of NATO’s aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia. The bombings which lasted for almost three months, were followed by the military invasion (under a bogus UN mandate) and illegal occupation of the province of Kosovo.In the course of the last week, the so-called international community, backed by the UN Security Council has called for the bombing of Libya, a sovereign country, allegedly to protect the lives of civilians under the logo of “Responsibility to Protect”.The covert operations, the military strategies applied in Libya not to mention the process of media disinformation bears a canny ...
READ MORE
Kosovo History – First Part
In the thousand year long-history of Serbs, Kosovo and Metohia were for many centuries the state center and chief religious stronghold, the heartland of their culture and springwell of its historical traditions. For a people who lived longer under foreign rule than in their own state, Kosovo and Metohia are the foundations on which national and state identity were preserved in times of tribulation and founded in times of freedom.The Serbian national ideology which emerged out of Kosovo’s tribulations and Kosovo’s suffering (wherein the 1389 St. Vitus Day Battle in Kosovo Polje occupies the central place), are the pillars of ...
READ MORE
USA & Islamists in Balkans in Coalition Again
SERBIAN SETTLEMENT IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA BEGAN IN THE SEVENTH CENTURY A.D.Note: Croats settled much later and in insignificant numbers. That is why they are not mentioned much in the literature.THE EMPEROR CONSTANTINE VII PORPHYROGENITUS (reigned 913-957) REFERRED TO BOSNIA AS PART OF *THE LAND OF THE SERBS*.BOSNIA-HERCEGOVINA… THE LARGEST SINGLE NATIONAL ELEMENT IS THE ORTHODOX SERBS, followed by Moslem Slavs (few of whom can trace their origin to Turkish colonists) and Catholic Croats……The republics of Croatia and Slovenia are predominantly Roman Catholic, while the republics of Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and BOSNIA-HERCEGOVINA (!!!) are predominantly ORTHODOXIn the ’90-ies Alija Izetbegovic, former SS ...
READ MORE
The US and China Can Avoid a Collision Course – If the US Gives Up its Empire
The problem is America’s global hegemony comes with insistence on maintaining military and economic dominance right in China’s backyard. To avoid a violent militaristic clash with China, or another cold war rivalry, the United States should pursue a simple solution: give up its empire. Americans fear that China’s rapid economic growth will slowly translate into a more expansive and assertive foreign policy that will inevitably result in a war with the US. Harvard Professor Graham Allison has found: “in 12 of 16 cases in the past 500 years when a rising power challenged a ruling power, the outcome was war.” Chicago University scholar John ...
READ MORE
27 Years since the Massacre of Serbian Civilians in Bosnia
In Kukavica village near Rogatica (nowadays Bosnia and Herzegovina), today was marked 27 years since crimes against Serbian civilians committed by Bosnian Muslims, members of the so-called Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina on August 27, 1992.In an attack on a column of Serbian civilians, involving about 1,000 elderly people, women and children on tractors and passenger vehicles, Bosnian Muslim extremists killed 26 and injured 80 Serbs.Rogatica Mayor Milorad Jagodic called this a monstrous crime as among the victims are a child of 11 and 82 years old man.“This was a column of innocent people who were looking for refuge and ...
READ MORE
The Cold War is Over
Like most Englishmen, I grew up with a natural dislike of “abroad” and a belief in the inferiority of all foreign things. I think it took me five visits to France before I began to regret leaving that lovely country rather than to rejoice at my return to our safe and familiar island. It often strikes me as quite funny that I spent so much of my life as a foreign correspondent, a profession for which I am so unfitted. When I went to live in Moscow in 1990, I felt that I had somehow betrayed my native soil. (I was ...
READ MORE
Dusseldorf Axe Attacker: “Fatmir H.”, Muslim Albanian from Kosovo
If a German had shown up in London in 1944 and opened fire, would police have ruled out any connection to Nazism? Fatmir H. comes from a hotbed of jihad activity. The Islamic State and al-Qaeda have issued repeated calls for Muslims in West to murder civilians. We have seen the perpetrators of numerous jihad terror attacks declared mentally ill, often absurdly. In light of all that, the possibility that this was a jihad terror attack cannot be ruled out. “‘He jumped out of the train and started to strike at people with an AXE’: Horror in Dusseldorf as Kosovan attacker ...
READ MORE
Post-Maidan Ukrainian Anti-Semitism: Tragic “Blowback” Resulting from U.S. Interventionist Foreign Policy?
The foreign policy of the United States in the post-Cold War era, driven by a doctrine of Exceptionalism and managed by a neoconservative strategy, has been responsible for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Nato’s war on Libya in 2011 and the covert war waged in Syria using Islamist proxies. It was also at the root of its involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Ukraine in 2014. But the geopolitical advantage intended in each enterprise has brought the proverbial blowback.The results are plain to see. Libya is now certifiably a failed state. Accompanying the destruction of ...
READ MORE
Are We Headed for a Turkish-American Breakup?
Turkish-US relations have faced many serious stress tests over the past 50 years. The catalyst in overcoming those crises was making strategic considerations, which always underlined the dependence of the two NATO allies on each other, regardless of their differences.These strategic considerations appear to be weakening now, as the regional priorities of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey and the United States no longer overlap, and in many cases conflict with each other.That is certainly the case in Syria, where the two countries are at odds over Washington’s alliance with Syrian Kurdish groups against the Islamic State (IS). Ankara insists these groups are ...
READ MORE
The Great Leap Backward: America’s Illegal Wars on the World
Can we face it in this election season? America is a weapons factory, the White House a war room, and the president the manager of the neoliberal conspiracy to recolonize the planet. It exports war and mass poverty. On the economic front, usurious neoliberalism; on the military front, illegal wars. These are the trenches of America’s battle for world domination in the 21st century. If not stopped, it will be a short century. Since 1945, America’s Manifest Destiny, posing as the Free World’s Crusade against the Red Menace, has claimed 20 to 30 million lives worldwide and bombed one-third of the earth’s ...
READ MORE
“Humanitarian Intervention” and the „New World Order“: A Violation of the International Law
The Concept & The Origin Of The TermThe term „humanitarian intervention“ is the American political neologism (newly coined word) to morally cover a new format of  Washington's global imperialism at the time of the post-Cold War's „New World Order“ in which the USA feel very comfortable to play a role of a global policeman. Theoretically, according to the Western conception of „humanitarian intervention“, one or more states (the USA and the NATO) have a moral (quasi) obligation and/or right to intervene into the internal affairs of other state, if this state (according to the self-evaluation by Washington) does not respect ...
READ MORE
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
It is hardly a coincidence that the Declaration of Independence, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s On the Natural Variety of Mankind were all published within a year of one another, for each supports a necessary aspect of a larger, integrated project. Not only was the rationale for seizing political power (provided by the Declaration) supported by Smith’s popular text (which justified rule by the wealthy business class). Because this wealth and power was contingent on slavery, and territories seized by conquest, Blumenbach’s theory that the “Caucasian race” (a designation he coined, by the way) was the supreme race was ...
READ MORE
Parents of Albanian ISIS ‘Martyrs’ Abandoned to Grief
Selim Demolli gripped the table with his hands, and his lip trembled with anger as he spoke. The previous day he had talked to an imam about his son, who was killed three years ago in Syria. He asked the imam for a religious explanation about what happens to a dead person whose parents have not forgiven him. The answer was hard to take. “He is not a shahid [martyr]. Those who did not get a blessing from their father cannot rest in peace. The imam even told me so. They are called ‘cursed’,” Demolli said. Demolli’s son Burim was killed in October ...
READ MORE
Kosovo Serbs ‘Terrified’ by Proposed Creation of a “Greater Albania”
Fresh calls for a Greater Albania, incorporating the southern Serbian province of Kosovo, have led to an angry backlash from politicians in Belgrade. Sputnik Radio’s Mark Hirst talked to Marko Djuric, Director of the Government Office for Kosovo and Metohija. Such a move by Albania, if acted upon, could plunge the entire region back into a bloody and costly war on a scale not seen since the 1990s. Marko Djuric said that Serbia will not allow the creation of a Greater Albania in its southern province and that it is not alone in opposing the idea, which stems from the times of Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia. When asked whether this inflammatory statement ...
READ MORE
Srebrenica: Bosnian Muslim Jihad Killings of 3,500 Christian Serbs
The image of Srebrenica tells us more about the reality of the majority of the media and of course the “Muslim victim card” is being used in order to cleanse the Bosniak Muslims. After all, from enslaving Orthodox Christians during their brotherly love with the Turkish slave masters of the Ottoman Empire to having Muslim SS units who supported Adolf Hitler; then “victimhood” is needed in order to justify their history and culture. Of course the wishy-washy brigade will tell us that the Ottoman period was enlightened and that the system of taking the eldest Christian boy (devshirme system) in the ...
READ MORE
On the Geo-politics of “European Army”
French president Macron’s call for the creation of a “European Army” and the implicit end of NATO alliance reflects the changing global order, the credit for which must, in the first place, go to the US president Trump, who, through his series of actions, has unwittingly done enough damage to the alliance to force the EU to wean away from the so-called western alliance and project itself as an independent player in the international arena. On the one hand, the concept of a “European army” affirms the growing distance between the US and its allies in Europe, and on the ...
READ MORE
Distorting Fascism to Sanitize Capitalism
The facile and indiscriminate use of the term fascism has led to a widespread misunderstanding and misuse of its meaning. Asked to define fascism, most people would respond in terms such as dictatorship, anti-Semitism, mass hysteria, efficient propaganda machine, mesmerizing oratory of a psychopathic leader, and the like.Such a pervasive misconception of the meaning of the term fascism is not altogether fortuitous. It is largely because of a longstanding utilitarian misrepresentation of the term. Fascism is deliberately obfuscated in order to sanitize capitalism. Ideologues, theorists and opinion-makers of capitalism have systematically shifted the systemic sins of fascism from market/capitalist failures ...
READ MORE
Two War Photographs: Bosnia vs. Vietnam
Bijeljina, Bosnia in 1992: Serb Volunteer Guard (Arkan's Tigers) led by Željko Ražnjatović Arkan after the action of "cleaning the town from the Muslim jihadists" (official Arkan's explanation). The victims are local Muslim family members. The guard was composed by volunteers of all moral kinds being independent on the front line and in fact waging its own private war. Bosnia is a neighbouring republic to Serbia with 1/3 of Serbian population. Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and (Roman Catholic) Croats committed terrible crimes of genocide against the local (Orthodox) Serb population during the WWII (the so called Magnum Crimen) while during the ...
READ MORE
Gibraltar: A Tax Haven not a Nation
Gibraltar is famous for its 426m high limestone ridge and tax haven status. It is also famous for having Europe’s only wild population of monkeys – all 320 of them. It boasts a total area of just 6.8 square kilometres or 2.6 square miles, a total area approximately one third smaller than Bicester Village Shopping Mall in Oxfordshire. Most of the population of this peninsula live in flats, crammed on land at the base of the rock where around 12% of the workforce is employed by Gibraltar’s big online gaming industry, who are there to evade taxes – quite legally of course. ...
READ MORE
The Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty
Remembering the NATO Led War on Yugoslavia: Kosovo “Freedom Fighters” Financed by Organized Crime
Kosovo History – First Part
USA & Islamists in Balkans in Coalition Again
The US and China Can Avoid a Collision Course – If the US Gives Up its Empire
27 Years since the Massacre of Serbian Civilians in Bosnia
The Cold War is Over
Dusseldorf Axe Attacker: “Fatmir H.”, Muslim Albanian from Kosovo
Post-Maidan Ukrainian Anti-Semitism: Tragic “Blowback” Resulting from U.S. Interventionist Foreign Policy?
Are We Headed for a Turkish-American Breakup?
The Great Leap Backward: America’s Illegal Wars on the World
“Humanitarian Intervention” and the „New World Order“: A Violation of the International Law
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Parents of Albanian ISIS ‘Martyrs’ Abandoned to Grief
Kosovo Serbs ‘Terrified’ by Proposed Creation of a “Greater Albania”
Srebrenica: Bosnian Muslim Jihad Killings of 3,500 Christian Serbs
On the Geo-politics of “European Army”
Distorting Fascism to Sanitize Capitalism
Two War Photographs: Bosnia vs. Vietnam
Gibraltar: A Tax Haven not a Nation
Mission News Theme by Compete Themes.