Sunday, October 18, 2015

Balkans lose geopolitical importance, by Ioannis Michaletos

Balkans lose geopolitical importance for USA/Russia, albeit becoming a major security concern for the EU

Politics is the hand and economy is the sword, not vice versa (1)

The radical upturn in the international landscape due to the military involvement of Russia in the Middle East, has resulted in a subsequent rapid decrease of the importance of the Balkan region for Moscow, and for the US as well. At the sametime Balkans become a major source of concern for the EU.

More analytically, it is the first time that Russia achieves its primal geopolitical aim, which is to get into the heart of the Middle East and become a power maker in the world’s largest hydrocarbon reservoir, which is tied inexorably with the hard core of the modern day international economic system.

The Balkan region was always calculated by Moscow as either a staging ground or a buffer zone. Even, during the height of the Czarist Empire or during the might of the Soviet one, Moscow never attempted to interfere directly and military into a Middle Eastern battle zone. The reason was simple-Iran and Turkey, were always prohibiting even the slightest Russian advance. Thus tables turned during this period and Moscow is on the verge of neutralizing Saudi Arabia, containing Turkey and elevating Iran and the so-called "Shia axis" as the primal coordinators of geopolitical and energy security players in the Middle East.

Thus the Balkans are marginalized in Moscow's priorities, since Teheran is far more important and much more are at stake. More importantly the route to the oil riches has opened directly and the Balkans don’t have any importance in that respect. As far as the buffer zone element is concerned, Moscow intelligently nullified the Ukrainian strife and hesitated into interfering directly and forcefully into Ukraine, even if it could have done so, based on military capabilities.

Thus the Balkans also lose ground in geopolitical terms for US as well, since they cannot be used as launch pads for any further operations against Moscow via the Ukrainian crisis. Kiev is in dire straits with multiple fractions becoming autonomous from the central government day by day, whilst its economic situation is deteriorating rapidly. In turn EU countries and foremost Germany, France and Italy have taken the strategic decision to stop any further military escalation from materializing. Even if that was possible, the recent war in Syria has showed that the Russian armed forces have made great strides in their conventional capabilities and especially in the sector of air C41, electronic reconnaissance and most importantly all-encompassing electronic war.

That means that a potential war in Ukraine, instead of leveraging the Balkan countries role in the potential crisis, will simply result in a complete destruction and partition of Ukraine with Southeast Europe picking up the tab of a huge refugee wave, disastrous economic consequences and potentially local disintegration outcomes. In addition the combined military strength of (Black Sea NATO) Balkan countries is less than the current battle of order of the Russian Army in Crimea and no country could afford meddling or mobilization because of a Ukrainian crisis. Domestic opposition would also be tremendous in that respect.

Last but not least, it is natural to assume that Washington in light of these dramatic developments will shift its focus in the Middle East, in parallel with its ongoing pivot to Asia where it also faces an merging Chinese dominance in the Pacific. Especially after the election of the new US President in 2016 a concrete agenda regarding the Middle East should be materialized.

Therefore Balkans will not be able to hold on to further concessions either by Russia or USA. All available information so far, points out that Russian companies that aimed for instance to take part in the Greek privatization schemes, declined to show any further interest, whilst all major plans , especially in the energy level across the region have effectively been frozen.

Nevertheless the importance of the Balkans for the EU is increasing, in security terms, since it is the main axis by which a massive transfer of Middle Easterners is taking place nowadays with an estimated 1.5million people to use the so-called "Balkan route" between early 2015 and early 2016. Beyond this date, there are literally tens of millions that may attempt to do so in the coming years.

Moreover the Jihadist movements, and potential destabilization that may appear in the triangle between Tetovo-Kosovo and Sanjak, as well as Bosnia, is of more concern. Economic liabilities most notably those of Greece and potential ones of Bulgaria and Albania also play their role in terms of anxiety from Brussels and major EU capitals.

The gradual collapse of the Turkish AKP party and the predominance of Premier Erdogan, in the midst of a war with the Kurdish guerillas of PKK and the continuous activities of Jihadists within Turkish soil, is a major source of concern. Ankara is also in full scale "war" with the Gullen movement, whilst Secularist forces are being radicalized due to the perceived oppression by Erdogan and the gigantic Muslim Brotherhood network that supports him. 

The fallout of the Syrian war is solemnly blamed on AKP and its leading officials and could potentially lead to a full scale civil unrest in the country, immediately after the November 2015 elections. In such a scenario the Balkans will feel the negative effects of the Turkish turmoil and will become the route by which these geopolitical tremors will be directed to the rest of Europe.

It is high time for the global powers and those that have such stakes to ameliorate their differences and find a balance of powers in the Middle East as quickly as possible, before situation gets out of hand and reaches the Saudi Peninsula, which is already brewing under distress, albeit not in the world’s media attention due to an effective censorship of all levels and kinds. In the Balkan microcosm it is also high time for local governments to set up process of similar nature in order to withstand the winds of change that will shutter many existing preconceptions, realities and vested interests. Cooperation with the rest of the EU and speedy approach against all emerging threats is a prerequisite for any success.

(1) Contrary to conventional "media logic" GDP and economic power rarely has an importance when dealing with  historical changes of power. It is very common in history small and rather poor nations to rise -and rapidly- in the world power hierarchy, due to leadership, diplomacy and military maneuvers or bold political initiatives, under a calculated risk of the existing “Genius saeculi”. The example of Alexander the great versus the Persian Empire, or the city of Rome against all known empires of its time are prime examples. Further the effective control of the globe by London since the mid18th century when it had lower GDP and military capabilities than many of its adversaries. Other examples include the Mongols vs the Chinese and Arab Empires, or the Arab Bedouin tribes against the Eastern Roman and Persian Empires or even the conquest of South American empires by a handful of Spanish soldiers and many other historical chapters of such nature.

It is in most cases the grave mistakes of the stronger nations that enable weaker ones to outmaneuver them. These mistakes do not happen by chance but are a product of gradual decadence that has been best described by ancient Greeks as a process of "Hubris - Hatei - Nemesis - Tisis".

Thus, in late 2015 and early 2016 it will be shown if such historical precedents could re-emerge.