Putin-Proofing the Balkans: A How-To Guide

The West needs to accept its mistakes in Southeastern Europe and correct them—before the Kremlin does

In my last column, I explained how rising tumult in the Balkans threatens to bring chaos and war to that troubled region again, in a repeat of the violent 1990s—and perhaps even worse. Russian meddling in the region promises to push fragile and impoverished societies over the edge, a prospect which threatens all Southeastern Europe. As I concluded:

It is therefore in the West’s interest to tamp down festering crises in the Balkans—above all in Macedonia—before they get out of hand. That will require keeping Russian malfeasance in the region to a tolerable level, yet it will also require NATO and the EU to confront the reality that the solutions they imposed on the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s are no longer functioning. Indeed, they constitute a big part of the problems imperiling Southeastern Europe today.

But how to Putin-proof the Balkans before something awful happens? Blunting Kremlin spy-games is the first task at hand, and here NATO security services can assist local partners in unmasking Russian espionage, propaganda and subversion. The Atlantic Alliance must help Southeastern Europe resist aggressive moves like the violent coup plotted by Putin’s spies against Montenegro a few months ago.

That’s the easy part, however. The real challenge facing the West is undoing the damage we inadvertently wrought on the wreckage of Yugoslavia nearly a generation ago. NATO, led by Washington, deserves credit for entering the Bosnian war in earnest in 1995 and putting an end to that fratricidal nightmare. We did better in Kosovo four years later, stopping that ugly ethnic war before outright genocide materialized.
Read the rest at The Observer …