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Russian invasion on Ukraine has sparked various aspects of the mutual EU existence. However, not many EU officials believed at the beginning of the crisis that the Ukrainian scenario might spill over into the area of Western Balkans. This article briefly introduces what might be the consequences of the conflict occurring within the Ukrainian teritorry for the quite fragile Western Balkans’ countries. The Western Balkans is a term coined by the EU to mark the remaining countries of the Balkans peninsula not yet joined the European union full membership status. Being under the fragile „blast from the past“ this region has not managed yet to recover from the turmoil that it went through during the last decade of the XX century. Does the Ukrainian crisis have a potential to economically shaken the WB? What should the EU do?
Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated in late March 2022 that EU representatives were concerned about a crisis resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which could spread to neighboring countries such as the Western Balkans, Moldova, and Georgia. The EU, he said, was concerned about what might happen in the region. He also stated that “the EU is concerned that Russia will not stop in Ukraine, and that Russian influence may spread to neighboring nations.” Former US ambassadors Danie Fried and Kurt Walker recently told Voice of America that Russian President Vladimir Putin may try to destabilize the Balkans.
After meeting with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehamer, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić emphasized that Serbia will do everything in its power to prevent instability from spreading to the Western Balkans from Eastern Europe. „It was something we discussed openly. Many EU citizens fear the crisis may spread to the Western Balkans. Serbia will continue to be a foundation of stability in the Western Balkans, and we will be an exporter of peace and stability, as I have informed my Austrian and European allies. We will not allow insecurity and catastrophe to spread to this region of Europe, as far as we are concerned,” she added at a press conference.
During the war in Ukraine, prices in the Balkans are rising, citizens are emptying shelves, although the authorities warn that there is enough food. Croatia is currently the most expensive country in the region when it comes to oil and sugar prices. In this country, a liter of oil costs 2.02 euros, while sugar costs 1.05 euros. It is a bit cheaper in Montenegro, where it costs 1.89 euros for oil. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are similar in oil and sugar prices. However, problems with payment and transportation of goods and raw materials that have become impossible to transport by the shortest route through Ukraine are some of the first consequences of the Russian invasion that Serbian and Bosnian companies are facing with.
In North Macedonia, store shelves have been empty for days, and after that, there were queues at gas stations. Citizens are afraid of price increases, and the panic arose after it was announced on social networks that the price of fuel will increase drastically from next week. Local media reported the statement of the Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski: „There is no crisis with gasoline in North Macedonia, because we supply petroleum products mostly from Greece. I urge citizens not to be subject to speculation, because we have sufficient amounts of energy in our country“, he said. In Sarajevo on Thursday, March 13, before midnight, there were convoys of cars at some gas stations. Due to the announcement in some media that the price of fuel will increase by 2 euros, Sarajevans had canisters in addition to cars. On Friday, March 4, prices, however, did not rise and range from 1.30 euros to 1.45 euros.
It is still unknown how long the Ukrainian conflict will last or how much it could have an impact on developments in the Western Balkans in terms of economic sanctions and the economies of those countries. It is certain that such uncertainty will contribute to the further deepening of the crisis in all parts of Europe, to which the Balkan region has not remained immune.
Written by: Nenad Stekić