February 16, 2024


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Putin fueling regional tensions as Blinken arrives in Albania: ‘bleak picture’

Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Tirana on Thursday to reinforce Albania’s critical role in U.S. foreign policy amid the most turbulent time in the Balkans in decades. 

‘This is really a stop that is going to focus on the future, the future of Albania, the future of the Western Balkans,’ Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Yuri Kim said at a State Department briefing previewing the upcoming visit to Albania and Germany.

A senior diplomat with expert knowledge of the region told Fox News Digital that reliable sources allege that the probability of conflict in the Western Balkans this year is very high. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić have Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro and North Macedonia in their crosshairs. The U.S. most likely knows this, the diplomat claims, which explains why there are military assets build-ups, and the selling of military equipment to Kosovo.

‘The risk of ethnic tensions escalating into an actual conflict in the Balkans is increasing. Russia and Serbia, neither of which have recognized Kosovo’s independence, appear to be involved in fueling instability in the region,’ Rebekah Koffler, a former defense intelligence analyst, told Fox News Digital.

Blinken is meeting with Prime Minister Edi Rama and will reaffirm the strength of the United States’ relations with Albania, a key partner for stability in the Western Balkans and a firm ally in supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty in its war against Russia.

It has been a particularly rocky period for the Western Balkans, and many observers in the region believe the region is once again a tinderbox ready to ignite.

The U.S. established a forward operating headquarters in Albania in 2022 as a home base for operations in the Balkans and can help Albania and other allies in the region counter Russian influence and disinformation. Russia has been especially active in Montenegro, where Moscow looked to undermine the small nation’s bid to join NATO and move closer to Europe.

‘This might be the start of concrete efforts to contain Serbia, and consequently Russian influence, in the Balkans by shoring up vulnerable NATO allies and countering Russo-Serbian hybrid and disinformation operations in Bosnia and Kosovo,’ the diplomat told Fox News Digital. 

Former Albanian Ambassador to the U.S. and the United Nations Agim Nesho told Fox News Digital that Prime Minister Rama’s lack of influence in Kosovo, particularly with Prime Minister Albin Kurti, complicates matters and that Rama’s close collaboration with Vučić on numerous projects in the region have tarnished his credibility, rendering him an ineffective mediator in Kosovo’s eyes.

Rama is a co-leader of the ‘Open Balkans’ initiative, a proposal that would facilitate a freer flow of people and goods across the Balkans. Many people in Albania and across the Balkans oppose the initiative over fears that it is a Serbian ploy to supplant the common regional market of Europe and would threaten Balkan countries’ desire to join the EU.

‘Secretary Blinken’s visit, though ostensibly supportive, comes at a time when the State Department’s long-standing backing of the Open Balkan initiative, predicated on the Rama-Vučić partnership as catalysts for regional stability, faces scrutiny,’ Nesho told Fox News Digital. 

‘Currently, Vučić’s inclination towards Russia and Rama’s diminished stature as a leader accused of corruption, who has seemingly lost the support of the Albanian people, paint a bleak picture,’ Nesho added.

Albania, once an authoritarian Marxist country with bitter relations with the U.S. during the Cold War, is now one of the most pro-U.S. countries in Europe and has a large diaspora community in the United States. Albania is also an important NATO ally and key strategic partner when it comes to solving the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia.

Some experts and observers in the region claim the amount of attention Albania receives from President Biden and Western policymakers is little for a country struggling to consolidate its democracy. The region has also taken a backseat to Ukraine while it fights to hold back Russian forces and recently in Israel’s war against Hamas. 

Blinken will also visit Germany to participate in the Munich Security Conference as part of the U.S. delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Requests to the Albanian government for comment were not returned by press time.

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