Key Political Risks Facing the Western Balkans in 2023
Regional Political Outlook for 2023 in Light of Further Tension Between Serbia & Kosovo

February 8, 2023
If ongoing tensions between the West and Russia were to escalate to a second front, the Western Balkans might provide fertile ground for its unfolding in 2023. Not because there is a serious risk of the current war spreading to the region (three NATO countries separate Russia from the Western Balkans), but because the region is fertile ground for further unrest being cultivated by and because of the conflict. Unlike other parts of the CEE region, the Western Balkans does not present a united front in its relations to NATO and Russia. At the core of this divide lies Serbia, or more specifically the Serbian cause, whose supporters have historically viewed Moscow as its ‘protector’ against Western interests.

Serbia, as well as Bosnia & Herzegovina (precisely because of veto rights of Republika Srpska) and Belarus are the only countries in Europe not to have imposed sanctions on Russia. Along with Kosovo (again, due to its unresolved status with Serbia), they are the only countries in the region not members of NATO. All other nationalist movements – notably Albanian, Montenegrin and Bosnian – are firmly in the Western camp and view NATO as the guarantor of their security interests.

The Serbian question plays a central role in domestic political discourse of three neighboring states: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro. It is along this axis where we consider the most salient risks for the region in 2023 and beyond, in particular surrounding Kosovo’s sovereignty, the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro’s heightened nationalism.

Elsewhere in the region, other potential flashpoints include Bulgaria’s relations with North Macedonia, with the risk of negatively impacting Skopje’s EU accession bid and North Macedonia fearing that pro-Kremlin elements are instigating trouble to weaken the European bloc.

The regional country least affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine is Albania, where Prime Minister Edi Rama is progressing his third mandate. Albania’s government, considered politically stable relative to its neighbours, has adopted a soft position on Serbia-Kosovo disputes, as well as a largely noninterventionist approach to North Macedonia and Montenegro.

Below, Aretera presents its outlook on SEE for 2023, with a focus on political risks facing the region.
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