After Ukraine, Europe is wondering who Russia’s next target is – Boston News, Weather, Sports

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — For some European countries watching Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine, there are fears they could be next.

Western officials say the most vulnerable could be those who are not members of NATO or the European Union, and therefore alone and unprotected – including Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova and Russia, Georgia, both formerly part of the Soviet Union – as well as the Balkans. States of Bosnia and Kosovo.

But analysts warn that even NATO members could be threatened, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on Russia’s doorstep, as well as Montenegro, either by direct military intervention from Moscow or by attempts at political destabilization.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “said from the start that it’s not just about Ukraine,” said Michal Baranowski, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw office.

“He told us what he wanted to do when he listed his demands, which included a change of government in Kyiv, but he was also talking about NATO’s eastern flank and the rest of Eastern Europe.” , Baranowski told The Associated Press. in an interview.

As Ukraine put up fierce resistance to the two-week-old Russian attack, Baranowski said: “It’s unclear how he’s going to achieve his other goals.”

But the Biden administration is acutely aware of deep concerns in Eastern and Central Europe that the war in Ukraine could be just a prelude to broader attacks on former Warsaw Pact members in an attempt to restore dominance. Moscow region.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said “Russia is not going to stop in Ukraine”.

“We are worried about our neighbours, Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkans,” he said. “We must keep an eye on the Western Balkans, especially Bosnia, which could be destabilized by Russia.”

A look at the regional situation:

MOLDOVA

Like its neighbor Ukraine, the former Soviet Republic of Moldova has a separatist insurgency in the east in the disputed territory known as Trans-Dniester, where 1,500 Russian troops are stationed. Although Moldova is militarily neutral and has no intention of joining NATO, it formally applied for EU membership when the Russian invasion began in a quick bid to strengthen its ties with the West. .

The country of 2.6 million people is one of the poorest countries in Europe and hosts tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have fled the war. The invasion has sparked heightened concerns in Moldova not only about the humanitarian crisis, but also over fears that Putin is trying to link separatists east of the Dniester to Ukraine through the strategic port of Odessa. .

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Moldova last week and promised, “We stand with Moldova and any other country that may be similarly threatened.”

Moldovan President Maia Sandu said there was no indication that Russian forces in Trans-Dniester had changed position, but stressed that the concern was there.

“In this region, there is no longer any possibility for us to feel safe,” Sandu said.


GEORGIA

War broke out between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 when Georgian government troops unsuccessfully attempted to regain control of the separatist Moscow-backed province of South Ossetia. Russia routed the Georgian army in five days of fighting and hundreds were killed. Subsequently, Russia recognized South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, as independent states and increased its military presence there.

Georgia’s west-leaning government condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but did not show the same solidarity as Kiev did during the Georgia-Russia war. Hundreds of Georgian volunteers have been prevented by authorities from joining an international brigade fighting Russia in Ukraine.

Georgia’s seemingly neutral stance sparked thousands of nightly rallies in central Tbilisi in solidarity with Ukraine. Last week, Georgia’s government applied for EU membership just days after saying it would not fast-track its application amid growing fears of a Russian invasion.


THE BALTICS

Memories of Soviet rule are still fresh in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Since the invasion of Ukraine, NATO has moved quickly to bolster its troop presence in its eastern flank allies, while Washington has pledged additional support.

For residents of the Baltic nations – especially those old enough to have lived under Soviet control – the tensions before the February 24 invasion were reminiscent of mass deportations and oppression. All three countries were annexed by Josef Stalin during World War II and only regained their independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

They joined NATO in 2004, placing themselves under the military protection of the United States and its Western allies. They say it is imperative that NATO show resolve not just with words, but with boots on the ground.

“Russia always measures military power but also the will of countries to fight,” said Janis Garisons, State Secretary at the Latvian Defense Ministry. “Once they see a weakness, they will exploit that weakness.”

Blinken, who visited the Latvian capital Riga on Monday, said the Baltic countries had “formed a democratic wall which now opposes the wave of autocracy” that Russia is pushing in Europe.


THE BALKANS

It would be difficult for Russian troops to reach the Balkans without engaging NATO forces stationed in all neighboring countries. But Moscow could destabilize the region, as it already does, with the help of Serbia, its ally, which it arms with tanks, sophisticated air defense systems and warplanes.

The Kremlin has always considered the region its sphere of influence although it was never part of the Soviet bloc. A devastating civil war in the 1990s left at least 120,000 dead and millions homeless. Serbia, the largest state in the Western Balkans, is widely blamed for starting the war by trying to prevent the breakup of Serb-ruled Yugoslavia with brute force – a move resembling Moscow’s current effort to bring Ukraine back into its orbit by military force.

There are fears in the West that pro-Moscow Serbian leaders, who have refused to join international sanctions against Russia, are trying to use the focus on Ukraine to further destabilize its neighbors, particularly Bosnia, where the Serbian minority threatens to split. their territories of the mixed federation to join Serbia. Serbian officials have repeatedly denied their interference in neighboring states, but have given tacit support to the secessionist initiatives of the Bosnian Serbs and their leader, Milorad Dodik.

The Russian embassy in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, warned last year that if Bosnia takes steps to join NATO, “our country will have to react to this hostile act”. NATO membership will force Bosnia to take sides in the “military-political confrontation”, he said.

EU peacekeepers in Bosnia have announced the deployment of around 500 additional troops to the country, citing “deteriorating international security (which) has the potential to spread instability”.

Kosovo, which split from Serbia in 1999 after a NATO air war against Serbian troops, has called on the United States to establish a permanent military base in the country and speed up its integration into the NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine.

“Accelerating Kosovo’s accession to NATO and having a permanent base of American forces is an immediate need to guarantee peace, security and stability in the Western Balkans”, declared on Facebook the Kosovo minister of the Defense, Armend Mehaj.

Serbia said the move was unacceptable.

Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence is recognized by more than 100 countries, mostly Western countries, but not Russia or Serbia.

Montenegro, a former ally that turned its back on Russia to join NATO in 2017, imposed sanctions on Moscow over the war in Ukraine and is seen as next in the Western Balkans to join the EU. The country is divided between supporters of pro-Western policies and pro-Serbian and pro-Russian camps, which is increasing tensions.

Russia has repeatedly warned Montenegro’s pro-Western President Milo Djukanovic, who led the small Adriatic state into NATO, that the move was illegitimate and without the consent of all Montenegrins.

Russia can eventually hope to improve its ties with Montenegro in order to strengthen its presence in the Mediterranean.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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