Western Balkans is a term that refers to eight countries in the Southern and Eastern Europe: Republic of Albania, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Republic of Kosovo, the Republic of North Macedonia, Croatia, and Republic of Serbia (Bugajski, 2019). This report aims to analyse Russian and EU influence on Western European countries, also taking into account China's growing engagement in the region and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Lastly, in light of these considerations, the paper provides some insights into the strategy the EU adopts in the Western Balkans.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a global infrastructure development strategy launched by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in 70 countries (World Bank, 2018) to promote economic development and enhance connectivity between China and Central-East Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Around 150 countries have joined BRI so far, including 18 EU members (BRI Center, 2021). What recently happened in Montenegro raised several concerns within the EU about Beijing’s approach, labelled by some observers as a sinocentric international trade network potentially harmful to the independence of some countries at the EU’s doorsteps. What then is the standpoint of both BRI and EU members? Can different attitudes towards the Chinese projects cause a fracture within an already diverse EU in terms of policies, paces to reach goals, and economic indicators? To what extent is BRI a tool in the hands of Beijing to leverage European countries by proposing offers of development that, at first glance, cannot be declined?