The Black Sea is a strategic trade and transportation artery which connects Europe and Asia (NSC, 2022). The countries surrounding the coasts of the Black Sea are EU and NATO members (Romania and Bulgaria), former members of the Soviet Union (Russia, Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia) and Middle Eastern powers (Turkey). After the Cold War, the lack of agreement between Russia and the West on the power-sharing in the region and the disintegration of the Soviet Union caused a series of conflicts, which are still ongoing. Recently, Russia and Ukraine have built up their military power in the region, and NATO has stationed additional forces in Romania to enhance the Alliance's defence strategy (Miller, 2017). The Black Sea is, therefore more militarised and less stable than at any point since the end of the Cold War. Tensions and instability in this key region can seriously affect global commercial trade and maritime activities.
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 desire to access the Arctic's vast mineral reserves has always been a major driver of international attention towards the region. The Arctic is believed to contain 1,699 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and various other fuels, equal to the entirety of Russia’s oil reserves and three times those of the US (U.S Geological Survey, 2008). On top of this, by 2050, it is believed that the region above the Polar Circle may be completely ice-free, considering the rate at which the ice sheet is shrinking and the multiplier effect of warming seas and surface temperatures (La Rocca, 2022). This potential development could further increase the international race for Arctic raw materials.
After the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson in August, on the 21th of September Putin launched a call for “partial mobilisation” of Russian men between the ages of 18 and 50, with the aim of enlisting 300,000 soldiers amongst the reservists and former military personnel (Il Post, 2022). Three weeks later, the recruitment operation is said to have enlisted over 200,000 people, as stated by the Russian Defence Minister Shoigu (Cancian, 2022) (Il Post, 2022). Even if it is early to say, Russia is calculating whether the new recruits should be sent to the front without proper training as “cannon fodder” (Bathon, 2022), or whether to send them to the 80 camps and 6 training centres outlined by the Russian Defence Minister (Il Post, 2022). Currently the decision appears to be somewhere in between the two, with some of the recruits trained for fewer than three days before being sent to the front, while others completing the training phase.
In response to the Russian war on Ukraine, neighbouring countries have decided to take concrete steps towards strengthening their air security. On October 13, 2022, fourteen NATO member countries, plus Finland, signed a Letter of Intent initiating the development of a “European Sky Shield Initiative” (NATO, n.d.). The European Sky Shield Initiative creates a joint defence system “through the common acquisition of air defence equipment and missiles by European nations” (NATO, n.d.). Furthermore, the project enhances interoperability between the countries and strengthens NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence (NATO IAMD).