18. May 2017

US warns about Russia's "malign influence" in Balkans

A high ranking US State Department official has warned that Russia is deepening efforts to influence Balkans politics, Radio Free Europe is reporting. This includes Moscow encouraging "the Serb-dominated part of Bosnia-Herzegovina" to secede. Speaking to a House of Representatives foreign affairs subcommittee hearing on May 17, Hoyt Brian Yee, deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia, said U.S. policy was aimed at promoting peace and stability in the region. According to the broadcaster, he said many of the Balkan nations are seeking even deeper integration into Western institutions such as the European Union and NATO, and Washington continued to encourage that, and warned of Russia’s "malign influence" as Moscow tried to prevent that through financial and political means. Yee suggested that a humanitarian center set up by Russia in Nis "may have ulterior purposes aimed at influencing public opinion," Radio Free Europe said. "It's very important to be vigilant. We have some questions about why Russia is trying to set up a 'humanitarian' center in Nis and why it is seeking special status for this facility. We don't believe the intentions are pure, so we're advising Serbia to ask the hard questions, to ask Serbia (sic) why it needs this facility and why it needs to have a special status, and what it's going to do that it can't already do from Belgrade or from the existing facilities," Yee said. When asked whether he was optimistic about reconciliation between Belgrade and Pristina, the US official replied affirmatively, although he said progress had slowed down, while he could not say that it will be easy to implement agreements. According to him, the key element is the dedication of the EU and the US to this process. Yee said the US support the establishment of a Kosovo army once all conditions have been fulfilled, as this strategy includes agreement of all sides in the government, including the Serb minority. According to the report, he said that the aim of the US is to "promote peace and stability in the region, with a focus on the fight against corruption and the rule of law, as well as reforms that are the cornerstone of the US strategy, while increasing transparency and accountability of governments helps thwart Russian efforts to use corrupt practices and make countries more vulnerable to their pressure." Other panelist also spoke about the Russian influence, with the Gregory Meeks, ranking member of the subcommittee, criticizing the announced State Department budget cuts in the context of the US role in the world and the effect this could have on the Balkan region. Congressman Chris Smith agreed with Meeks that the US must not abandon the Balkans, and warned against leaving room to others with less clear goals. According to Radio Free Europe, the subcommittee's chairman Dana Rohrabacher referred to "all questions by other senators and Yee's replies" concerning Russia as "Russophobia," saying that Russia is a major power they has every right to expand their influence in various parts of the world - "as we do." "We are all over the map, we have our military all over the world, trying to do that through the military, even. Russia has every right to try to become an influential force, especially in countries that border Russia," said Rohrabacher, and strongly criticized the EU, saying it was on a downward path and disintegrating. @b92

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