The Tripartite’s Big Barter In The “Eurasian Balkans”: The Balkans
For the first time in history, Russia, Iran, and Turkey are moving towards a trilateral cooperation framework for managing the Mideast, with the failed pro-US coup against Erdogan serving as the ultimate impetus for this unprecedented strategic convergence. A 21st-century and non-Western version of the famed ‘Concert of Great Powers’ is taking shape in the global pivot space, and this new arrangement has the potential to reshape the geopolitics of the entire Eastern Hemisphere, seeing as how the overlap of each side’s interests coincides perfectly with Brzezinski’s “Eurasian Balkans” theorem.
The following research aims to discover the ways in which this Tripartite of Great Powers could pragmatically reach agreements amongst themselves and between their existing spheres of influence throughout the Afro-Eurasian Heartland in order to bring sustainable stability to the exact same place that the US has been strategizing to destabilize for decades already. In order to methodologically tackle this gargantuan task, the study is geographically categorized into the Balkans, the Southern Caucasus, “Syraq”, the GCC, North Africa, and Central Asia, with each examined region being thematically subdivided into its existing state of play, Great Power proposals (mutually beneficial “bartering”), and ‘dark’ scenarios detailing what could go wrong.
The author is under no “wishful thinking” assumptions in believing that all of the suggested “bartering” initiatives will successful pan out, but the purpose behind this publication is to educate the audience about the state of affairs in each of these six examined regions as it relates to the three Great Powers, offer creative suggestions for the pragmatic interplay between their respective interests in pursuit of a win-win multipolar agenda, and raise awareness about the strategic vulnerabilities inherent in these initiatives and other adverse developments that could realistically unfold. The reader will hopefully retain an open mind against this backdrop of intent and ideally come away from the article series having learned something new and enlightening about the changing geopolitics in the “Eurasian Balkan” space.
State Of Play
Moscow’s object of focus is the Central Balkans of Republika Srpska, Serbia, and the Republic of Macedonia, with the latter two envisioned to serve as the crucial transit states for the Balkan Stream pipeline. Support for Banja Luka increases Moscow’s profile in Belgrade and helps to cohesively integrate the shared ethno-historical space between them. Russia’s relations with Greece are very friendly, though it must be noted that despite the historical links between them, the present relationship owes itself more to Athens’ desire for economically reliable partners than any soft-civilizational power being projected by Moscow at the moment. As for Bulgaria, the situation remains complicated and uncertain so long as Sofia maintains its counterintuitive policy of purposeful ambiguity – or in other words, making mutually beneficial energy infrastructure outreaches to Moscow at the same time that it swears that it will always abide by whatever Brussels demands of it. It’s impossible to have it both ways in this context, and until Bulgaria resolutely makes a choice in one direction or the other, it will continue to be viewed by Russia as the waffling, indecisive state that it historically has been.
Tehran doesn’t have much influence in the Balkans any longer, with the mujahedeen movement that it supported in Bosnia having been totally taken over by Saudi Arabia with time. It’s not too realistic to speak about Iran’s geopolitical influence in the region, though it’s much more relevant to address its geo-energy impact if current plans proceed as forecasted. Although never formally declared, a series of meetings and vague statements over the summer indicate that Iran is getting ready for exporting LNG to Croatia and Greece sometime in the future, a game-changing energy event which the author analyzed in detail in an article for the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies. There’s no way that this development would be in Russia’s strategic interests, thus creating a scenario where Moscow and Tehran – despite their joint anti-terrorist cooperation in Syria – end up becoming heated energy rivals in the Balkans, obviously with the predictable consequence being that this would eventually end up harming their said partnership in Syria. It should be qualified at this moment that Iran’s energy agenda in the Balkans seems to be the brainchild of the Western-friendly “moderate” forces led by Rouhani and which are understood as having heavy influence over Iran’s economic and energy policies. The latest multipolar “conservative” pushback by the Ayatollah and his security services in permitting Russian anti-terrorist air assets in Hamadan (despite the apparent transience of this move) symbolically indicates that the “moderates’” influence might be set for an across-the-board reversal that could prevent any forthcoming energy rivalry with Russia in the Balkans.
Ankara has historically been close to the Bosnian Muslims (“Bosniaks”, as per the Western-invented term) and Albanians, and it accordingly means that Turkey holds large sway over these two countries’ affairs. It’s by no means the predominant force influencing their governments and societies, but it has enough of a soft power presence in both of them that all citizens are aware of its efforts. The rest of the countries in the Balkans, all of which are Christian-majority, have no such love for Turkey and instead intensely despise it for the centuries of colonial occupation that they experienced, which included forced Muslim convertions and large-scale arbitrary torture and killings. This shouldn’t be taken to imply that none of them would ever work with Turkey, but just that it’s practically impossible for Ankara to hold a degree of influence over them that’s even remotely similar to what it has in Albania and Bosnia. Of all these Christian countries, it’s Greece that works closest and most directly with Turkey on a high strategic level, though this is solely because of the mutually beneficial transnational energy projects that will transit through both (Balkan Stream and TAP) and is totally unconnected to the maritime territorial disputes that plague their relationship.
The US is included in the research because it’s the epitomical disruptor state, having no concrete existential interests in Afro-Eurasia other than the Wolfowitz Doctrine of perpetually dividing the Eastern Hemisphere so as to prevent the emergence of any leader or coalition thereof that could threaten American unipolar hegemony, recently leaning on the strategies of Hybrid War and the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ to achieve this. As it relates to the Balkans, the US is most firmly embedded in Croatia, Bosnia, Albania, and the occupied Serbian Province of Kosovo, though with demonstrable inroads having been made lately with the Vucic government itself in Serbia and NATO aspirant Montenegro. Greece, as it is for every player of significance, is cooperating with the US solely because of the economic incentives that it believes to be had from doing so, and not necessarily because of any soft power affinity. NATO occupation also plays a role in this too, but as Turkey’s reorientation towards Russia and the Multipolar Community has revealed, it is not an insurmountable stumbling block, though of course both states’ situations are markedly different from one another.
Turkey needs to come to an agreement with Russia that it will help hold its regional proxies at bay and not encourage them to sabotage the Balkan Stream project that benefits both itself and Moscow. It can be argued that Ankara has no real interest in what happens with the pipeline once it leaves Eastern Thrace, but it’s doubtful that its strategists are so parochially minded as to not see the grand strategic interest in having a Turkish-transiting pipeline reliably supplying Balkan energy. While it’s admittedly a vulnerability for the region, it’s also at the same time an opportunity for Russia and Turkey to carry their revived strategic partnership forward into the future. For the long term, whether one looks at regional politics through the prism of Russian-Turkish energy cooperation on the Balkan Stream project or their opposite alignment of civilizational-religious partners in the peninsula, it’s unmistakable that history is in the process of repeating itself and that sustainable Balkan stability and subsequent prosperity is wholly dependent on the contours of Russian-Turkish relations.
As for Russia and Iran’s potential energy rivalry in the Balkans, this can either be offset by the multipolar ‘conservative’ forces’ internal power shift against the Western-friendly ‘moderate’ ones in Iran, or possibly even more likely through a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between Moscow and Tehran. Even if the ‘moderates’ are cleaned out of the Iranian establishment or politically neutralized in all practical terms, ‘conservative’ Tehran might still want to go forward with their internal competitors’ geo-energy vision for Europe, especially considering how the enormous investments by their Western partners are facilitating easy and profitable access to this marketplace. It’s understandably in Iran’s own interest to diversify its energy shipments and receive payments in dollars or euros, so it can’t be taken for granted that the Ayatollah will abandon Rouhani’s presumably planned LNG exports to Europe. Therefore, the best solution is for Russia and Iran to comprehensively discuss this issue amongst themselves and either agree to coordinated exports to the Balkans via the Gas Exporting Countries Forum dialogue or a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’, both of which can prevent the two countries from unnecessarily jeopardizing their best-ever period of relations due to a foreseeable energy-strategic dilemma.
Discounting the always existing possibility that the Tripartite doesn’t come to an agreement amongst its members in ‘bartering’ whatever the examined region of focus may be between them, the most likely adverse scenario that could break out in the Balkans to disrupt the multipolar-enhancing plans of the Russian-Iranian-Turkish ‘Concert of Great Powers’ is that the US leverages its sway over fascist-rejuvenated Croatia in order to turn Bosnia and Vojvodina into a powder keg of Hybrid War. Zagreb is the loose cannon in the Balkans because no Multipolar Great Power has any influence over it, meaning that the US-EU partnership exerts full control over the same state whose present government is dangerously glorifying its Nazi-era history and provocatively encouraging the social revival of “Greater Croatia” Ustasha fascists. This trend will directly threaten Republika Srpska and Serbia with time, and it will be up to the Tripartite to find a way to deal with any forthcoming US-scripted crisis that breaks out between NATO-member Croatia and Serbia, whether directly or via the proxy battleground of Bosnia.
Other that the Croatian loose cannon scenario, the US might also try intensifying its hold over Bosnia and Albania, perhaps even launching an aggressive information campaign to compete with Turkey’s influence there, seeing as how by then Ankara will likely no longer be a reliable ‘partner’ of Washington’s. The US could team up with Croatia in exerting influence over Sarajevo and counterbalancing Turkey’s soft power, while in Albania it could emphasize secularity in order to oppose the creeping Islamization that characterizes Ankara’s recent international outreach strategy. In both cases, if Turkey is not able to retain its strategic position in either country and loses ground to the US, then that means that the proposed “bartering” plan of Turkey restraining its regional allies in exchange for feasting on the fruit of mutually beneficial Balkan Stream energy cooperation with Russia would all be for naught, and that a new initiative would have to be brainstormed in order to keep these states stably in line and deter them from aggressively disrupting the multipolar corridor being streamlined through the Central Balkans.