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Germany urges EU expansion to counter Russia's influence

March 4, 2024

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has warned against Russian influence. She said that helping Western Balkan countries to join the European Union is a crucial part of countering the threat from Moscow.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock
Baerbock singled out the risks posed by Moscow to the region's stabilityImage: Markus Schreiber/AP/picture alliance

Germany's foreign minister on Monday said smoothing the path to European Union membership was key to staving off the influence of the Kremlin in Eastern Europe.

Annalena Baerbock said the EU cannot afford to neglect areas like the Western Balkans and leave them exposed to Russian interference after Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

What Baerbock said about Russia

"We cannot allow ourselves grey areas anywhere in Europe and must do everything we can together to close flanks that Russia can use for its policy of destabilization, disinformation, and infiltration," she said before heading on a trip to Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"Taking the six states in the region under our wing on their way into the European Union has become a geopolitical necessity in light of Russia's brutal imperialism," Baerbock said before departing for the region.

Providing support for the countries could include "strengthening their democratic institutions, improving their resilience, and offering their people economic prospects", Baerbock said.

How close are the Western Balkans to EU membership?

The Western Balkans include the former Yugoslavian regions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, plus Albania.

Brussels is urging the countries to pursue the reforms needed to join the 27-member political and economic bloc. It views Montenegro as being the furthest along the path to accession, but the pace is slow.

New movement in the EU accession process: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

The EU is not expected to admit new members before the end of the decade — even under the most ambitious scenarios.

Bosnia-Herzegovina was granted the status of EU candidate country in December 2022, but negotiations have yet to begin.

Montenegro had put forward an "ambitious agenda" to advance towards EU membership, Baerbock said.

However, she added, there was still some way to go in terms of "rule of law and the fight against corruption."

Baerbock said Bosnia stood at a "crossroads" after the EU gave it candidate status, and would also need to pursue reforms.

She added that Germany opposed "those who put obstacles in Bosnia and Herzegovina's path to the EU with their fantasies of division."

Russia has a close relationship with Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who has challenged Bosnia's post-war ruling structure over the past several months.

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rc/ab (AFP, dpa)