Washington Institute For Defence & SecurityWashington Institute For Defence & SecurityWashington Institute For Defence & Security
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Besides the EU and the USA, who are the new players in the Western Balkans?

Influential Western and world media are increasingly writing about how Arab countries are penetrating the Balkans. And it is increasingly about investors from the United Arab Emirates, as well as from Saudi Arabia. However, in addition to the economic interests of these Middle Eastern businessmen, due to the diversification of their national economies, as well as to prevent food shortages for their own population, but perhaps also due to penetration of the European market, it is not unknown to hear that these are primarily ideological Arabs which have a very strong influence on Islamic political leaders in the Western Balkans. The European Union and the United States have a clear picture of this so-called Middle Eastern incursion into the Western Balkans, but it seems that their strategists continue to recognize only the economic interest of these Gulf countries.

United Arab Emirates – a new strategy for creating a national sustainable future

Recently, businessmen from the Western Balkans who do business and invest in the United Arab Emirates were given the opportunity to obtain “golden” long-term residence visas, which will make their business in this country much easier. And that will greatly enhance the partnership business cooperation between businessmen from the Western Balkans and the UAE. But not only that, during the last few years at the major international fairs in the UAE, companies from the Western Balkans have become more and more noticeable, presenting their technological achievements, as well as achievements in the field of military industry. Thus, the relations between the UAE and the Western Balkans gain a kind of strategic importance for both sides. Because some will get the opportunity to buy perhaps cheaper and high-tech military equipment, while others will get the opportunity to place their products outside NATO and the ODKB, without straining relations with the so-called East and West. In addition to large infrastructural investments by UAE investors in the Western Balkans, this co-operation gets a new strategic and in-depth dimension, as former Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says, which can easily turn into political influence over time.

Neither the UAE missed the Covid-19 opportunity

While the EU has traditionally been stuck in its own bureaucratic labyrinths, the UAE has not missed a chance to prove itself as a partner in the Western Balkans when it comes to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. They have donated to Western Balkans large quantities of protective equipment, from protective and hospital suits, through gloves, sanitizers and shoe protection products, all the way to respirators. In the conditions of global shortage of basic necessities in the fight against Covid-19, this is a very important moment, especially for the countries in the Western Balkans, which on the one hand were neglected by the European Union, while on the other hand were left to fend for themselves.


Political Islam in the Western Balkans

But it’s not just the economy. Neither investors, nor Covid-19 help, but there is a lot in politics. Leaders of political Islam in the Western Balkans have enthusiastically embraced the new foreign policy movements of the United Arab Emirates in the region. Because on the one hand, in addition to Turkey, they got another strong foreign policy sponsor and mentor, while on the other hand, they got the so-called joker up their sleeve, because they can very well use the investment flows of Arab businessmen in the region for political purposes. And all this may seem not so dangerous, but given the not so long ago inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflicts in this part of Europe, maybe someone should think about how dangerous political Islam is in the Western Balkans, whether inter-religious frictions are over or not, or a new opportunity is awaited, and finally, what is the UAE’s position on this issue. Either to be more specific, will the UAE also stand behind some of the more radical leaders of political Islam in the Western Balkans if certain frictions occur, or will it movements remain exclusively in the domain of economy and economic exchange.

The real potential of the United Arab Emirates in the Western Balkans

The UAE is a member of the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Gulf Cooperation Council. History has taught us that no subject of international relations has missed an opportunity to use its economic potential for political purposes or for a particular political influence. Then, why would be different in this case as well. Why would the UAE miss the opportunity to position itself in the Western Balkans as a relevant, for now only economic and investment player. Given the religious infrastructure in this part of Europe, it should come as no surprise that the UAE’s role in the region’s political games is strengthening. Only one question remains open, how much the countries in the Western Balkans would benefit from all this, and how much damage and what it would mean for the EU and the US, as traditional but less and less interested partners in these countries.


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