BALKAN REGIONAL PROFILE:

THE SECURITY SITUATION AND THE REGION-BUILDING EVOLUTION OF SOUTH-EASTERN EUROPE

(A Background and February 2003 Issue in Brief)

© Institute for Security and International Studies (ISIS), Sofia

Research Study 46, 2002

Hard copy: ISSN 1311 - 3240

AN I S N-SPONSORED MONTHLY ELECTRONIC PERIODICAL


I. INTRODUCTION
II. SECURITY THREATS, CONFLICTS AND POST-CONFLICT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE BALKANS
1. Security Threats
2. The Post-Conflict Issues in FYROM, Southern Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina
III. THE NATIONAL PERSPECTIVES OF THE BALKAN COUNTRIES: SPECIFIC ISSUES
1. Serbia and Montenegro
2. Bulgaria
IV. BILATERAL AND MULTILATERAL RELATIONS IN THE BALKANS. THE STATE OF THE REGIONAL INITIATIVES
1. Bilateral Relations
  2. Stability Pact
V. THE ECONOMIC SITUATION OF THE BALKAN COUNTRIES AND THE REGION
VI. THE PROCESS OF DIFFERENTIATED INTEGRATION OF SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE IN EU AND IN NATO
1. EU Summit on Iraq - EU Candidate Countries
2. EU - Croatia

3. EU - FYROM

4. NATO - Bulgaria

5. NATO - Croatia
VII. THE INFLUENCE OF OTHER EXTERNAL FACTORS ON THE REGION: NATIONAL GREAT POWERS AND INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
1. US
2. Russia
VIII. CONCLUSIONS

I. INTRODUCTION

Developments related to the crisis in Iraq had a dramatic effect on the Balkans during February. A series of contradicting pressures and perceived responsibilities shook not only the region’s stability, but also the fundamental orientation of its states and their political activities, all of which are vital for the secure future of Southeast Europe.
The first group of pressures has arisen as a result of the region’s efforts to combat terrorism. Regional leaders are eager to deny Baghdad the ability to transfer weapons of mass causalities (WMC) to terrorist organizations but they are also keen to avoid a war in Iraq.

The problem of tackling both terrorism and war has affected every Balkan state and has involved them in the debate on both sides of the Atlantic and at the United Nations. The majority of Balkan countries are NATO and EU candidates. They have, for various reasons, shaped their threat perception of terrorism in line with the US approach rather than that adopted by other European states including the major EU powers. There are a number of reasons for this. Balkan leaders are wary of the region turning into the “black hole” of Europe. Terrorist activities from the past decade are still fresh in the memory of the people. The Balkan countries’ experience of totalitarian and authoritarian rule during the 20th century also explains their instinctive resentment of dictators.

However, Balkan countries are also under pressure to avoid war as the ultimate instrument of reaching political goals. Following the upheaval of the 1990s, public opinion in the region is weary of war and the further loss of human life.

NATO and EU candidates in the Balkans are now faced with a number of hard decisions. These have been driven by pressure from other governments as well as the responsibility of preventing weapons of mass causalities and destruction from falling into the hands of terrorist organizations. The decision to support military action has a third imperative: the belief that containing the regime of Saddam Hussein to preserve stability in the Middle East is not seen a viable option. Iraq’s record of UN violations, coupled with the demagogy and lies of its leaders, has left the UN looking weak and inefficient.

A second group of contradicting pressures has arisen from the reaction of other countries towards the Balkans’ handling of the crisis in Iraq and the persisting needs of the region to preserve the benign engagement of all world powers in stabilization efforts and regional development. As developments in February showed, Kosovo, southern Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are in danger of descending into violence once again. Preventing these dangers, completing the process of stabilization, and integrating the region into the EU are essential to ensuring the security and progress of Europe. The problems and prospects of the Balkan region must not be forgotten or opportunistically manipulated because of the crisis in Iraq. EU governments and NATO members are factoring their assessment of the Balkans into their policies towards terrorism and Iraq.

A third group of contradicting influences on the Balkan countries stems from the contending visions of a world order that would, to varying degrees, predominantly serve the interests of the legal nuclear powers and UN Security Council members. A perfect opportunity has been missed to outline a progressive vision of Europe that would attract the interests of the continent’s smaller countries. France is particularly guilty of this. Jacques Chirac, France’s president, has been seen to behave in a colonial rather a diplomatic manner by undermining the dignity and interests of all EU and NATO candidate countries from Southeast Europe. Paris clearly has a double standard on the value of national sovereignty: while France has exercised its right to criticize the foreign policies of other countries, it has sought to deny this right to EU candidate countries.

Quick and substantive political measures are now needed to repair relations between the Balkan region, France and the EU in general. In light of the French president’s statements, chiefly aimed at Romania and Bulgaria, the region is beginning to doubt the EU’s claim that it is shaping itself as a global actor. By opportunistically changing its role from a global actor to a regional one to tackle the Iraq crisis, the Union is doomed to ineffectiveness as a single political entity in the fields of international relations and security. Moreover, it misleads candidate countries as to their own future role in the EU.

Other developments in the region during February included the formal end of Yugoslavia and its replacement with the Union of Serbia and Montenegro. The two countries will have the freedom to separate legally into sovereign countries in three years time. Additionally, February saw an increase of US and Russian activity in the Balkans.

II. SECURITY THREATS, CONFLICTS AND POST-CONFLICT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE BALKANS

1. Security Threats: Terrorism and the Threat of Iraq's Possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Casualties

a) Turkey. The Turkish government's problems mounted during February as it struggled to balance the pressures brought about by a possible war in Iraq. US military pressure on Iraq has placed Ankara in a position of confrontation with its most important strategic ally. The US, meanwhile, continued its military build-up with a view to forcing the Iraqi regime into disarming itself of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

While negotiating its support for a northern front against Baghdad, Ankara has also been preparing for the harsh geopolitical, economic, and ethnic problems that may arise in a post-Saddam world. The future of the Iraqi Kurds remains a major Turkish preoccupation. Turkey's leading government institutions have been dragging out discussions with the US in order to buy time to prepare for any post-war problems and, of course, to win further concessions from the Bush administration, including greater financial support.

Turkish leaders are wary of the lack of agreement at the UN Security Council and of domestic public opinion predominantly opposed to a war in Iraq. Ankara has also been alarmed by the prolonged debate within NATO of providing military support to Turkey in the event of war. France, Germany, and Belgium argued that a decision by NATO to give military assistance to Turkey would signal that war had already been decided upon by the alliance when, in fact, they still believed that a diplomatic solution to the crisis could be found. Turkey, a loyal member of the alliance, interpreted this as a violation of Alliance obligations.

On February 25, the Turkish government presented a motion to the country's parliament to allow 62,000 US troops to be deployed on Turkish soil for a period of six months in the event of a possible war in Iraq. The US will need ports and air bases and the mandate will be renewable after the term expires. The US will also be allowed to send a maximum of 255 warplanes and 65 helicopters to Turkey. The deployment of these armed forces is seen as crucial for a "northern front" against Iraq. The motion did not contain details of the agreement between Washington and Ankara for economic aid.

b) NATO - Turkey. After a marathon session in Brussels on February 16, NATO agreed to begin military planning for the defense of Turkey in the event of a war in Iraq. Deadlock on this issue lasted one month. The impasse was broken after the issue was taken to the NATO Defense Planning Committee of which France is not a member. The decision allows NATO to begin moving the alliance's AWACS radar surveillance planes, Patriot missiles, and chemical and biological defense units to Turkey. They will be used if Turkey is attacked by Iraq. The NATO Defense Planning Committee said this decision "relates only to the defense of Turkey and is without prejudice to any other military operations by NATO, and later decisions by NATO or the UN Security Council."
Some NATO countries, such as the Netherlands, were already moving aid to Turkey even before a NATO decision had been made. Four of the country's Patriot anti-missile batteries, manned by approximately 400 Dutch soldiers, had been shipped to Turkey on a bilateral basis and would be operational by early March.

c) The Vilnius Group Countries' Position. The Vilnius Group includes ten NATO candidate countries, six of them from Southeast Europe: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, FYROM, Romania and Slovenia. The group issued a statement in New York on February 5 in response to a presentation by the US Secretary of State to the UN Security Council concerning Iraq's efforts to deceive weapons inspectors and the country's links to terrorism. The statement said: "Our countries understand the dangers posed by tyranny and the special responsibility of democracies to defend our shared values. The transatlantic community, of which we are a part, must stand together to face the threat posed by the nexus of terrorism and dictators with weapons of mass destruction.

We have actively supported international efforts to achieve a peaceful disarmament of Iraq. However, it has now become clear that Iraq is in material breach of UN Security Council Resolutions, including UN Resolution 1441, passed unanimously on November 8, 2002. As our governments said on the occasion of the NATO Summit in Prague: 'We support the goal of the international community for full disarmament of Iraq as stipulated in the UN Security Council Resolution 1441. In the event of non-compliance with the terms of this resolution, we are prepared to contribute to an international coalition to enforce its provisions and the disarmament of Iraq.' The clear and present danger posed by Saddam Hussein's regime requires a united response from the community of democracies. We call upon the UN Security Council to take the necessary and appropriate action in response to Iraq's continuing threat to international peace and security".

On 11 February US Senators John McCain (R), Joe Lieberman (D), Lindsey Graham (R) and Evan Bayh (D) introduced a "Sense of the Congress" resolution praising 18 European allies, including the Vilnius Group countries for their support to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1441. "France and Germany do not speak for Europe," said the resolution, which also added that most European governments understand that if the Security Council fails to enforce the demands made on Iraq, the Council risks impotence and irrelevance. "In short," the resolution read, "most European governments behave like allies that are willing to meet their responsibilities to uphold international peace and security in defense of our common values. We thank this European majority for standing with us."

d) EU and EU Candidate States. Thirteen candidate countries agreed on February 18 to the common EU position adopted on Iraq during the emergency summit of February 17 in Brussels. The candidate countries were not allowed to join the summit after France, Germany and Belgium refused to agree to the Greek presidency's invitation. However, they were briefed after its completion. Most candidate countries stated that reaching an agreement was a good sign of the political unity of Europe. "The input of the 13 has been, and will be, an invaluable contribution to our common will to resolve the Iraqi crisis," read the common EU declaration on the meeting. It added that the common EU position on Iraq remained "full and effective disarmament" and that "force should only be used as a last resort… We want to achieve this peacefully." As a member of the UN Security Council, Bulgaria added that Resolution 1441 must be respected and a consensus found. Although Bulgaria favors a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis, Prime Minister Simeon Saxkoburggotsky said he would not exclude any options.

The gathering of candidate countries in Brussels followed the tensions created by French President Jacques Chirac's criticism of the pro-American Vilnius Ten letter, signed largely by EU candidate countries. Romania issued one of the strongest responses to the French president's criticisms. Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase regretted that candidate countries had not been more involved in European security and defense debates as a means of avoiding such tensions. In his statement of February 17, President Chirac singled out Romania and Bulgaria for criticism, arguing that their signing of the Vilnius Ten letter jeopardized their chances of joining the EU. The Bulgarian Prime Minister refused to comment on the issue, saying only that his country's relations with France and Germany have been excellent for many years. Other candidate countries, including Slovenia, said they regretted President Chirac's comments.

e) Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry announced on February 3 that the country's policy towards Iraq was closer to that of the US and Great Britain rather than that of France and Germany. Bulgaria was chosen as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council on January 1, 2002 and will hold its seat until December 31, 2003. Bulgarian diplomats and foreign affairs experts have argued that the over-precautions, conditional stance taken by a large number of countries did not improve the chances of finding a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis.

During preliminary talks with representatives of the Bush administration over support for a possible war in Iraq, Bulgaria was assured that it would be allowed to participate in the process of post-war reconstruction and would be repaid the money owed to it by Iraq. Baghdad owes Bulgaria some US$1.7 billion ( 1.58 billion) in debts dating back to the Communist era when Bulgaria actively participated in large infrastructure projects and delivered arms to Iraq.

According to Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, Bulgaria has endorsed a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Gulf region. But he added that if diplomatic efforts failed to persuade Baghdad to disarm, military pressure should be exerted on Saddam Hussein.
On February 4, the US Government requested over-flight rights from the Bulgarian government as well as transit and temporary stay rights for US and other coalition air force units on Bulgarian soil. The US government also asked for a Bulgarian contingent to be stationed outside of Iraq in the event of war. On February 6 and 7 respectively, the Bulgarian government and parliament agreed to open the country's airspace to coalition air forces for a period of six months and to offer land and logistical support for transiting US and other coalition forces. Bulgaria will also send two companies trained in nuclear, chemical and biological defense to Turkey's border with Iraq. Up to 18 US planes will be based at the Sarafovo airbase near the Black Sea city of Burgas. The first US planes and troops arrived in Sarafovo on February 24 to prepare for expected air-to-air refueling missions.

f) Romania. According to Rompress sources, a team of 14 Romanian specialists in nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) decontamination will be sent to Iraq to conduct investigation and decontamination missions. Colonel Nicolae Popescu, commander of the Application School for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense based at Campulung Muscel, said the 14 officers are highly trained and will be equipped with four armored personnel carriers for investigation missions. The Romanian unit's tasks will include the investigation of sites that pose contamination risks and marking contamination areas.

g) Albania. FYROM. Albania and FYROM, together with Latvia and Uzbekistan, urged the UN Security Council on February 19 to consider stronger measures to ensure Iraqi compliance with its disarmament obligations. Their intervention supported the US position that Iraq must now face serious consequences for defying the UN Security Council. The statement came just days after French President Jacques Chirac warned Central and Eastern European states that their support of US policy on Iraq could be detrimental to their hopes of joining the EU and NATO. Albania's ambassador to the UN, Agim Nesho, urged the international community to be bolder, arguing that greater resolve in the 1990s could have avoided bloodshed in Bosnia and Kosovo. Another Vilnius Ten member, FYROM, also urged tougher action from the Security Council.

h) Croatia. Croatia agreed on February 26 to open its airspace and airports in the event of US military action in Iraq, but only to civilian transport aircraft. The government's decision does not require parliamentary approval. If war breaks out, the Croatian government expects to receive new demands from the US.

 

2. ThePost-Conflict Issues in FYROM, Southern Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina

a) FYROM. (1) A powerful explosion destroyed part of the local courthouse in the town of Struga on February 14. The illegal Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) threatens to launch a spring offensive in an effort to move forward the "solution of the Albanian national question". CIA assessments warn of a worsening of the situation in the Balkans, mainly in Macedonia, southern Serbia and Kosovo. NATO sources, however, have denied that the NLA is preparing for a spring offensive.

The Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano met with Albanian political leaders from Macedonia, Ali Ahmeti and Arben Xhaferi in the southern Albanian town of Pogradets on February 9. The three men agreed that stability in the broader region was in the interest of all countries. (2) While visiting Skopje at the end of January, the UN Secretary General's special envoy for human rights, Hina Jilani, warned of serious violations of human rights by the Albanian police as well as efforts to stifle the free media. (3) Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor for The Hague-based international war crimes tribunal, met with Prosecutor-General Aleksandar Prcevski and government members in Skopje on 19 February. Del Ponte demanded that the government adopt a law on cooperation with the tribunal. Prcevski agreed that such a law would help the national judiciary act without encountering problems with the tribunal, as has hitherto been the case. (4) The EU is on course to launch its first military operation on March 15 by taking over NATO's slimmed-down peacekeeping mission in FYROM. The operation, which includes the deployment of 350 personnel, is seen by EU officials as a milestone in developing the European Security and Defense Policy at a time of deep divisions over Iraq.

b) Southern Serbia. Serbian security forces arrested 12 Albanians in the villages of Veliki Trnovac, Konchul and Lucane in southern Serbia on February 8, including the former leader of the disbanded Army for the Liberation of Presevo, Buianovac and Medvedza, Ionuz Musliu. The arrests were made after several incidents in the region, including the killing of a security serviceman, Selver Fazliu, a few days earlier.

c) Kosovo. (1) President George Bush informed Congressional leaders in Washington on January 31 that US military personnel serving as a contribution to the NATO-led KFOR operation in Kosovo will be gradually reduced in size as public security conditions improve and Kosovars assume increasing responsibility for their own self-government. (2) Kosovo's first war crimes trial against four former ethnic-Albanian guerrillas began under heavy security on February 17. It is one of the most sensitive court cases to be heard in the UN-governed province. An international prosecutor has charged the well-known ex-commander Rustem "Remi" Mustafa and others with torturing fellow ethnic Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serb officials in the 1998-99 conflict. Three men are also accused of murdering civilians. (3) On February 17 KFOR apprehended Haradin Bala, Isak Musliu and Agim Murtezi, indicted on January 27 by the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. They were transferred to ICTY custody on February 18. A fourth indictee, Fatmir Limaj, was taken into custody on February 18 by authorities in Slovenia. All four indictees were members of the Kosovo Liberation Army and are charged with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war for allegedly imprisoning, torturing and murdering civilians in a prison camp in Kosovo in 1998.

d) Bosnia and Herzegovina. On February 5 the Overseas Private Investment Corporation announced it is providing a US$2.5 million loan to a Bosnian-based corporation owned by a US citizen to build between 700 and 800 apartments in Mostar. Sixty per cent of the city's housing stock was damaged or destroyed during the civil war of the 1990s.

III. THE NATIONAL PERSPECTIVES OF THE BALKAN COUNTRIES: SPECIFIC ISSUES

1. Serbia and Montenegro
(1) The state of Yugoslavia formally ceased to exist on February 4. It was replaced with the Union of Serbia and Montenegro. To achieve this end, the Yugoslav parliament adopted a Constitutional Charter and an Implementation Law. The new 126-seat joint legislature of Serbia and Montenegro is expected to begin its work by early March. (2) The Balkan republic of Montenegro has again failed to elect a president in elections held on February 9. Less than the required 50 per cent of voters turned up to cast their ballot. As in the previous election, former Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic won the majority of votes. (3) Serbian ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj was indicted by the ICTY at The Hague on February 14. Seselj, the leader of the Radical Party and a former presidential contender, was a persistent ideologue of the policy of ethnic cleansing practiced by Serbia. He surrendered to the Tribunal on February 24. He is expected to face eight charges of crimes against humanity and six charges for violations of the laws or customs of war.

2. Bulgaria
The Director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), Dimo Gyaurov, has been dismissed from his office by the government and president. Colonel Kircho Kirov was appointed as interim Director of the NIS. His appointment came after consultation with Bulgaria's partners to make sure his appointment would be welcomed by allied intelligence services.

IV. BILATERAL AND MULTILATERAL RELATIONS IN THE BALKANS. THE STATE OF THE REGIONAL INITIATIVES

1. Bilateral Relations

a) Romania - Albania. At a meeting in Bucharest on January 29, the head of the Romanian air force, Constantine Georghe, met with Albanian Defense Minister Pandeli Majko. The two agreed that Romanian experts would support the modernization of the Albanian air force, including Albania's Russian-made MIG aircraft and its air defense systems. Romanian experts will visit Albania to assess the modernization process in the near future. Majko also met with Romanian President Ion Iliescu to discuss possibilities for further bilateral cooperation. Romania has agreed to back Albania's plans to join NATO.

b) Greece -Turkey. Greece invited Turkey for talks on the issue of Cyprus on February12. The election of Tassos Papadopoulos as president of Cyprus on February 16 is seen as a protest vote against the peace plan proposed by the UN. Papadopoulos, leader of the conservative DIKO party, won 51.3 per cent of the vote. The biggest problem facing the reunification of the island, in light of its integration into the EU, stems largely from the current focus on Iraq and European and Euro-Atlantic disunity on this issue.

c) FYROM - Serbia and Montenegro. The Foreign Minister of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro, Goran Svilanovic, visited Skopje on February 27 and met with Macedonian leaders. They discussed the security situation in the region and bilateral ties.

2. Stability Pact
(1) On February 17 the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, called for more flexible rules governing the Stability Pact amid warnings that a war in Iraq could throw the region's economy further off course. (2) On February 24 the Vice-President of the Bundesbank, Jurgen Stark, criticized the German, French, Italian, and British positions on the Stability Pact following their failure to consolidate their part of the Pact's budget.

V. THE ECONOMIC SITUATION OF THE BALKAN COUNTRIES AND THE REGION

IMF - Croatia. The IMF approved Croatia's request for a US$146 million precautionary credit on February 3. The credit is intended to support the country's economic and financial development program and will remain in place until April 2004. According to the IMF, there are no immediate plans to draw on the funds.

VI. THE PROCESS OF DIFFERENTIATED INTEGRATION OF SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE IN EU AND IN NATO

1. EU Summit on Iraq - EU Candidate Countries
The EU debriefed candidate countries following its Iraq summit on February 18. The candidate countries were not invited to the deliberations for fear that they may voice views contrary to those held by other EU states. Despite French President Jacques Chirac's earlier comments, it is impossible to argue that candidate countries violated the EU's common strategy towards Iraq as such a strategy does not exist. Public sentiment in the candidate countries has cast Chirac in the role of a bully, criticizing East Europeans for having a sovereign opinion of their own and allying with the US. He warned countries such as Bulgaria and Romania that their efforts to join the EU had been jeopardized by their "pro-American" behavior. The candidate countries have responded to these warnings by arguing that France's double standard on national sovereignty was unacceptable. Bucharest and Sofia do not need to be reminded by President Chirac that they are far short of fulfilling the EU's membership criteria but should instead be applauded for their efforts to date. Candidate countries have also argued that they are just as informed about events in Iraq as other, more powerful European countries and assessed these events in light of their own security interests. Moreover, the drafting of a common EU foreign and security policy had been greatly undermined by France's attitude.

2. EU - Croatia
Croatia officially presented its candidature to join the EU on February 24. The Croatian government's target date of 2007 is shared by Bulgaria and Romania.

3. EU - FYROM
The Foreign Minister of FYROM, Ilinka Mitreva, said in Brussels that her country would shortly present its candidature for EU membership. Skopje is faced with the major problem of restoring stability and freeing itself from all sources of outside dependency before beginning the EU's accession process.

4. NATO - Bulgaria
(1) A Bulgarian delegation visited NATO's headquarters in Brussels on February 10 for the second round of accession negotiations. The country's budget and its judicial and security systems were all discussed. (2) NATO's Secretary General, Lord George Robertson, visited Sofia on February 17 and delivered a speech to the Bulgarian parliament. He met with the country's president, the prime minister and foreign minister and encouraged its efforts to prepare for full NATO membership.

5. NATO - Croatia
A NATO team visited Zagreb on February 4 for talks on the Annual Program for Partnership for Peace activities in 2003.

VII. THE INFLUENCE OF OTHER EXTERNAL FACTORS ON THE REGION: NATIONAL GREAT POWERS AND INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS

1. US

a) US - Albania. US President George Bush sent a letter to the Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano on February 14 thanking him for Tirana's support for US policy against Iraq.

b) US - Bulgaria. US President George Bush met with Bulgaria's Prime Minister Simeon Saxkoburggotsky at the White House on February 25. They discussed global issues including the crisis in Iraq. A few days earlier, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Solomon Passy met with Secretary of State Colin Powell. US Trade Secretary Don Evans will arrive in Sofia at the beginning of March to discuss bilateral economic ties. Bulgaria asked for and received US support in four key areas: financial compensation for Bulgaria's participation in a coalition against Saddam Hussein; priority payment of the US$1.7 billion owed to Bulgaria by Iraq after a possible war; additional guarantees for Bulgaria's national security; and US political support for Bulgaria.

2. Russia

a) Russia - Bulgaria. (1) Russia and Bulgaria will adopt a joint declaration providing for the conclusion of a new bilateral treaty during Vladimir Putin's visit to Bulgaria on March 1-3. The existing treaty will expire in 2007. The Presidents of the two countries will also declare their cooperation in fighting terrorism, transnational crime, and the illegal trafficking of arms, drugs, and people. Russia has recognized Bulgaria's legitimate right to join the EU and NATO. The two countries have also agreed to improve their cooperation in the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. They have already agreed to cooperate in trans-European gas and oil transportation projects as well as to increase bilateral trade exchange. Alexey Miller, the president of the giant Russian gas company Gasprom, visited Sofia on February 5-6 and met with Bulgaria's president, prime minister and energy minister. Following Putin's March visit to Bulgaria, Gasprom will begin preparations for extending the bilateral treaty with its Bulgarian partner, Bulgargas, beyond 2010. (2) Speaking in Ekaterinburg at the beginning of February, Russian Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov announced the imminent withdrawal of the Russian contingent in the Balkans. It is time, said Ivanov, for the region's police forces to work independently. The Russian contingent has been in the Balkans for four years. There are no military duties to perform in the region and it is no longer financially sustainable.

VIII. CONCLUSIONS
Preparations for a possible war in Iraq have shaped this month's security relations in the Balkans. The global coalition against Iraq is now seen as having its stronghold in Southeast Europe. These developments have had a profound impact on the region's relations with the continent's two most powerful institutions - the EU and NATO. The crisis in Iraq has offered a unique opportunity to address the fundamental problems of European integration and the drafting of a common foreign and security policy. Tensions in the Middle East are no reason to neglect the Balkans, one of Europe's most important and immediate security concerns. A great many issues are still at stake in Southeast Europe. The region's leaders are eager for EU and NATO solidarity. However, the candidate countries' EU membership prospects should not be threatened or manipulated to suit the interests of other EU powers. Any derailing of the membership process will be at the expense of Europe's long-term security interests.


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ISSN 1311 – 3240

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