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US Think Tank Drops Hint the Balkans May Turn Into Hotbed Again in 2018

© AP Photo / Dimitri MessinisFlames from an explosion light up the Belgrade skyline near a power station after NATO cruise missiles and warplanes attacked Yugoslavia late Wednesday, March 24, 1999
Flames from an explosion light up the Belgrade skyline near a power station after NATO cruise missiles and warplanes attacked Yugoslavia late Wednesday, March 24, 1999 - Sputnik International
The Balkan region has been listed by the influential Council on Foreign Relations as a potential hotbed in 2018. Speaking to Sputnik, Milomir Stepic, a research fellow at the Institute of Political Studies in Belgrade, opined that the US is seeking to preserve dominance and if needed beef up its presence in this important geopolitical zone.

One should not underestimate the importance of the Balkans, it has always been and still remains a very important region, Milomir Stepic, a research fellow at the Institute of Political Studies in Belgrade, told Sputnik, commenting on the Council on Foreign Relations' (CFR) tenth annual Preventive Priorities Survey which mentioned the Balkans as a potential hotbed in 2018 for the first time in a long while.

"This [region] is the scene of clashes between the world's leading powers. Once China has recently come to the arena, the knot has become more entangled than ever," Stepic said. "No one withdraws from the Balkans, [instead] new players are entering [the region]. It's impossible to create a vacuum in this situation — there must always be a force that maintains dominance."

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According to the Serbian researcher, the US is very interested in preserving its status in the Balkans. If Washington loses its footing in the region, its position in the entire eastern Mediterranean, the Black Sea and southern Europe would be in shreds, he noted.

One should focus attention on the changing dynamics of US-Turkish relations, according to Stepic,  referring to the fact that Ankara seriously influences the situation both in the Balkans and the Middle East and controls one of the key "geopolitical points" — the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits.

The scholar noted that while various rapid changes are still possible in the Balkan region, the Americans are seeking to boost their positions there. Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo remains the main foothold of the United States Army in southern Europe. Besides the US maintains its military presence in Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

If they decide that their positions are under threat, the Americans would easily beef up their presence in the Balkans, the researcher pointed out.

Sputnik's interlocutor noted that Russia also wants to increase its influence in the region which the US regards as an alarming signal.

"The Balkans are being called as the most accurate seismograph for recording geopolitical earthquakes," Stepic underscored. "The first 'tremors' caused by the clashes of global heavyweights are registered here."

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The scholar noted that the US has left numerous potentially explosive spots which could "detonate" and lead to an all-out conflict in the region. "Then Washington will again send mediators to resolve the chaos, and, of course, stay [in the region] again," he concluded.

On December 11, the US influential think tank CFR released Preventive Priorities Survey: 2018 worked out by the think tank's Center for Preventive Action (CPA).

The CPA requested foreign policy experts "to rank thirty ongoing or potential conflicts based on their likelihood of occurring or escalating in the next year and their potential impact on US national interests."

While the Balkans is not in the list of "top tier risks" which includes North Korea, Russia-NATO potential confrontation and terrorism threat and is ranked only the third in the survey it is still surprising, given the fact that it has not been mentioned by the CFR for a long time.

The Balkans is placed in the "Tier 3 Conflicts" section together with Nigeria, Libya, Sahel, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Congo, Kenya and Central African Republic.

"Among the eight new contingencies in this year's survey are the risks of intensified clashes between Israel and Hezbollah, increased violence and political instability in the Sahel region of Africa, and escalating tensions or extremist violence in the Balkans," the report says.

Commenting on the matter, US expert on the Balkans Daniel Serwer told the N1 broadcaster in Bosnia-Herzegovina that the fact that the Balkans are in third tier of the survey demonstrate that the US has much more important problems. However, "it's the first time in a long time that the Council has listed the Balkans," Serwer highlighted.

The views and opinions expressed by Milomir Stepic are those of the scholar and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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