Albania, located in the Western Balkans, is a country of great geopolitical importance. The fact that Albania has a coastline on the Mediterranean, Ionian Sea and Adriatic increases the interest in the country. In this context, Albania has an important function in connecting the Balkans with the Mediterranean. In fact, this nature of the country has led to it being the first Western Balkan state to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2009.
The Western Balkans, however, has historically been a region of special interest to Russia. The main strategy of Moscow for the aforementioned region is to prevent the integration process of the Western Balkan countries with the European Union (EU). But Albania’s integration with the West rather than the EU; it should be underlined that it took place through NATO.
On the other hand, it is seen that there are not many pro-Russian political groups in Albania. Therefore, Russian influence in Albania was limited due to some political and cultural conditions. No Russian President or Prime Minister has visited Albania in the last thirty years. The friendship treaty signed between Russia and Albania in 2004 was never ratified either. In this context, Russian influence in Albania is more limited than in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia in the Western Balkans.
Moreover, Albania applied for EU membership in 2009 and received the status of candidate country in 2014. The EU started Albania’s membership negotiations with an intergovernmental conference on 19 July 2022.
On the other hand, it would be useful to talk about what kind of instruments Russia used against Albania. In this direction, the Kremlin invited Albania and North Macedonia to become members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in 2019, aiming both to increase their influence in the Balkans and to benefit from the extension of the EU membership processes of these two states. Because at that time, French President Emmanuel Macron vetoed the start of the EU accession negotiations of Albania and North Macedonia. In this context, Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov stated that these two countries, whose membership processes were shelved by Brussels on 30 October 2019, could find more understanding in the EEU.
As can be understood, the Kremlin saw the extension of Albania’s EU membership process as an opportunity. However, Albania and Macedonia did not approach Russia’s proposal positively in the aforementioned period. Because while Albania was a member of NATO at that time; North Macedonia also joined the alliance in 2020.
In this context, it can be said that the development of the two states’ integration processes with the West through NATO has rendered Russia’s moves ineffective. Therefore, Tirana and Skopje considered NATO and the EU as complementary elements in their integration processes with the West, although they are different types of organizations. Therefore, the model offered by Russia was not seen as attractive by Albania.
Particularly, Albania’s EU membership process seems to take a long time. One of the main factors affecting this was the EU’s handling of the membership processes of Albania and North Macedonia together. Because Bulgaria’s veto of North Macedonia’s membership process until June 2022 due to problems arising from conflicts such as language, history and identity, indirectly led to the extension of Albania’s accession.
Along with all this, on September 14, 2022, the United States Department of State, based on intelligence reports, claimed that the Kremlin has spent 300 million dollars since 2014 to interfere in the internal affairs of more than 20 countries. The Washington administration claimed that Moscow provided approximately 500,000 dollars in support to the centre-right Democratic Party (DP) in the country for the 2017 elections in Albania.
The Socialist Party, headed by Edi Rama, who is currently the Prime Minister, won the election. This election was seen as a critical threshold for Albania to start negotiations with the EU. Because DP, at first, threatened to boycott the election. Therefore, although Albania draws attention with the limited Russian influence among the Western Balkan countries, it can be argued that Russia aims to prevent Albania’s integration with the West.
On the other hand, the capital of Albania, Tirana, hosted the EU-Western Balkans Summit held on 6 December 2022. For this reason, Rama pointed out that the Russian influence in the Balkans is real and that the region should be united in the face of this danger. At this point, it seems that the Russia-Ukraine War has accelerated the expansion of the EU towards the Western Balkans countries. In addition, the war increased the spirit of solidarity among the Western Balkan countries excluding Serbia.
As a result, Albania differs from other Western Balkan countries due to its membership in NATO. Already, the Tirana administration has made important progress in the process of integration with the West in general. But NATO, in the context of defense; the EU, on the other hand, should be evaluated within the framework of economy. In this sense, EU membership for Albania will directly affect the welfare of the people in a way. In this context, it can be argued that Russia’s main motivation will be to prevent this. But the Kremlin’s limited influence in Albania compared to other Western Balkan countries poses a formidable challenge to Moscow.
 “Western Balkans and the War in Ukraine”, Warsaw Institute, https://warsawinstitute.org/western-balkans-war-ukraine/, (Date of Accession: 30.03.2023).
 “Albania”, European Council Council of the European Union, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/enlargement/albania/, (Date of Accession: 30.03.2023).
 “Russian Representative to EU Invites N. Macedonia and Albania to Join EEU Instead”, European Western Balkans, https://europeanwesternbalkans.com/2019/10/30/russian-representative-to-eu-invites-n-macedonia-and-albania-to-join-eeu-instead/, (Date of Accession: 30.03.2023).
 “Albania’s Opposition Democrats to Probe Allegation Party Received $500,000 From Russia”, Bne Intelli News, https://intellinews.com/albania-s-opposition-democrats-to-probe-allegation-party-received-500-000-from-russia-256484/?source=bosnia-and-herzegovina, (Date of Accession: 30.03.2023).
 “Russian Influence is Real, Rama: Our Region Must be United with the EU”, Euronews Albania, https://euronews.al/en/russian-influence-is-real-rama-our-region-should-be-united-with-the-eu/, (Date of Accession: 30.03.2023).