The Covid-19 epidemic, which left its mark in 2019-2020, made its impact felt worldwide, causing a significant economic crisis, especially in the Western Balkans and Europe. However, Russia’s war on Ukraine in 2022 has dragged the region into more chaos. Leaders on the European continent, who had a weak belief that such a hot conflict would occur in the 21st century, had difficulties dealing with the situation and decided to impose sanctions on Russia.
The European Union (EU) has imposed a partial embargo on crude oil and petroleum products imported from Russia, and a ban on insurance for shipping, within the framework of sanctions. The Europeans set out on this path, considering the difficulty of reducing the weight of Russian oil in the market and reducing the export revenues of the Moscow administration without harming their people. However, at present, it is difficult to say that Russia was intimidated by sanctions.
Russia, which was thought to be affected by the sanctions at the beginning of the process, did not face the expected results, as well as having cuts in gas exports to some regions, leaving European and Balkan countries in a difficult situation. The Kremlin, which pushed Europe to turn to alternative energy sources, had no difficulty finding other buyers. Russia, which imports gas and oil at a discount to certain countries, especially Myanmar, China, and India, has prevented its income from energy from falling below a certain level.
The energy rate imported by Germany, which can transport gas to its country from Russia via the Nord Stream-1 Pipeline route, decreased from 50% to 30%. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who used his energy card in response to the EU’s sanctions, made a counter move to overcome the pressure of sanctions. Because the sanctions, which were expected to discourage the Moscow government from its aggression, revealed the dependence of Europe and the Balkans on Russia in terms of energy.
Russia has not only threatened energy security with its aggressive stance. In the period when the food, environment, migration, and economic crisis were experienced at almost the same time, countries wanted to feel the protection of the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which they saw as a security umbrella, without being more exposed to the rain of threats.
Since the beginning of the war, along with Ukraine, which has expressed its desire to become a member of the EU, Moldova was given the status of a candidate country and a European perspective to Georgia. In addition, states such as Sweden and Finland, which are known to be relatively neutral and pro-peace, have started to move in a different direction from their usual foreign policy understanding by applying for membership in NATO.
The events were not limited to these, but there was a migration flow from Ukraine to European countries. Considering the migration corridor stretching from the Middle East and African countries to Europe, it can be understood that the migration has now become a security issue. It has been observed that xenophobia and the far right have risen rapidly in the public opinion of these countries. The experiences show how realpolitik practices have dropped states into a web of anxiety spreading like a virus.
The latest move by Western states to impose sanctions has been the G7 countries’ bringing the ceiling price application to the agenda. In this sense, while setting a specific limit on the price of oil and even gas purchased from Russia is on the agenda, efforts to include China and India are continuing in the decision that is considered. While Russia has a prominent and influential market like China, any Western restriction will not have the expected effect in the short run. However, China has made it clear that it will not stand by the West, saying that it does not find the resolution envisaged to be implemented as peaceful. On the other hand, India announced that it would not be a partner in the sanction because it could buy oil cheaply from Russia.
Although China, which is a substantial market for Russian gas, keeps Moscow alive even during the war, the Kremlin will also be in a difficult situation after a point due to its infrastructure deficiencies. It is expected that the EU will show the same solidarity by increasing investments in renewable energy sources and signing some practices to stop the worsening of the environment and climate crisis.
On the Balkans side, the economic crisis that shook the region showed itself in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). According to the data from the World Bank, the GDP revenues of the countries in the Balkans decreased by approximately 3.2% in 2020. The global increase in energy prices has blocked the way towards the goals of the Green Agenda, which is intended to be implemented in the Western Balkans region and serves the purposes of ensuring energy security and protecting the environment. For this reason, cooperation with European states has gained importance, and the need for coordination between the region’s countries has emerged.
The Ukraine Crisis has entirely threatened the already fragile energy security of the Western Balkans. It is known that the region has been experiencing periodic power outages for a while. Except for Albania, whose primary energy source is hydroelectricity, most Western Balkan countries derive their energy predominantly from fossil fuels, especially coal. Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia heavily depend on Russia for gas. Although all Western Balkan countries, except Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, have participated in EU sanctions against Russia, since they use gas at a limited level, the Russian administration did not cut off the energy resources of these countries by acting with a retaliatory mentality, as it did with the EU countries. Thus, although they were not directly affected by the increasing gas prices, the high cost of imported electricity is an indication that the Western Balkans will emerge from the crisis with damage.
It is usual for the Western Balkan states to follow the regulations and policies of the union by turning their direction to the EU to ensure their energy security. Such a move is significant for the Green Agenda, which envisages the transition to renewable energy. At the same time, just like Europe, they are expected to turn to alternative energy sources. Because Russia’s Power of Siberia-I Pipeline, which transmits energy to China, has a specific capacity. When the war ends Russia may take many years to build other pipelines. However, Europe and the Balkans also have energy routes, such as the Southern Gas Corridor, waiting to be used more actively. Europe has demonstrated its will to diversify its energy resources by importing natural gas from Norway.
Many Western Balkans states rely mainly on coal-fired power plants to meet their energy needs. However, using these plants jeopardizes countries’ capacity to meet the commitments set out in the European Green Deal. However, due to the difficulties brought by the energy crisis, the mentioned states will have to continue to use coal, at least for a while. North Macedonia and Kosovo, for example, have announced that they will postpone their plans to phase out coal-fired power plants over the next few years.
To get rid of the energy crisis, it can be foreseen that the Western Balkan states will develop cooperation with each other. It is on the agenda that they do this, especially by preparing joint investment projects in the use of renewable energy and by ensuring the integration of electricity and gas markets. However, the fact that some countries, such as Bulgaria, which have changed their domestic politics, turn their faces to Russia again may undermine the cooperation.
Within the framework of the actions taken against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Commission presented its proposal called REPowerEU to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels by two-thirds by the end of 2022 and to end this dependence entirely before 2030. The proposed policy demonstrates a critical shift in the EU’s approach to energy problems. Of course, this will also have a significant impact on the energy sector of the Balkans. Within the plan’s framework, it is foreseen to accelerate the transition to clean energy sources, invest in liquefied gas terminals and other gas infrastructure, and thus accelerate the activities to diversify the energy supply.
Considering the aims and method of this project, it can be predicted that the Balkans will become an essential corridor for Europe’s energy supply in the medium and long term. Looking to the the various pipelines connecting EU countries to energy-rich countries such as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan around the Caspian Sea, and reaching the Balkans and Europe through South Stream, passing through Türkiye, the importance of the region is understandable. It will not be surprising if the EU uses this situation and builds transportation networks for natural gas and crude oil in the Balkans. The gas pipeline named “Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria” (IGB), which has already been opened, reflects this perspective.
After all, looking at the EU’s changing energy policy, it can be said that the countries in the region first understand how risky it is to become dependent on a state in a vital sector such as energy. It can be stated that the West has a more comprehensive approach to energy security and tries to find a solution by addressing the problem of the climate crisis. As a matter of fact, after what happened during the process, the region is not ready to host climate migrants. It can be said that the steps taken by the EU and the Balkans to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources by acting together against Russia, the attempts to renew the energy legislation, and the moves to accelerate the connections to be built are quite normal because these developments are the manifestation of the effort to overcome the energy crisis.
 “India and China Undercut Russia’s Oil Sanctions Pain,”, Financial Times, https://www.ft.com/content/b38d3ab5-ea57-400e-87e9-f48eaf3e0510, (Date of Accession: 15.09.2022).
 “Germany Takes New Steps to Tackle the Energy Crisis”, World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/08/energy-crisis-germany-europe, (Date of Accession: 15.09.2022).
 The German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum, https://brusselsforum.org/session/a-conversation-the-war-in-ukraine-and-the-future-of-the-international-system/, (Date of Accession: 15.09.2022).
 “Chair of NATO Military Committee Visits Sweden”, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_207022.htm, (Date of Accession: 15.09.2022).
 “G7 Countries Agree Plan to Impose Price Cap on Russian Oil”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/sep/02/g7-poised-to-agree-plan-to-impose-price-cap-on-russian-oil, (Date of Accession: 15.09.2022).
 The World Bank, https://www.worldbank.org/en/home, (Date of Accession: 15.09.2022).
 “Bulgaria Says Talks to Resume Russian Gas Supplies are ‘Inevitable’”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/bulgaria-says-talks-needed-resume-russian-gas-supplies-2022-08-22/, (Date of Accession: 15.09.2022).
 “REPowerEU: Affordable, Secure and Sustainable Energy for Europe”, European Comission, https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal/repowereu-affordable-secure-and-sustainable-energy-europe_en (Date of Accession: 15.09.2022).