©Health & Fitness Journal. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gestures after a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, left, in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday November 29, 2022. Alexandru Dobre/Pool via REUTERS
By John Irish, Luiza Ilie and Sabine Siebold
BUCHAREST (Health & Fitness Journal) – NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday sought to reassure fragile countries in Russia’s neighborhood that they fear Russia may destabilize them as the conflict in Ukraine drags on, squeezing energy supplies and prices soaring drives.
The second day of a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting focused on the Western Balkans region, specifically Bosnia, and the two former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia, both of which have breakaway territories occupied by Russian forces.
“The message is clear: All NATO allies are aware that the beast also wants to take control of the Western Balkans, and we need – through practical, deliverable support – to help these countries survive,” said the Estonian foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu told Health & Fitness Journal at the end of a two-day NATO meeting in Bucharest.
“But of course the gravitational point for these nations, for Moldova, for Georgia, is of course (the) outcome of this war. This is of vital importance to their territorial integrity, their right in the future to choose their path of life.”
NATO allies on Wednesday pledged to help Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina as they face pressure from Russia, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and ministers said.
“If there is one lesson from Ukraine, it is that we must support them now,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference.
“They have been affected by Russian influence in different ways, but it is better to support them now than to see developments go absolutely in the wrong direction, as we saw with the invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.”
He gave few details of what that support would look like.
For Bosnia, he said: “I think in order to be able to resist attempts at Russian interference and influence, one of the most important things is to complete the government formation after the elections.”
Bosnia has been going through its worst political crisis since the end of the Balkan wars in the 1990s, when Bosnian Serbs, emboldened by at least tacit support from Russia, challenged state institutions as part of their longstanding attempt at secession.
European leaders fear these countries on the continent’s southern and eastern fringes will lose patience while waiting for European Union and NATO membership, leaving them vulnerable to instability and Russian and Chinese efforts to gain influence to win.
Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic, invited to the NATO meeting, said she was concerned about Russia’s intentions towards her country.
“We have Russian proxies in our government and the divisions in our country are deep,” she said.
Moldova, sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, last week warned its people to prepare for a harsh winter as it faces an “acute” energy crisis that risks fueling popular discontent.
It has also faced an unresolved Separatist conflict for 30 years. A contingent of Russian peacekeepers is stationed in mainly Russian-speaking Transnistria, which borders southwestern Ukraine.
In Georgia, Russian-backed separatists control two breakaway regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia to protect the separatists from a perceived threat from the Geargian government.
Stoltenberg said there are dozens of NATO trainers in Georgia and that allies have made new pledges of continued support.
“Stability in the Western Balkans is important for peace,” said Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani. “We have to stop the Russians in the Western Balkans, we need more Europe.” EU leaders will hold a summit with Western Balkans leaders next week in Tirana.