Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned on November 15 that Russia may instigate fresh crises in the Balkans and Moldova as a strategy to divert global attention away from the ongoing war in Ukraine.
While Russia’s influence in the Western Balkans has waned in recent years, Moscow maintains close ties with pro-Russian politicians in some countries, in particular Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Moldova.
Speaking to a group of African journalists, Zelenskiy suggested that Russia, along with its ally Iran, could be orchestrating events in the Middle East as a convenient distraction of Western powers’ attention from Ukraine.
He urged the international community to take notice of the Balkans too, indicating that Russia might have a long-term plan to create instability in the region if preventive measures are not taken.
"This is an explosion in the Middle East, Russia is behind this, we are sure, with their allies Iran," Zelkenskiy said as quoted by Interfax Ukraine.
"Pay attention to the Balkans. Believe me, we are receiving information: Russia has a long plan. The Middle East, there will be the Balkans, at least, if the countries of the world do nothing now, there will be such an explosion again," the Ukrainian president added.
There have been fears since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that Moscow could seek to destabilise Bosnia, where the pro-Russian president of the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, has long been agitating for secession.
Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik said on November 15 that he sees himself as the first president of independent Republika Srpska in 2030, sparking a fresh political scandal in the country.
Politicians from Republika Srpska have repeatedly defied the authority of both state-level institutions and the international community’s high representative in Bosnia.
There is another volatile situation in northern Kosovo, where there have been several violent clashes this year, including a gun battle between a group of armed Serbs and Kosovan law enforcers.
Turning to Moldova, Zelenskyy raised concerns about Russia's alleged efforts to undermine the situation in the country.
"Moldova. Now they are starting to undermine the situation in Moldova. To show that something was wrong there during the elections. To recognise the elections as unconstitutional. To again demolish the current government. To demolish the government that is pro-European," he said.
Part of Moldova's territory, Transnistria, is controlled by pro-Russian separatists, though both Chisinau and the breakaway regime in Tiraspol have sought to keep the country calm and avoid Moldova being dragged into the war in neighbouring Ukraine. There is also a pro-Russian government in the autonomous Gagauzia region.
The ruling Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) won the recent local elections in Moldova, after having successfully secured EU candidate status for the country in 2022, though it did less well in major cities.
Recently, the Shor Party — the vehicle of fugitive politician Ilan Shor, suspected of being backed by Moscow — was banned in Moldova. This was followed up by bans on parties launched by ex-Shor Party politicians.