Turkey and Russia are engaged in a simultaneous, but apparently uncoordinated, effort to undermine the European Union's political influence in the Balkans. The informal alliance between the two 19th century power brokers appears to have formed around shared distaste for the EU's liberal and social-democratic model of the transnational union, as well as a renewed sense of national sovereignty. The two countries share not only similar ideological inclination towards populism and clientelism, but also a fair share of economic troubles, which had probably helped them resolve their recent political spat.

Key Points:

  • Democratic institutions and international norms in the Balkans are increasingly under threat by illiberal autocratic regimes. The attack undermines and disrupts the norms that has allowed relative peace and prosperity, but also how business is done.  
  • Turkey’s shift away from the EU integration process, and the consolidation of an isolationist policy from the U.S., is aligning Turkey with Russia in terms of political strategies in the Balkans.
  • Despite Turkey’s and Russia’s bombastic rapprochement with the Balkans, data suggests that these countries do not have larger economic interests than their Western partners, and that the EU still represent 65% of international trade in this region

Erdoğan, the Autocrat
Turkey has never been a stranger to military incursions into politics, and the top brass had intervened five times since the end of the WWII to diminish power accumulation in the hands of civilian governments. The current President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is the first civil leader who has survived a coup, and his victory has changed the political order in the country. Having overpowered the mighty generals, Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP - Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) launched a brutal crackdown, jailing political opponents and purging the military and state administration from pretty much anyone with questionable loyalty.