Russia’s contemporary involvement in the Balkans is comparatively minimal. Russia does do business with Serbia, including with Serbia’s military, but the business does not involve anything that one could call ‘make or break’ for either side. This is particularly true for Russia.
Like the rest of the world, Russia would like to trade and have good relations with Balkan countries and not just former Yugoslav states. There is nothing unusual about that nor anything specific about this desire. Russia frankly is far more focused on Central Asia, East Asia and even the Middle East than it is on the Balkans.
Russia’s connections with the region are primarily historic rather than contemporary.
Historically speaking, the majority of Balkan countries owe their very independence and modern statehood to Russia.
Serbia was the first Balkan state to rebel against Ottoman Turkish imperialism. The revolt began in 1804 and resulted in limited autonomy for Serbia.
The Greeks followed in 1821 and by 1829, The First Hellenic Republic became fully independent from Ottoman imperial rule. As a downside, many western countries began exerting a kind of economic and soft political colonialism on the young state in an ancient land.
It is note worthy that during the Greek War of Independence both Russia and Britain allied in support of the Hellenic people. This was the only major war between 1815 and 1914 in which Britain sided with Russia against their nominal Ottoman ally.
For the Balkans, 1878 was the the moment of truth. Russia smashed Turkish forces in a Russo-Turkish war which lasted between 1877 and 78.
The Treaty of San Stefano which ended the war, recognised the full independence of Serbia, Montenegro and Romania. Bulgaria became de-facto independent after years of brutal Ottoman oppression and the territories of what is today Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia all threw off Ottoman rule.
Some of the terms of San Stefano were amended in The Treaty of Berlin, as Britain and France were worried that Russia was increasing its influence in southern Europe. However, the Ottoman presence in the Balkans was limited and more or less meaningless. Ottoman rule continued to decline in the region in the subsequent decades.
In the case of Bosnia and the northern Balkans, Austria-Hungary became an occupying power, leading to discontent in the early 20th century. This in turn pushed events forward which led to the outbreak of the First World War.
All of this has the aggregate effect of meaning that Russia changed the course of history in the Balkans. It allowed an overwhelmingly Orthodox majority region to be free of both Turkish rule and ultimately, also western rule. Many in Europe and the wider west have still not forgiven Russia for this.
This is why many people in the Balkans continue to look to Russia as the great power they admire most. Inversely, whenever anti-Russian governments are elected in Balkan states, many Russians feel that their historical sacrifice has been repaid with ingratitude. It is crucial to understand that the latter is not and never has been the position of the Russian government, but it has been expressed by opposition parties including the LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia).
Contrary to what the mainstream media says, it is NATO and not Russia who views the Balkans through the prism of history rather than the present. Today’s ‘Great Game’ in the Balkans isn’t about Russia versus Turkey, it is about independent Orthodox Christian majority countries who are being antagonised by the Republic of Albania as well as ethnic Albanian terrorists who have been emboldened by the 1999 NATO led illegal war on Yugoslavia.
In throwing its weight behind Albanian terrorists, organised criminals and the objectively corrupt Albanian state, one so corrupt that even many Albanians are protesting against it, NATO is fighting the independence of countries who owe their initial independence to Russia, but who today have less in common politically with Russia than at any time since the the halcyon days of Ottoman rule.
Russian sympathies for both international law and fraternal nations should not be confused with meddling. The only foreigners meddling in the Balkans are the NATO states, led by America and northern European countries, including Germany as well as Turkey which is desirous to regain a foothold in its former territory, beginning with Sunni Bosnia.
America’s proxy war on Russia in a place where Russia is not present is really just another war for territory, political influence and most important economic influence. However, it is being fought in an thinly veiled war on Christianity using a majority Muslim Albanian population that has become religiously and politically radicalised since the bygone days of 20th century ultra-secularism.
NATO is playing with fire in the Balkans. Whether Russia steps in with a fire extinguisher is a big question mark. NATO is trying to draw Russia back into the Balkans, thus far, the Russian bear has not been drawn.