Although rumours of war in the Balkans are overblown, the region has acquired greater strategic resonance recently, due mainly to Russia's intensifying interest and secondarily to jihadist activity. But the countries' central challenges are the erosion of democracy and poor governance, which may be tolerated to secure the order and stability needed for admission into the European Union.

According to a 25 March headline in the United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph, war is ‘brewing in the Balkans again’. The headline is typical of a recent slew of articles suggesting rather tritely that the Balkans are once again a powder keg and that, under the West’s radar, the Russians are stealthily taking control of the Slav and Christian Orthodox parts of the region while radical Islamists are usurping the predominantly Muslim parts. But notwithstanding these hyperventilating stories, war is not about to break out, the Russians are smarting from serious setbacks in the region and governments in the Balkans have done a great deal to hunt down and crush Islamist networks. A Balkan leader’s threat of war with neighbours is likely to be an electoral slogan, not meant to be taken seriously. The Western Balkans have changed almost beyond recognition since the end of the wars of the 1990s. Nevertheless, the region has acquired greater strategic resonance recently, mainly as a result of Russia’s intensifying interest in it.

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