(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s failure to deliver on a promise to bring Western Balkan nations closer to the bloc has abetted Russia’s growing influence in the region, according to Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics. 

“We’ve said very clearly to countries that want to join the EU, that if they do their part — the work — then the EU will respond,” Rinkevics said in an interview this week in Brussels, where he visited EU and NATO leaders. “There is a sense that the EU is not delivering.”

The nations on the EU’s southwest periphery have bristled at the slow pace of EU accession talks as they clamor to join the 27-member bloc. Disagreement among EU allies, as well as simmering tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, have made the region vulnerable to Kremlin influence. Ethnic division and secessionist threats in Bosnia-Herzegovina are another challenge.  

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in talks to join the EU, has been a wake up call for the bloc, spurring it to move forward with its long-stagnant enlargement policy. The EU has accelerated the process to prevent its neighbors from coming under the influence of nations hostile to its liberal values. 

“We should not be surprised if we see more pro-Russian demonstrations, moves, votes in international organizations or support” in the region, the Latvian head of state said. “It’s a bit our own problem, it’s not just to blame someone else.” 

Read More: EU Backs Opening Ukraine Membership Talks With Conditions 

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, formally recommended opening membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova this month, which will move forward once they complete a series of reforms. The recommendations will be discussed by EU leaders in December.

The commission also recommended opening accession talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina once it makes further progress on key priorities set out by the EU. The bloc’s executive will report back on that progress by March 2024. 

As the accession process grinds ahead, the EU announced a new growth plan for the Western Balkans that runs in parallel, consisting of areas such as integration with the bloc’s single market, building a common regional market and better directing investments toward key reforms.

Rinkevics said he hoped the council in December, in addition to backing accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova, would also “give a very good signal to the Western Balkans that there is a balanced approach and that they are as important.” 

--With assistance from Jasmina Kuzmanovic.

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