Following the decision of the former High Representative Valentin Inzko to impose a ban on the denial of genocide and war crimes, officials of the entity Republika Srpska (RS), led by Milorad Dodik, launched a number of processes which are a secession in all but name and would lead to the final disintegration of the country. The decision adopted in the RS National Assembly announcing the RS’s intention to withdraw from the central government and its judicial, customs and security institutions, as well as its wish to leave the armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and creating an independent RS army carries a serious risk of violent confrontation and resumption of conflict. It is a part of a larger violation of international order which is supported by Serbia and Russia and built on the premise of thinly veiled ethnically homogeneous territories like “Srpski svet” – a call for unification of all the Serbs in the Balkans.
In doing so, Dodik is supported and fully aligned with Russia. As in Ukraine, Moscow sees the Western Balkan region as part of a larger geopolitical arena in which it can draw movements that will weaken Western support for BiH and continually hamper the drive to build a truly independent state. This strategy of undermining the stability of Bosnia, with the aim of keeping it out of NATO and the Euro-Atlantic sphere is no longer just a hybrid threat: the Russians were clear they will react if something like this should happen. A new Transnistria in the Balkans with the help of secessionist forces in the RS is largely attractive to Russian President Vladimir Putin; it offers a leverage tool in the region and the continent.
The response of the international community
In Dodik’s assault on constitutional order and territorial integrity, the international community has taken different approaches. Some countries, like the Netherlands, have led in principle within the EU. The Dutch parliament officially adopted a resolution calling for sanctions against Dodik and his clique. Most notably, in what amounts to a significant policy change in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass has been rather blunt, stating âunacceptableâBehavior, and also calling for the suspension of funds to the RS. European Parliament Minister (MP) Tineke Strik visited Sarajevo and then led a debate in the European Parliament, call that the EU sanctions Dodik. Her editorial correctly identified that negotiating with autocrats would only set a bad precedent for the future.
Unfortunately, the EU seems more predisposed to negotiate with autocrats and those who wish to dismantle twenty-six years of fragile peace. Just one handful of countries are in fact in favor of unified European sanctions. On the other hand, the willingness of the EU and the United States to bully pro-democratic forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina through a recent initiative to adopt unconstructive electoral reform emphasize more ethnic divisions. Such measures threaten to dissolve the country. Grant to segregationist factions such as the Croatian Democratic Union Party (HDZ) and appeasing Dodik’s secessionist ambitions will not lead to long-term stability and prosperity. These “quick” fixes will only further erode the credibility of the EU and the US in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Instead of dealing first with those who are at the origin of the crisis and then seeking long-term sustainable constitutional reform solutions, the changes currently proposed permanently cement the ethno-national principle of ethnic clans, and would de facto legitimize apartheid. They are also in conflict with the European Court of Human Rights (EDH Court) judgments, and more importantly, are not the norm in any democratic society elsewhere in the world, neither in Europe nor in the United States.
The British response
Historically, the British role in the Balkans has not been significant, positive or negative. However, within a matter of weeks the UK produced a series of initiatives that reframed the conversation around its role in the country.
In the past week alone, there have been a number of interventions by Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, led by Alicia kearns, offer solutions for the current political crisis. Moreover, while Dodik, Russia and China have completely refuse to recognize Christian Schmidt as the new High Representative, Schmidt was invited to London and received support for its mandate, including the use of the Bonn powers. In addition, two British ministers visited Sarajevo to Brand Day of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina and deepening of bilateral relations. Their joint statement called for continued support for vital national institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, continued Euro-Atlantic integration and the promise of a lasting commitment to peace and security in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Western Balkans.
In addition, Foreign Minister Liz Truss has to put Bosnia and Herzegovina at the NATO ministerial meeting in Riga and warned Putin that the UK Support stability in the Western Balkans. His predecessor William Hague wrote a scathing room calling for renewed support through NATO troops in Bosnia and sanctions for those who undermine the Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war and serve as the foundation for the multi-ethnic power structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Finally, to boost stability and security in the region, the UK has announced that Sir Stuart Peach is the new Correspondent for the Western Balkans. Sir Peach, a seasoned defense and intelligence professional, will have broad powers to work to strengthen regional stability. This meeting showcases that Whitehall correctly understands the region through a security lens, which directly links regional stability with continental and democratic retreat with malicious foreign interference. As MP Kearns declared“Dodik needs to learn that Bosnia also has friends, none of whom are more committed than the UK.”
Yet while UK support for BiH has been an unexpected and powerful manifestation of solidarity, more concrete actions remain to be seen. There are several other hard and soft power measures that could be adopted by the US, UK and other transatlantic partners to get the region and BiH back on the Euro-Atlantic track:
Immediate push for sanctions
In my talks with various Western officials, skepticism has arisen about the effectiveness of the sanctions against Dodik, as well as the possibility of further escalation. This is a false premise. Dodik’s actions will continue as long as the international community pursues its policy of appeasement.
Sanctions should be classified into two categories: individual sanctions and economic (sectoral) sanctions. Sector sanctions, mainly through the banking and financial sector, are expected to completely block the banks of RS entities and investment agencies. Loans, such as the 350 million euros to London Stock Exchange to cover the budget deficit of the RS should be prohibited. Especially since RS exports Seventy-six percent of its products to the EU, a ban on imports from transatlantic partner countries into Europe will cause significant damage to the economic growth of the RS.
that of the United States individual sanctions against Dodik should be expanded. The UK should follow the lead on the European side of the Atlantic in targeting individuals including senior officials, businessmen and Dodik’s corrupt crony circle. If the EU refuses to impose uniform sanctions, then the US and UK should seek Canadian support and select a few European countries to act unilaterally.
The West must choose to reverse the âreserve statusâ in the EUFOR Althea peacekeeping mission and instead deploy American and British battalions to strategic points in Bosnia (towns of BrÄko, Tuzla and Sarajevo). This should be accompanied by an increased number of support personnel at NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo.
Moreover, cementing the military presence through a British military base in Bosnia clearly shows Russia’s ambitions that Britain has a continuing interest in this region and its peace and security.
Don’t legitimize unconstitutional changes
The West should continue and expand its support by engaging only with legal and legitimate forces, the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the modernization of defense and deterrence capabilities and the reconstruction of military infrastructure. This should further advance the country’s readiness for NATO integration. the arrival new Huey II helicopters is the result of a strategic partnership between the United States and BiH, and the United Kingdom is also expected to pursue its own strategy of upgrading military relations, with the support of NATO Quint ( United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy).
Continue democratic dialogue
Pro-BiH parliamentarians in the US Congress, UK Parliament and European Parliament are expected to form formal task forces and caucuses in their respective national legislatures that will work to identify appropriate measures in times of crisis. The aim should also be to open a democratic and principled long-term dialogue with government and non-government actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina (civil elites, academics, young activists and leaders) by producing a Dayton 2 constitution led by the idea of ââa civic state. with full respect for individual and collective rights as is the case in most modern European democracies.
Building democratic resilience
The West should continue its support for soft power by creating a center of excellence in Sarajevo that will work to strengthen the democratic resilience of vital national institutions, tackle hybrid threats, cybersecurity attacks, disinformation campaigns and conflict prevention. This should be led by the NATO QUINT countries with the support of local professionals.
The intensification of activities to promote energy diversification in Bosnia and gas independence from Russia is crucial. The gas was more and more used to gain political gains through coercive economic means and is a strategic Russian effort to influence BiH’s geostrategic position by arming interdependence.
Peace at last
To discourage the continued erosion of democratic principles and to maintain peace and security in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a constructive and values-based approach is needed. Over time, the fuel of RS separatism will always present an existential threat to Bosnia.