Ukraine War Echoes Across Balkans: A Chorus of Warnings About Russian Meddling in Bosnia and Kosovo

Written by | Friday, March 18th, 2022

The EU’s foreign policy chief issued a thinly veiled warning to Russia on Wednesday (16 March) to cease meddling in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), amid growing concerns about instability to Europe’s south with a war already raging to the east, in Ukraine. Speaking in Sarajevo, Josep Borrell, told EU peacekeeping troops that their presence “at this critical moment […] is more important than ever” and, without naming Russia, he appeared to warn Moscow not to upset the delicate politics of Bosnia.Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised fears among many Bosnians that their vulnerable state could also become a target. Like Ukraine and Georgia, both now having suffered Russia’s military intervention, Bosnia and Herzegovina too has NATO membership aspirations that infuriate Moscow.

The Bosnian Serb member of BiH’s tripartite Presidency, Milorad Dodik — who is also by many seen as Putin’s proxy in Bosnia — said that he understood from his meeting with EU Josep Borrell that there will be no accelerated path for BiH towards EU membership.“There is no accelerated path of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards the European Union. This is what I concluded from their views regarding their demand that the standards must be respected and this is absolutely clear to everyone,” Dodik said.He also strongly criticized statements that could often be heard recently regarding parallels between the situation in Ukraine and BiH.In Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina‘s Serb-dominated entity that, like the breakaway regions of Donbas, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, is opposed to NATO, Vladimir Putin’s prospects are of the highest geopolitical value, namely securing a loyal proxy ready to do Moscow’s bidding.

The Russian president has already held numerous official consultations with Dodik, the latest one taking place in December 2021. During his second consecutive meeting with Putin in the midst of the 2014 Ukraine crisis, Dodik shared his unequivocal affiliation with Moscow, saying: “Naturally, there is no question that we support Russia. We may be a small and modest community, but our voice is loud.” But as Russia’s current military intervention progressed in Ukraine, Dodik argued that “there was a civil war here in BiH, there wasn’t anything here similar to what is happening in Ukraine. We support the territorial integrity of all UN member states, as well as Ukraine.” Still, in neighboring Kosovo, fears are growing that Russia could inspire a new Serbian offensive in the territory. Having celebrated the 14th anniversary of independence from Serbia just one week before Russian soldiers crossed into Ukraine on 24 February, Kosovo knows the invasion found it in a precarious and uncertain position.

While Dodikhas actively threatened a separation of Republika Srpska, Serbia continues to maintain a heavy influence in the northern part of Kosovo along the border. Given the mutual cultural affinity and the stable political alliance between Serbia and Russia, there has been an ongoing debate in Kosovo whether Belgrade might use the conflict In Ukraine as an excuse to attack the country. Some argue that if Russia had been able to advance quickly in Ukraine, the Balkans would be in real trouble.When the Ukraine war began, Kosovo was quick to throw its weight behind the country. The Pristina-based political analyst and expert Agon Maliqi says that the Kremlin has followed an aggressive path in the Balkans by sustaining conflicts in Kosovo and Bosnia, after it had actively tried to prevent NATO accession for Montenegro and North Macedonia in a bid to create destabilization fronts in the war of influence with the West in the region.

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