Wednesday, May 18, 2022

West struggles to counter separatist threat in Bosnia

Western analysts say Bosnia-Herzegovina is facing its biggest crisis since the 1995 Dayton Agreement ended a war there, with many Russian and Chinese hands, which may reveal the deal that led to the 25 The year’s uneasy peace has provided.

The US-broker agreement divided the Balkan country into a Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and a region known as the Federation, dominated by Bosniaks and Croats. All three ethnic groups are represented in a tripartite presidency.

But presidential Serb representative Milorad Dodi has in recent weeks begun a process of withdrawal from state-level institutions and is threatening outright secession by Republika Srpska.

Such moves, including plans for a unilateral transfer of functions such as taxation and military forces to Republika Srpska, are a clear violation of the Dayton Agreement in the eyes of several current and former diplomats, US officials and analysts interviewed by the VOA. Many fear that the action not only threatens to undo many of the post-war achievements, but also creates the potential for new conflicts and division of the country.

“Bosnia-Herzegovina as a country has been able to navigate from crisis to crisis and still remains at least a semi-functional democracy. My concern is that Dodi is taking things too far this time ,” said Bruce Burton, a US diplomat who led the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 2015 and 2019.

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Burton was also deputy head of the Office of the High Representative (OHR), an international body established to oversee the implementation of the Dayton Agreement.

While Dodik claims that he is reclaiming works taken from Republika Srpska without his consent, many were approved by the state parliament with the participation of the Republika Srpska parties.

“It seems a bit schizophrenic behavior,” said Paul McCarthy, Europe division director of the International Republican Institute, who pointed out that Dodick’s own Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) supported some of those decisions.

While there is some opposition to Dodik’s moves by opposition parties in Republika Srpska, McCarthy said he believes the latest moves have been encouraged by Moscow.

“This is a low-cost way for Russia to sow discontent and undermine the position of the West, the European Union and Washington in the western Balkans,” he said.

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Several VOA interviewees said China and Serbia also stand to benefit from the crisis and worry that even Hungary – a member of the European Union – is backing Dodi.

Toby Vogel, a senior associate at the Democratization Policy Council, a Berlin think tank, sees the events in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the context of deteriorating relations between NATO and Russia, and other regional growth in Serbia and Kosovo and Montenegro.

Vogel said, “I find it hard to believe that these are a spontaneous expression of local grievances.

Daniel Server, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, cautions about the “Serbian world” idea recently introduced by Serbian politicians. As for the server, it is just a different name for the nationalist concept of “Greater Serbia”, in which all the regions where Serbs live would become a single country.

“It means destruction of many states in the Balkans, it means war, it means death, it means refugees. And Western states should not do that,” he said.

FILE – Serb representative in the tripartite presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodi addresses reporters after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) in east-Sarajevo on December 14, 2020.

China-Russia cooperation

In July, the UN Security Council rejected a resolution put forward by Russia and China to close the OHR. Both countries claimed that the appointment of German politician Christian Schmidt as High Representative was not valid as it had not been ratified by the Security Council.

Schmidt was appointed in May by the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), an international body that provides political guidance to the High Representative. Only Russia opposed the decision. The Security Council discussed the matter but did not vote for Schmidt’s confirmation after the United States and other countries ensured it was not necessary.

Now Moscow, like Dodik, refuses to recognize Schmidt as a high representative.

Analysts feared that Russia and China, in retaliation, could veto the renewal of the international military mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, known as the EUFOR, which has helped maintain peace there. The Security Council actually approved the mandate of the European Military Forces (EUFOR) on 3 November, but Schmidt would not present the expected report on Bosnia-Herzegovina during that session only after other countries agreed to the demands of Russia and China. .

In that report, Schmidt wrote that Bosnia-Herzegovina “faces the greatest existential threat of the post-war period” and that the Republika Srpska authorities, led by Dodik, “not only threatened the peace and stability of the country and the region”. put in, rather – if unanswered by the international community – could lead to the undoing of [Dayton] It’s a compromise.”

Many Western analysts were outraged by what the West saw as a sign of weakness.

“It is absolutely horrifying that [Schmidt] was not allowed to speak. It damages the OHR,” said Professor Tanya Domi from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, who worked for the OSCE mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Burton, the former deputy high representative, said China and Russia have different goals to undermine the Dayton Agreement. For China, he said, Bosnia-Herzegovina is part of its larger plan to expand its influence in the world, primarily through economic efforts such as its “Belt and Road Initiative”.

Russia, he said, “has a kind of lethal influence in the country and the region. I think they want to put a sharp stick in the eyes of the West, especially Bosnia-Herzegovina and other countries in the region coming closer to the EU and NATO.” Huh.

What will the US, EU do?

Most VOA interviewees agreed that greater US involvement on Western Balkan issues is the key to easing tensions, especially since the expansion of the European Union – once a primary impetus for maintaining peace and implementing reforms – There is too much land for a stop.

Several US diplomats have recently visited Bosnia-Herzegovina, including Gabriel Escobar, the State Department’s Special Representative for the Western Balkans, and Derek Cholet, the department’s senior policy adviser. He reaffirmed US support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and criticized Dodic’s unilateral actions.

Still, some analysts fear the US is focusing too much on electoral and economic reforms, while the threat to Bosnia-Herzegovina is too high.

Columbia University professor Domi said she doesn’t think the West is taking Dodick’s actions seriously: “What I’m really upset about is that everyone just thinks, ‘Oh, we’re going to say these words. And we’re going to reverse the situation. And it’s clear that Mr Dodick is doubling down.”

Vogel said destructive behavior has been allowed for some time.

“Neither the US nor the EU has been backing down against the growing attacks on Bosnia-Herzegovina’s unity over the past several years,” he said.

Escobar has repeatedly said that the US plans to “aggressively use” sanctions against Bosnian politicians, but no concrete action has yet been taken. In 2017, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on Dodik for obstructing the Dayton Agreement, but the European Union never complied. Some countries, such as Germany, are now considering sanctions of their own.

Amra Alirejsovi and Ajdin Muratovic from VOA’s Bosnian Service contributed to this report.


This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

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