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Do Bosnia and Herzegovina become new “Ukraine” for Putin?

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Dayton Peace Agreement, signed in December 1995, to end the ethnic war between Bosnians, Serbians, and Croatians; and establish peace. It finished the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina; however, it could not stop the ethnic tensions, which remain within the country all the time and lead the country to chaos sometimes. The country is already ruled by two ethnicities (Bosnia and Herzegovina Federation and the Republic of Serbia) and three ethnic groups with the rotating presidency, and both of the ethnicities have broad autonomy rights. At the same time, some institutions such as armed powers are shared.

The discussions started by tripartite management’s member of Serbian Republic Milorad Dodik, on the continuation of “High Representative” Office, established after Dayton Agreement, for following the application of the agreement and coordination of the international organizations’ activities. Those discussions led to a kind of crisis similar to the pre-war period. The issue was held by the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meetings.[1]; however, the solid resolution could not be declared.

Another development that increased tensions were the statements of the government of the Serbian Republic and Russian officials[2] Towards former German Minister Christian Schmidt, who was the country’s High Representative, replaced Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, who was the High Representative between 2009-2021.

New High Representative presented a report to United Nations (UN) Secretary-General and mentioned that the objection of Serbian government officials on essential topics in the Dayton Agreement causes a threat to regional peace and stability. He declared that the mentioned efforts would divide the country if precautions were not taken.[3] In the evaluation of the UN Security Council (UNSC), an official of the United States of America (USA) highlighted the risks of the explanations on Dodik’s withdrawal from the government, while Russian officials claimed that the report is biased and anti-Serbian. [4] 

Again, the objection of the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska on membership of NATO at the end of 2019 and emphasis made by them on the membership situation of any military organization should be decided by referendum.[5] Become another obstacle to integration with the West.

Lastly, on 10 December 2021, despite all warnings made by the international community, the voting on draft legislation to withdraw from the armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its judicial and tax collection systems resulted in 48 positive votes 83 chairs of the local assembly. This legislation was considered the first step of transmission to the autonomous Serbian Republic and was prepared by the assembly under the Dodik presidency.[6] Although the election is not binding, it is meant that there is an aim of turning back to 1992.

In the joint declaration of the ambassadors of the US, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy with the EU delegation, it was announced that the elections escalated the tension. The members of the “Peace Implementation Council,” representing the Organization of the Islamic Conference and including Turkey and some Western countries, established a statement mentioning that a unilateral withdrawal from federal agencies is not possible and that this constitutes a breach of the treaty. Russia did not sign the statement, one of the council members.

Considering the new situation, with the referendum following Serbian Republic’s work on establishing their army, Serbian Republic will become a separate independent country from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the sense of the withdrawal of aid with the united army within the next six months.

The role of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who supports separation as in the crisis of Ukraine in Europe. Besides, there is circumstantial evidence of Russia’s hybrid war strategies applied in Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are comments that almost all tactics are the same, except for the inability to deploy military forces due to geographical distance and the necessity to pass through the airspace of the two NATO members, Romania and Bulgaria.[7]

In the report prepared for the topic named “Bosnia on the Chopping Block: The Potential for Violence and Steps to Prevent It,”[8] It was claimed that Putin supports the separationists to prevent Sarajevo’s integration with the West, and those dynamics would be a starting point of a conflict as happened to Ukraine in the heart of Europe. Besides, in the report, the hybrid war strategies of the Moscow administration are listed as support of ultra-nationalist groups in the Serbian Republic, arming the police force with heavy arms and using some facilities to give military education to the policemen.

In summary, Russia’s use of Dodik and local actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina, just like Ukraine, in order to weaken the Transatlantic alliance by damaging NATO’s credibility, destabilize the region with anti-government protests, similar to the situation experienced before Montenegro’s NATO membership in 2016, and it can be said that he wants to prevent EU/NATO membership.

Dodik’s ultimate goal is the complete autonomy of the Serbian Republic; although it is not clear whether it is to unite with Serbia, currently Belgrade does not seem to support Dodik as openly as Russia not to risk it EU membership. Moreover, the integration of the Serbian Republic with Serbia after the referendum to be held in the future seems complicated due to the Brčko region, which has an autonomous government affiliated to the UN, which divides Serbian Republic territory into two in the north of the country. In addition, the feasibility of Dodik’s plan is a matter of debate, considering that the EU may also cut its financial support for the Serbian Republic, which will leave Bosnia-Herzegovina after a possible referendum.

Although the support of Russia and China[9], which has invested considerably in the country in recent years, is trusted, there are question marks whether this situation will be sufficient for the planned separation.

The interest of the Joe Biden administration in the USA has shifted to Asia-Pacific, and the Balkans is not at the top of the priority list; Washington sees the problem as a European problem and the leadership vacuum that the EU feels lacking after Macron has created Angela Merkel.[10] The fact that Russia cannot fill it allows Russia to use the current political environment for its interests and apply the “wait-see” policy that it frequently resorts to. However, the possibility that the crisis will not remain regional by creating a domino effect should not be ignored.


[1] Ferhan Oral, “NATO Dışişleri Bakanları Toplantısı”, ANKASAM, https://www.ankasam.org/nato-disisleri-bakanlari-toplantisi/, (Date of Accession: 17.12.2021).

[2] “Russia Does not Recognize Schmidt as Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina-Diplomat”, TASS, https://tass.com/politics/1376097, (Date of Accession: 19.12.2021).

[3] “60th Report of the High Representative for Implementation of the Peace Agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Secretary-General of the United Nations”, Office of the High Representative, http://www.ohr.int/60th-report-of-the-high-representative-for-implementation-of-the-peace-agreement-on-bosnia-and-herzegovina-to-the-secretary-general-of-the-united-nations/, (Date of Accession: 19.12.2021).

[4] Teoman Ertuğrul Tulun, “Bosnia and Herzegovina Faces the Existential Threat of Separatism,” Center for Eurasian Studies, Analysis No: 2021/28, https://avim.org.tr/en/Analiz/BOSNIA-AND-HERZEGOVINA-FACES-THE-EXISTENTIAL-THREAT-OF-SEPARATISM, (Date of Accession: 17.12.2021).

[5] Teoman Ertuğrul Tulun, “Why Should the Role of the Peace Implementation Council and OHR Continue in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, Center for Eurasian Studies, Analysis No: 2021/14, https://avim.org.tr/en/Analiz/WHY-SHOULD-THE-ROLE-OF-THE-PEACE-IMPLEMENTATION-COUNCIL-AND-OHR-CONTINUE-IN-BOSNIA-AND-HERZEGOVINA, (Date of Accession: 17.12.2021).

[6] Daria Sito-sucic, “Serbs Vote to Start Quitting Bosnia’s Key Institutions in Secessionist Move”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/serbs-vote-start-quitting-bosnias-key-institutions-secessionist-move-2021-12-10/, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2021).

[7] “Is Another War Brewing in the Balkans? | Inside Story”, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsMqDL9OfqI, (Date of Accession: 21.12.2021).

[8] Reuf Bajrović vd., “Bosnia on the Chopping Block: The Potential for Violence and Steps to Prevent It”, https://www.fpri.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/KraemerBosniaEnote2018.pdf, (Date of Accession: 23.12.2021).

[9] Nermina Kuloglija et al., “BIRN Fact-Check: The Questionable Claims of Bosnia’s Dodik”, Balkan Insight, https://balkaninsight.com/2021/10/15/birn-fact-check-the-questionable-claims-of-bosnias-dodik/, (Date of Accession: 23.12.2021).

[10] Jasmin Mujanović, “Kremlin Exploiting Divisions in Bosnia Herzegovina to Gain Influence,” Integrity Initiative, https://medium.com/@hitthehybrid/russia-exploiting-bosnia-herzegovina-divisions-to-gain-influence-6c3ecc25b5dc, (Date of Accession: 23.12.2021).

Emekli Deniz Albay Dr. Ferhan ORAL
Emekli Deniz Albay Dr. Ferhan ORAL
He was born in 1972 in Denizli. He graduated from the Naval War College in 1994. During his 24-year career, he served in various submarines and headquarters. Among his headquarters assignments, he served as the Directorate of Civil-Military Cooperation of the EU Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Directorate of Plans and Policy of the Turkish General Staff, the Operations-Intelligence Directorate of the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE), and the Multinational Maritime Security Center of Excellence. He holds a master's degree in Sociology and a PhD in Maritime Safety, Security, and Environmental Management. He has articles published in national peer-reviewed journals. His research and study areas include maritime security, NATO, and EU Defence Policy issues. He speaks English and basic French.