Throughout history, the Balkan geography has been one of the important areas where Russia has struggled to gain influence. In this context, the Balkans have been the scene of a power struggle between Russia and the West for a long time. One of the countries in this geography is Bosnia and Herzegovina. In particular, it is seen that Russia is carrying out a policy that tries to prevent the integration of the Western Balkans with the European Union (EU).
On the other hand, the West is trying to increase its influence in this country by ensuring that Bosnia and Herzegovina becomes a member of the EU. In this context, the EU agreed on December, 15, 2022 to grant Bosnia and Herzegovina candidacy status. Following the decision, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell stated that the future of Bosnia was confirmed to be in the EU. Moreover, Borrell argued that political leaders in Bosnia can now make this membership a reality through decisive reforms.
As can be seen, the EU aims to ensure regional stability in the Balkans by bringing new members to the bloc through reforms to be made in line with its wishes. In particular, the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country open to Russian influence due to its political structure leads Brussels to approach Sarajevo with a more special perspective.
On the other hand, it is useful to examine the political structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to better understand Moscow’s policy towards Sarajevo. In accordance with the Dayton Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia in 1995, the state structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina was established on a delicate balance. As a matter of fact, Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two entities, one of which is the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the other is the Republika Srpska, and three constituent peoples, Bosniak, Croat and Serb, and the Brcko District, which has a separate administration.
On the other hand, the main pillar of Russia’s policy of gaining influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina is Republika Srpska. The majority of the people living in the republic are Orthodox as well as ethnic Serbs. This facilitates Russia’s ability to gain influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Moscow administration is pursuing a policy that tries to disrupt the integration process of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the West by using its religious and cultural affinity with Republika Srpska.
As can be understood, one of the reasons why Brussels granted Sarajevo candidate status is the aim of limiting Russian influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. By integrating Bosnia into the bloc, the EU aims to make the country more stable economically and politically.
On the other hand, Moscow’s reaction to Brussels’ decision has been quite harsh. On December 23, 2022, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized the EU’s granting Bosnia the status of a candidate country and stated that it was part of the West’s imposing pressure on the Balkan countries. Moreover, he claimed that the EU’s decision on Bosnia stemmed from the task of the total geopolitical conquest of the region.
In short, Moscow is not at all pleased with the acceleration of Sarajevo’s integration process with Brussels. In this context, it can be said that Russia can use its relations with Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik to prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina’s integration into the EU. Dodik, who is known for his separatist identity, has repeatedly threatened to tear Republika Srpska away from Bosnia and Herzegovina. This situation makes it difficult to ensure political stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Therefore, Dodik in particular and Serbs in general are an important factor in the Kremlin’s policy on Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Moreover, Alexander Bojan Kharcenko, Russia’s Ambassador to Serbia and who held the same position in Bosnia and Herzegovina, stated on January 2, 2023 that it is not possible to create a stable Bosnia and Herzegovina with the demands formulated by the West. Harcenko also said it was dangerous for Bosnia to gain candidate status for the EU, which he said would be an additional means of pressure on Republika Srpska. Furthermore, Harcenko stated that Bosnia’s candidacy status includes the suspension of relations between Republika Srpska and Russia.
As can be understood from the words of the Russian Ambassador, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to the EU will mean, in a sense, the disappearance of the tools that allow Moscow to gain influence in the country. Therefore, this shows why Moscow opposes Sarajevo’s EU membership.
On the other hand, Dodik’s awarding of the “Order of Republika Srpska”, the highest award in the country, to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Day of Republika Srpska, which is celebrated on January 9, 2023, despite being contrary to the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, provoked a harsh reaction from the EU. Dodik stated that Putin was rewarded for his interest and love for Republika Srpska.
On the other hand, EU Commission Spokesperson Peter Stano conveyed to political leaders of all ethnicities in Bosnia and Herzegovina that the EU attaches importance to adhering to the rule of law. Stano also stressed that this is more important than ever in an environment where Bosnia has been granted EU candidate status. In summary, the EU was disturbed by what happened at a time when Bosnia and Herzegovina gained candidate status. In this respect, it can be stated that Dodik has made moves that disrupt the integration process of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the EU.
Consequently, it can be foreseen that Bosnia and Herzegovina will be the scene of a struggle for influence between the EU and Russia in the future. It can be argued that Russia’s biggest weapon in this struggle is Republika Srpska. On the other hand, it seems that the EU will want to increase its influence in the country by using Bosnia’s membership process.
 “EU Membership: Boost for Bosnia as Sarajevo Given ‘Candidate Status’ to Join Bloc”, Euronews, https://www.euronews.com/2022/12/16/eu-membership-boost-for-bosnia-as-sarajevo-given-candidate-status-to-join-the-bloc, (Date of Accession: 10.01.2023).
 “Bosna-Hersek’in Siyasi Görünümü”, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Dışişleri Bakanlığı, https://www.mfa.gov.tr/bosna-hersek-siyasi-gorunumu.tr.mfa, (Date of Accession: 10.01.2023).
 “Russia Denounces EU for Granting Bosnia Candidacy Status”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-denounces-eu-granting-bosnia-candidacy-status-2022-12-23/, (Date of Accession: 10.01.2023).
 “Former Russian Ambassador to BiH: Candidate Status for the EU is a Dangerous Thing”, Sarajevo Times, https://sarajevotimes.com/former-russian-ambassador-to-bih-candidate-status-for-the-eu-is-a-dangerous-thing/, (Date of Accession i: 10.01.2023).
 “EU, US Slam Bosnian Serb Leader for Awarding Putin Highest Honor”, Politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-us-slam-bosnia-serb-leader-molorad-dodik-awarding-putin-honor/, (Date of Accession: 10.01.2023).