The third front of Russia: why Ukrainian army will determine the fate of the Balkan crisis

Events in Bosnia and Herzegovina once again are at the center of media attention. But this time this is tightly connected to the war in Ukraine.
Analysts and experts on Western Balkans think that Russia practically opened a third front after Ukraine and Syria – against territorial integrity and stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Evropeiska Pravda” was already informed of a rude statement by the Russian ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina Ihor Kalabuhov. He openly threatened official Saraev with the recurrence of “events in Ukraine” in case the country continues its course on NATO membership.
Moreover, he took a swing in front of Poland, Hungary, and Croatia.
Fortunately, BiH doesn’t have borders with Russia and is surrounded by NATO countries practically from all sides. This is one of the fuses against the start of real war and the Russian invasion.
However, Russia has an ally in BiH. This is a well-known defender of the “Russian world” and, as he believes himself, a Putin’s buddy, member of Presidency of BiH from Serbian people Milorad Dodik.
And with his help, the task of opening a “third front” against West becomes quite plausible.

A bet on Dodik

Milorad Dodik has long called for the exit of the Serbian Republic (one of two Entities of federal BiH).
However, he used to continue his separatist appeals with a desire to join Serbia, president of which Aleksandar Vuchich listened silently and didn’t comment.
As time passed Vuchich understood the danger of RS leader calls and started to quietly but gradually distance themself from him, understanding a simple truth – subsequent support of Dodik will close EU doors to Belgrade and will leave him alone with “friend Putin”. The danger of this is understood even in Belgrade.
So, only Putin and his diplomats support Dodik’s intentions to leave BiH, promising mountains of gold and not rushing to truly help develop the poor part of BiH.
And at the same time, military instructors from Russia day and night teach RS police and its special units to beat peaceful citizens and to shoot at them like it was in Kherson a few days ago.
For a long time, the international community in Saraev (ambassadors of Western countries and heads of international organizations) tried to persuade the Bosnian Serbs leader (although he can’t be named this – even in RS parliament over 40% of deputies don’t support him, which was impossible to imagine even at the start of 2021)

But polity of appeasement Dodik had the opposite result – he took action.
It began last year during the election of new High Representative Christian Shmidt.
Then Dodik together with Russia categorically opposed his appointment. And then, for the first time, these two clearly and unequivocally stated that they did not realize Shmidt’s powers, and demanded the liquidation of this institution.
However, this was only the beginning.

Conflict at the finish line

The next act of the Bosnian crisis – Dodik moved to the usual calls to leave BiH, regain powers that RS had before 1992 (a familiar wording – Krelmin bunker dreamer recently also demanded from NATO to return to the past), and introduced more than 100 laws in Skupshtyna which would ensure the exit of RS from the unified state.
This was done even though such a step contradicts the Dayton Peace Agreement and the BiH Constitution.
Among the submitted bills, the most dangerous acts were those that should have ensured the withdrawal of RS units from the unified BiH army, the creation of its special services, legal and judicial system, and customs.
As Dodik moved from words to actions, on 1st February an extraordinary session of the National Assembly of Serbian Republic approved the first 12 decisions on the political and economic situation in BiH, aimed at “restoring power” to the Republika Srpska. Including the army.
It should be noted that a political crisis in BiH and Dodik’s actions is supported by the inability of the country’s politicians to resolve one of the main issues, which opens the way out of the crisis – to change the electoral law while abandoning the ethnic structure of the state.
The leaders of the three constitutional peoples – Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats – are reluctant to agree that all peoples of the country should have equal rights, including in the electoral process.
That is why for the second year in a row unsuccessful negotiations on this issue have been going on between the representatives of the constitutional peoples – the three national “kings”. With the participation of the international community, which tried unsuccessfully to persuade Dodik to stop.
In a situation like this Dodik could only wait for the right moment and announce his exit from BiH.
And it seems that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has brought this moment much closer.

The power of the West

Can the West oppose Russia and its Bosnian ally?
We should remember that Milorad Dodik has been under EU and US sanctions since 2018.
However, recent events in BiH have forced the West to act decisively.
And then the EU and the US finally remembered that they have a military force to ensure the integrity and stability of BiH – EUFOR, an EU military force in BiH that enforces the Dayton Peace Accords, promotes peace, and trains the BiH army.
The military mission has been operating in BiH since 2004 under a UN mandate. The 3,500 troops involved in the operation represent 20 EU countries, of which just over 600 are permanently stationed in BiH with Butmir-based headquarters, and several are serving in the country’s cities.
In addition, EUFOR has support from NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo, and together they are assessing security risks in the country.
And her latest assessments have been disappointing – Moscow has increased pressure on Dodik and his allies, who have become increasingly active in preparing for a split in BiH.
On February 21, just three days before the Russian invasion, EU foreign ministers discussed the risks that arose after Dodik introduced his separatist bills.
Following the discussion and based on military assessments, the European Union approved a decision to strengthen the EUFOR contingent in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a precautionary measure, doubling its number to 1,100 troops.
In a matter of weeks, more than 600 troops from Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia arrived in BiH. They will be stationed not only in Sarajevo but also in several other cities in the country, which will strengthen their operational capabilities in the event of a crisis.

From all this, it seems, we can draw three conclusions.

  1. The situation in BiH is threatening with a tendency to worsen, and Dodik’s attempts to split BiH are becoming more and more feasable.
  2. The Collective West begins to conclude its mistakes regarding Ukraine on the eve of the Russian invasion when it belatedly began to provide us with modern military weapons and equipment.
    Perhaps, finally, the collective West will be ready to act “ahead”, rather than waiting for the first shots on the third front.
  3. The new, Balkan front and the development of action on it will depend on the success of the Ukrainian army, which protects not only Ukraine and its civilizational choices.
    Ukraine’s victory, among other things, will mean Moscow’s loss of any influence in the Balkan region.
    The Balkans do not like losers very much, especially those who used to impose their worldview on them and openly show their contempt.

Author: Volodymyr Tsibulnik,

Candidate of Historical Sciences, Chargé d’Affaires of Ukraine in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2018)


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