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Russian game in Bosnia: Tug of war with West

Mirsada Colakovic, Bosnian Ambassador to the UN, addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in her country, at the United Nations, New York, November 11, 2014

Gordana Sandic

Russia took a new step to bedevil the West in the UN this week, declining for the first time to extend EU's EUFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

The reason, according to the official Moscow stance, was that the resolution would “push BiH toward EU and NATO integration.” The Russian representative also called for the immediate closure of the Office of the High Representative and “an end to foreign interference in internal affairs of BiH”.

The vote, on which Russia joined 14 other countries in declining to support the extension, came after BiH High Representative Valentin Inzko submitted his semi-annual report to the UN.

Inzko said in his address that it was necessary to change the “vicious circle of tit-for-tat politics” in BiH and warned those considering secession that BiH’s borders will not be changed.

Diplomat and journalist Zlatko Dizdarevic said the situation has developed because the European Union has lost interest in BiH and so Turkey and Russia see it as an area they can now enter.

“Russia…within its geopolitical and geostrategic situation… has a possibility to make a true ‘soft underbelly’” out of Banja Luka, the Serb Republic of BiH, he said, and is playing a game. He said: “This is completely expected and Russia will, wherever it is possible, show this type of face as a response to an overall situation. BiH is left alone, in an international context, and it is completely expected to see those with goals, strategy, wits or those who only want to play their game…enter this empty space….”

During the debate in New York, Russian Ambassador to the UN Security Council Vitaly Churkin stated:

“The Russian Federation was forced to abstain from voting considering remarks we presented during the harmonization process were not adopted. We agree that presence of the international forces in BiH is important… but at the same time we are decidedly against using these forces as an instrument for integration of the country in the EU and NATO.”

Diplomats, experts and journalists said, for the most part, that Russia’s action was not surprising, although many of them found the situation dangerous.

Denis Hadzovic, secretary general of the Center for Security Studies said the action by Russia representsa continuity of the Russian policy toward BiH:

“We have been seeing such Russian policy for many years in the Peace Implementation Council in BiH, when it opposes decisions of other members or it abstains from voting, so the ball has been put in another court and at highest international level, namely the UN Security Council. That is certainly not good and I expect our politicians to send diplomatic demarches [objections] or similar protest note on stances of the Russian Federation, which clearly say it is unacceptable for BiH to progress towards the Euro-Atlantic integration. As we know, [such progress] is one of the goals of BiH’s foreign policy. I believe our politicians should express discontent with such stances of the Russian Federation.”

Indicator of polarization in world

Longtime BiH journalist and former correspondent from Moscow Vlastimir Mijovic said he found it unsurprising thatthe Security Council was divided. It is clear Russia has its special goal in BiH, and that is to let BiH dissolve on its own, he said. He explained:

“Why do they need that? Not so much because we are some important influential sphere. Let us say that dissolution of BiH would open door to changing of borders in other parts of Europe, which would suit Russia – in the case of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and so on. What is important is that other big powers maintain their stance [that] we need both military and political presence. Their stances do not differ from Russia’s at the first glance. They also say BiH domestic forces must achieve stability, but with the monitoring… by the West.”

The editor of ‘Buka’ website from Banja Luka, Aleksandar Trifunovic, agreed that Russia’s action was expected, because Serb Republic (RS) President Milorad Dodik announced it after he returned from a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. He said:

“Milorad Dodik was absolutely clear; he stated that Russia will act as an ambassador of the Republic of Srpska in the world regarding all the decisions that could endanger the integrity or general interests of the RS, and that is a logical consequence of such an agreement. The only question here is what was promised in return, because … there is no free lunch in international diplomacy. It is interesting to note this is the most direct interference of Russia in Balkan political affairs – we have not had such direct interference for a long time."

He continued: “The reason behind that might be the obvious diplomatic isolation of Russia due to the Ukrainian crisis and the fact it has less and less influence on developments in Europe. This way Russia is saying it can still influence developments in BiH, which is very critical at the moment.”

Dusko Vejnovic, a PhD professor at the University of Banja Luka in BiH and the founder of the European Defendology Center, stressed that the debate in the Security Council and the results of support to the UN Resolution on BiH are an indicator of the polarization and deterioration of relations in the world:

“Relations between Russia and NATO have deteriorated, as it was expected- - the issue of Ukraine related to self-determination and secession is absolutely serious – and it is a European, Asian and international issue…”

He said: “Russia-NATO and Russia-US partnerships should be strengthened and make sure all the vital and crucial issues are resolved in a peaceful manner, to mediate rhetoric of conflict and move towards peaceful actions. Many are concerned because of the tug-of-war between Russia and NATO and Russia and the US, and if we add the issues of Kosovo, Albania, Serbia and the Western Balkans to it, as an eternal issue of the Balkan crossroads, I think that Europe and the world are entering a rough period.”

Vejnovic added that “it is not in the interests of international and European milieu, and it is especially not in the interest of the Western Balkans, namely the citizens of BiH, a country which is often a shooting ground of big powers. The fight for some world goals is being conducted onthe back of BiH.”

Several European diplomats said that Russian resistance to the EU policy in BiH as “dangerous”.

British diplomat Michael Tatham saidthis was the first time in 14 years that the decision on the extension of the EUFOR mission to BiH was not unanimous and he expressed concern over the fact that “Russia is showing contempt towards the Euro-Atlantic future of Bosnia and Herzegovina”.