Vladimir Putin’s interference in Bosnia is the latest sign of his grand strategy against the West – Bernard Jenkin MP
In 2009, the Constitutional Court, a product of the Dayton Peace Agreement, declared the celebrations illegal. The Serbian Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) refused to cooperate with the tribunal.
The Russian president is deliberately undermining the Dayton accords when the Republika Sprpska was legally recognized by the international community as part of the multi-ethnic state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It appears Putin wants to divide this fragile state between Croatian and Serbian interests, again leaving Bosnian Muslims with nowhere to go.
Between 1994 and 1998, around 120,000 people were massacred in the Bosnian War, the bloodiest conflict in Europe since 1945. The United Nations estimates that an additional 2.2 million people were displaced.
Modern Bosnia is based on the sharing of power between the three main ethnic groups. There are two entities, the Republika Srpska (Serbian) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Croatian and Bosnian). There are three national presidents and a rotating president.
The fragile peace in the Balkans is the most uncertain since the 1990s. In October Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb president and head of the SNSD, announced that Republika Srpska would withdraw from the armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as main judicial and fiscal bodies. The Republika Srpska has passed a law obliging local authorities not to cooperate with national institutions that attempt to apply the law at the state level.
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It would be a mistake to see the current crisis as a repeat of the 90s. The language and myths of Serbian nationalism date from the 19th century, but the external geopolitics that drives Serbian secessionists today is Putin’s strategy, which seeks revenge for the humiliations of the Yeltsin era. Eastern Europe is a means to this end. Russian Ambassador Igor Kalabuhov was seated next to Milorad Dodik during Sunday celebrations.
Russia is a member of the Peace Implementation Council, the international body established to oversee the Bosnian peace process. They refused to accept the appointment of Christain Schmidt, the high commissioner responsible for the civilian implementation of the Dayton accords. They opposed the decision of Valentin Inzko, Schmidt’s predecessor, to use his special powers to impose a law banning genocide denial. The Russian state funds “academic” conferences to cloud the official narrative of the Srebrenica genocide.
On January 5, the United States announced a series of sanctions against Dodik. The UK and the EU could follow suit. In November, commenting on potential cuts in EU funding, Dodik said: “I even think I like it… When I go to Putin, there are no demands. He just says, ‘how can I help?’ Whatever I have discussed with him, I have never been cheated on it.
He will not be discouraged until NATO redeploys military forces to the Brcko Corridor to protect the political institutions of the Dayton Accord.
In his famous History of Bosnia, written during the conflict of the 1990s, Noel Malcolm demolished the myth that the country’s ethnic tensions were irreconcilable. “As for the lesson of history,” Malcolm explained, “what she was indicating was not that Bosnia needed to be controlled by a greater power to keep it from destroying itself from within, but almost the opposite: what had always endangered Bosnia was not real internal tensions, but the ambitions of the great powers and neighboring states. “
Dayton was however supported by NATO and the EU. For 20 years, the international community held in check the troubled legacy of the Bosnian war. The only thing worse than Western “liberal interventionism” in foreign conflicts is its opposite. NATO and the EU neglected to protect Dayton; the bad actors have entered the void.
NATO and EU countries do not have a credible strategy for dealing with Putin. We are simply responding piecemeal to its aggressive information warfare and military intimidation. The threat of the Ukrainian invasion brought US President Joe Biden to negotiation talks in Geneva, but Western Europe found itself in gas dependence on Russian supplies without adequate alternative supplies. Germany always seems ready to endorse Nord-Stream 2. Today, Putin is manipulating the gas markets and deliberately creating shortages.
The UK does not have a strategic center capable of recognizing the relationship between energy policy and geopolitics. Too often, “foreign policy” consists of junior officers writing reports on what is happening, not on the maximization of our power and influence globally in a given situation.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has traditionally relied on “getting by”. The UK is unlike Russia’s 24/7/365 strategic HQ. Their Hybrid War is based on grand strategy. It is not a fixed shot. They are constantly rehearsing, reassessing, playing and rescheduling how to disorientate the West. His real aim is to bolster Putin’s domestic credibility with the false narrative that Russia is threatened by NATO.
Now that we are outside the EU, we can dispense with the illusion that a common EU defense and security policy could have replaced our own vigilance and commitment.
The recent Integrated Defense and Security Policy Review is a good start, but it not only addresses implementation, but also the reasons why the existing machinery of government cannot deliver the desired results.
The SNP made a constructive contribution to Thursday’s Commons debate on Russia’s grand strategy. Unfortunately, while the SNP still insists on unilateral nuclear disarmament and an independent Scotland, it is playing Putin’s game.
Bernard Jenkin is the Tory MP for Harwich & North Essex and chairman of the Commons Liaison Committee, which is made up of all select committee chairs and reviews the work of the Prime Minister.