Falling off the wagon

I am grateful to Davide Denti and Franklin DeVrieze for this tweet on Saturday:


no longer supports European perspective for . See footnote in report Peace Implementation Council. Sad.

It is sad, but also good, to have it in writing. Davide adds this:

and they had the same objection few weeks ago @ UN on the renewal of EUFOR Althea (abstained)

This is no footnote. It is an important development that has long been in the making. Russia has sometimes in the past vacillated between outright support for specific NATO and EU goals in the Balkans (during Yeltsin’s time Russian troops served under US command in Bosnia) and competition (Russian troops seizing Pristina airport). Most of the time it has stood aside and watched while Washington and Brussels pushed Euro-Atlantic integration. It has now gone over to outright hostility.

This has serious implications, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina but possibly also in Serbia. Moscow, which has annexed Crimea and is seeking to carve out a Republika Srpska-like, semi-sovereign entity in eastern Ukraine, has long coddled and financed Milorad Dodik, supporting his maximalist positions.

Now we can expect the Russians to go further in challenging EU efforts to promote reform, which Brussels is trying to intensify. We should also anticipate that Russia may veto the next renewal of the EUFOR Althea peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, or try to extract a price for not doing so. Moscow is anxious to show it is an indispensable superpower, just like the US. Putin figures the best way to prove that is to block what others want to do.

Dodik will be a willing ally to Moscow. He has no interest in EU-promoted reforms, which would likely lead to transparency and accountability contrary to his interests. I am told that at the working level Republika Srpska officials often do cooperate with the Bosnian government in Sarajevo when it comes to technical issues associated with preparing the country for its European obligations. I have my doubts that will continue.

Serbia’s attitude is more uncertain. Moscow is actively courting Belgrade,which remained loyal to the Russian-sponsored South Stream natural gas pipeline up until the day President Putin killed it, despite EU pressure to conform to Brussels’ antagonism to the project. Russians own a large part of the Serbian energy sector. Military cooperation and religious ties are strong. Belgrade loves to portray itself as “non-aligned,” a notion most Americans will have trouble fathoming in the post-Cold War world. In the Serbian lexicon, it no longer means equidistance between two superpower blocks but rather hostility to NATO and the EU. But the political leadership in Belgrade is at least nominally far more committed to EU accession, which it is now negotiating, than Dodik is.

Few in the US will get worked up about this. The Balkans have returned to oblivion in Washington, where everyone would like to be thinking about the Asia Pacific but many find themselves preoccupied with the Middle East. If Serbia wants to volunteer to serve as a Russian satellite, the issue won’t rise above the Deputy Assistant Secretary level in the State Department, where they are likely to c0nclude that little more than continuing to chant about a Euro-Atlantic future for the Balkans can be done about it. Nor is Brussels likely to get too agitated either. Heightening the prospects for EU enlargement is just not something any major players there want these days.

I don’t have any doubt about whether a European perspective for all the Balkans is a good idea. It is the opportunity of a generation. The other countries of the Balkans see it that way and are preparing accordingly. But Bosnia and Serbia could fall off the wagon, with a push from Moscow. It’s their loss if they do.

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