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In The Balkans, Russia Is Already Busy Rekindling The Ugly Past

Even with no end in sight to the war in Ukraine, Russia may be plotting to destabilize the Balkans by the end of this year. The target? Bosnia and Herzegovina, which may be already close to splitting.

Russian Soldiers Bosnia

Russian military specialists are awarded by Zeljka Cvijanovic, president of Republika Srpska in Bosnia, for their help amid COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Alexander Demchenko

The eyes of the world may be on Ukraine, but Russia may be also planning to destabilize the Balkans as early as this year. The Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bisera Turković, warned that the plan for a breakaway Republika Srpska, one of the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, may start this autumn. Bosnia and Herzegovina was founded after the breakup of Yugoslavia 1992 after a referendum that was boycotted by the majority of Bosnian Serbs. Serbs are an overwhelming majority in Republika Srpska.

Turković also mentioned accelerated granting of EU candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the Foreign Minister, if this issue is not resolved quickly, her country will split, causing major conflict. Turković's comments should also be heard by EU politicians who oppose Ukraine's integration into the European Union until the issue of membership of the Balkan countries is resolved. Balkan countries have been striving to join the European Union for 15 years to no avail.

In case of victory in Ukraine, Russia will go "not only to Moldova and Transnistria, but also to the Balkans," Turković said in an interview. According to her, the Republika Srpska may finally secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina this autumn if the pro-Russian leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Milorad Dodik, and the forces behind him win the general election.

However, as Turković noted, the EU has a tool to prevent such a scenario — granting EU candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This would be a "strong message for Bosnian Serbs in the Republika Srpska," since those who have not yet decided "can vote for pro-EU candidates, rather than pro-Russian ones."


Skyline of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

© Marcus Valance/SOPA/ZUMA

Can Russia destabilize the Balkans?

So could Russia destabilize the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Yes, Moscow has long been preparing for this: it trained local militants, special police units, and provided weapons.

Moscow is provoking separatist movements in Republika Srpska through its puppet, Milorad Dodik. Last year, Dodik initiated the adoption of the Declaration of Constitutional Principles, which will primarily lead to the withdrawal of Republika Srpska from the united army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as special services, tax and judicial systems. The local parliament voted in favor.

In a word, the conflict is quite possible.

The ground for a possible separation has already been prepared, especially given the continuing problems with segregation in schools based on ethnicity, inequality in voting rights, and anti-government activities of the local Orthodox Church.

Moreover, up to 30 armed paramilitary structures operate in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, 16 of which are in Republika Srpska. For every inhabitant of the federation (the total population is 3.5 million people), there are about 34 weapons.

In a word, the conflict is quite possible. Will it be successful though? What can Russia actually offer the Bosnian Serbs besides secession? Nothing. Is Moscow now able to finance a conditionally “independent” state? No. Can it turn the Republika Srpska into certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk? Again no, because Bosnia and Herzegovina are surrounded by NATO countries. Moreover, both NATO and the EU have the opportunity to react instantly if the situation is undermined.

Can the conflict spread to other countries of the Western Balkans, particularly, to Serbia and Montenegro? This may be the case if the EU and NATO do nothing. Then the situation will become catastrophic, as in addition to Russia and regional players, Turkey may join the military confrontation, wishing to regain its influence in the Balkans.

Western intervention

If the West opposes the Kremlin, Moscow can organize street clashes, provocations and terrorist threats, but it will not be able to undermine the Balkans. Even with Dodik in charge.

Meanwhile, Serbian leader Aleksandar Vučić, who had been dependent on Russian gas, repeatedly declared his readiness to restore Greater Serbia, trying to distance himself from the leader of the Republika Srpska radicals. The reason is simple: Vučić does not want the Serbs to completely lose the chance to join the EU.

He does not want to be left alone with Vladimir Putin. Unless the Kremlin manages to intimidate him, like Lukashenko, by starting a revolution like the one in Yugoslavia.

At the same time, there is the Prime Minister of Hungary, Victor Orbán, who wants the destruction of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the secession of the Republika Srpska, in order to gain more influence on North Macedonia, anti-European politicians there and on the EU itself. In fact, Orbán seeks to become the main antagonist of the EU, in favor of autocrats from Russia and China.


Victor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary at EU leaders summit 2022

© JP Black/ZUMA

Blackmail for EU membership

But still, Turković's statement on EU membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina amounts to blackmail. The fact is that over the past eight years, Bosnia and Herzegovina has failed to gain candidate status, and has scant chance in the coming years. It does not meet any EU criteria, and couldn't even complete the European Commission questionnaire. The Foreign Minister is well aware of all this.

Just as she is aware that Russia will not care whether the country is a candidate or not if it wants to destabilize the entire region. Moscow will only consider whether someone there can decisively oppose them. Bosnia and Herzegovina will not join the EU as long as there is a weak governmental and economic system, conflict within the state, people like Dodik, and as long as Russia has influence there.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Putinism Without Putin? USSR 2.0? Clean Slate? How Kremlin Succession Will Play Out

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, political commentators have consistently returned to the question of Putin's successor. Russia expert Andreas Umland foreshadows a potentially tumultuous transition, resulting in a new power regime. Whether this is more or less democratic than the current Putinist system, is difficult to predict.

A kid holds up a sign with Putin's photograph over the Russian flag

Gathering in Moscow to congratulate Russia's President Vladimir Putin on his birthday.

Andreas Umland


STOCKHOLM — The Kremlin recently hinted that Vladimir Putin may remain as Russia's president until 2030. After the Constitution of the Russian Federation was amended in 2020, he may even extend his rule until 2036.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

However, it seems unlikely that Putin will remain in power for another decade. Too many risks have accumulated recently to count on a long gerontocratic rule for him and his entourage.

The most obvious and immediate risk factor for Putin's rule is the Russian-Ukrainian war. If Russia loses, the legitimacy of Putin and his regime will be threatened and they will likely collapse.

The rapid annexation of Crimea without hostilities in 2014 will ultimately be seen as the apex of his rule. Conversely, a protracted and bloody loss of the peninsula would be its nadir and probable demise.

Additional risk factors for the current Russian regime are related to further external challenges, for example, in the Caucasus. Other potentially dangerous factors for Putin are economic problems and their social consequences, environmental and industrial disasters, and domestic political instability.

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