The European Union will nearly double the size of its peacekeeping force in Bosnia by sending in 500 reserves as a precautionary measure to stave off any instability after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Bosnia lies hundreds of kilometres from the fighting but is facing an increasingly assertive Bosnian Serb separatist movement that analysts said has at least tacit support from Moscow.
“The deterioration of the security situation internationally has the potential to spread instability to Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the European Union’s EUFOR force said in a statement on Thursday.
“It is a prudent and proportionate measure which reflects the EU’s and EUFOR’s unequivocal commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia,” it said.
Bosnia, like Ukraine, has long said it wants to join NATO – both positions that have infuriated Russia.
Moscow said in March last year that it would react if Bosnia takes steps towards joining the US-led military alliance.
The Bosnian Serbs, led by pro-Russian Milorad Dodik, have also said they want the country to remain neutral and stay out of NATO.
Dodik, a Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, said on Wednesday that Bosnia should not take sides in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and that Serbs would never agree to Bosnia joining the sanctions against Russia.
While European leaders have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine including leaders from Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro as well as the Bosniak and Croat members of Bosnia’s presidency, Serbia has taken a neutral stance.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said earlier the most important thing for him is to keep Serbia from suffering from significant consequences.
On Tuesday, Vucic said during a visit in Monaco he would condemn Russia’s recognition of territorial claims of the self-declared separatist republics in eastern Ukraine if Zelenskyy condemns NATO’s 1999 bombing of Serbia on television.
“We are a small country and do not want to break the possibility of continuing our friendships with some [countries], and we do not decide in any way on Ukraine’s fate,” Vucic told Serbian Pink TV.
EUFOR, which replaced NATO peacekeeping troops in Bosnia in 2004, is made up of about 3,500 personnel – 600 of them currently deployed in country.
About 500 personnel from Austria, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia, all of them EUFOR reserves currently stationed outside Bosnia, will be deployed there over the next two weeks, EUFOR said.
Bosnia has been going through its worst political and security crisis since the end of the war in the 1990s, with Bosnian Serbs challenging state institutions as part of their longtime bid to secede and eventually join neighbouring Serbia.
Bosnia’s international peace envoy Christian Schmidt welcomed the decision to bolster the force saying it underlines the commitment of the international community to the stability of Bosnia.