SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss visited Bosnia’s capital Thursday to reaffirm the U.K.’s commitment to the ethnically divided Balkan country amid growing fears of what she described as malign influence from Russia.
Truss was meeting with top officials in Sarajevo to announce a deepened security and economic partnership between Bosnia and the U.K. She unveiled a U.K.-backed Western Balkans investment package aimed at providing $100 million for infrastructure and energy projects in the region by 2025.
Truss said the signs of “Russian meddling here today” threatened to take the Balkans back “those darks days” of the 1990s when interethnic conflicts following the breakup of Yugoslavia killed thousands of people.
“This must be stopped,” Truss said after meeting Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic.
“The way we go about this is not by offering compromise and appeasement to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. As Russia meddles here, Putin’s troops are committing atrocities just 700 miles away in Ukraine,” she added. “This country’s tragic history is a reminder of what happens when we fail to stand up to aggression.”
Bosnia has been divided along ethnic lines since a 1992-95 war between its Bosniak, Croat and Serb ethnic communities. The war started when Bosnian Serbs, with the help of the Yugoslav army, tried to create ethnically pure territories with the aim of joining neighboring Serbia.
Bosnian Serb militias conquered 60% of Bosnia’s territory in less than two months, committing horrendous atrocities against their Bosniak and Croat compatriots. More than 100,000 people were killed and 2 million — more than a half of the country’s population — were left homeless from the war.
In 1995, the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement put an end to the bloodshed in Bosnia by dividing the country into two semi-autonomous parts — one run by the Serbs and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats. The two are linked by weak multiethnic institutions.
The postwar power-sharing system perpetuates a polarized and venomous political climate, and entrenched nationalist leaders continuously stoke ethnic animosities for political gain.
Fears of destabilization have mounted in recent months as the staunchly pro-Russia Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, increased his divisive rhetoric. Dodik has threatened to dismantle the multiethnic institutions, block Bosnia’s long-stated goal of joining NATO and to advocate for the secession of majority Serb areas.
Bosnia condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations but failed to agree on imposing sanctions because of opposition from Dodik and other Serb officials.
Russia’s ambassador has repeatedly praised to Dodik’s anti-Western stance, stating in March that if Bosnia succeeded in gaining NATO membership, Moscow “will have to react to this hostile act.”
Turkovic, Bosnia’s foreign minister, said that with the broader risks posed by the Ukraine war she hoped her country’s Western partners realize that supporting its EU and NATO membership aspirations was “of vital importance not just for us, but for many of them as well.”
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